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Laura Ashley: A Life by Design


“Laura Ashley” – the name that has become an international byword for the classic English countrywoman living in bliss. But what was Laura Ashley the woman really like, behind the facade of the family-based company that not only used her name, but also was moulded on her personal image?

Anne Sebba was given access to the “Laura Ashley” company papers and talked uninhibitedly to many of the Ashley family. Her book is the first biography of this remarkable woman who became one of the leading influences on British design and marketing last century.

Laura and Bernard Ashley started printing textiles in 1953. They used a domestic oven and a kitchen table. Their drive and ambition were astonishing. Their venture was to result in a fashion and home decoration business that is now renowned internationally. It led to fame and glamour, a chateau in France, a private plane and other attributes of fabulous wealth. It also developed into a fascinating business partnership between man and wife.

Anne Sebba describes Laura the astute businesswoman with her sure instinct for forecasting trends, her canny feel for colour and fabric and her often brilliant but perfectly simple ideas. She describes Laura the wife and mother: her relationship with Bernard, her sadness at leaving Wales and her family for life on the Continent, her conviction that her place was with her husband. She describes her whims, her phobias and her habits.

Laura had a puritanical streak which brought a missionary zeal to her work. It was more than just a preference to prim high necklines and long all-concealing skirts. It was a belief that her company had a greater purpose than just making money. She always fought, on principal, to retain her ties with the rural community in Wales, fearing that mass production would destroy the ethnic and cottage industry on which the business was based. Above all, Laura wanted to create “a kind of scrubbed simple beauty.” Even to some of her closest friends, Laura Ashley was “LA” by day, Laura by night. In Laura Ashley: A Life By Design, Anne Sebba finds one woman – remarkably determined and self contained, seeking an alternative to feminist stridency in her merging of career and family. Her life is one of the biggest success stories of her generation.

You can buy this book on the Faber Find’s website

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