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Laura Ashley Relaunches Fashion With U.K. Debut

The British heritage brand was once a favorite choice for bridesmaids and prom goers.

Laura Ashley Relaunches Fashion With U.K. Debut

A dress from the Laura Ashley fashion line.

Break out the old prom dresses — Laura Ashley’s fashion range is back — but it’s not as though the brand ever fully disappeared.

The brand has relaunched via Next, a British-based retailer, and is currently only available in the U.K. True to form, there are plenty of Laura Ashley floral prints and puffy sleeves to offer airy options for spring and summer wardrobes. Using the Laura Ashley archives as a starting point, the design team reimagined silhouettes, color palettes and heritage prints for the dresses, blouses, skirts, trousers, shorts and shirts. The collection draws inspiration from the Laura Ashley archive, reimagining shapes, heritage prints and color palettes from different fashion eras.

In April 2020, Gordon Brothers, the global advisory, restructuring and investment firm, acquired the Laura Ashley brand, archives and related intellectual property, and then shuttered the company’s 153 stores in the U.K. and Ireland. The British homeware, clothing and interiors brand had collapsed into administration, due partially to cash flow issues, troubles on high street and the pandemic shutdown.

At that point, Laura Ashley’s fall 2019 offerings and half of its spring 2020 styles were in stores. The relaunch is the first full return since that time, according to Carolyn D’Angelo, senior managing director at Gordon Brothers. The decision to dive back into apparel more fully with a 48-piece assortment follows Gordon Brothers’ effort to build up the lifestyle offerings, starting with home decor and then lifestyle options in the U.K. “We really got the brand back into the customers’ minds. We discovered in the archives an enormous amount of inspiration from the original line that Laura [Ashley] did in the ’70s and the ’60s. We’re using that to update it for this day,” she said. “This is only the beginning.”

As of now, the latest offerings are not yet available in the U.S. but distribution domestically and in other countries is being planned. The U.K. distribution was the first priority, due to the brand’s heritage, D’Angelo said. The new fashion line is primarily being produced in India.

To keep the name out there, Laura Ashley started collaborating with the New York-based designer Batsheva Hay, who has helped to attract more style-conscious customers. The rise of the “Coastal Grandmother” and “Cottagecore” fashion trends in previous seasons also revived interest in Laura Ashley. Last year the British brand teamed up with Rag & Bone for a menswear collaboration.

There are no plans to bring back freestanding Laura Ashley stores, D’Angelo said. However, through some pre-existing retail partnerships such as one with Itochu Corp. in Japan, there are five freestanding stores and concept shops in department stores in Japan. There is a similar set-up of existing stores and shops-in-shop in South Korea. While Next is the key launch partner for the U.K., Laura Ashley is also sold in John Lewis department stores.

In New York City, there is now a Laura Ashley showroom on Seventh Avenue in the same building that houses the head offices for Nicole Miller, which Gordon Brothers made a majority investment in two years ago. Executives are considering introducing the British line to the U.S. market, but that comes with consideration regarding the logistics. Another option is to look for a partner to develop a line for the domestic market. Either way, collaborations with Batsheva and other designers will continue, D’Angelo said. “It adds a lot to the brand. It’s short-term, and it’s nice to partner with some of these wonderful brands. It keeps our brand out there and relevant,” she said.

Founded in 1953 by husband-and-wife team Bernard and Laura Ashley, the business grew into a retail, wholesale, licensing and franchising empire selling home furnishings, fragrances and fashion products. During the ’70s and ’80s the brand developed a loyal following, with the young Princess Diana often spotted wearing the brand’s frilly, Victorian-inspired blouses and tiny flower and vine prints. A few months after the namesake founder died in 1985, the brand went public in the U.K. in an offering that was oversubscribed by more than three times. Bernard Ashley continued to run the company and later stepped aside from the day-to-day operations in 1993. At that point, minimalistic Calvin Klein styles were driving fashion — not girly dresses in tiny prints.

Laura Ashley Relaunches Fashion With U.K. Debut

Batsheva Hay wearing Laura Ashley x Batsheva.

There aren’t any members of the Ashley family involved with the relaunch.

As for how Laura Ashley will shake its old image for the new, D’Angelo agreed that many have a set idea of what the brand is. She said, “They do. I can’t tell you how many people show me pictures of their prom dresses from the ’80s. But what’s interesting is, as much as that might seem like a negative, I see it as a positive. There is a lot of affinity for this brand. And a lot of people have a lot of really good nostalgia for this brand. They also have children now [who could be potential customers.]”

Highlighting that flashback effect, D’Angelo said a recent runway event for media and influencers in the U.K. featured some vintage styles. “People were like, ‘Wait a minute. Are those today’s products or the vintage products?” D’Angelo said. “Sometimes with a tweak, and a change with the styling, a look is still relevant.”

She cited the response to Batsheva’s collaboration as an example of how “there is a definite market for that. Obviously, her [collaborative] dresses are at a certain price point. The line at Next is really affordable. It is anywhere from $32 to $106, “ D’Angelo said.

Laura Ashley Relaunches Fashion With U.K. Debut

Model Iman walks the runway during the Laura Ashley spring 1979 fashion show on Feb. 13, 1979, in New York City.

Looking ahead, D’Angelo said that the greatest challenge with the fashion relaunch is “there’s a lot of competition out there. Customers have so many choices now. Vintage is also an important word and we have to inspire today’s consumer to understand where we came from and how we updated this for today. The consumer has so many choices that it’s almost overwhelming. We have to stand out — by tapping into, not changing, but updating who we are. We are what we are — the brand is 71 years old. But there’s something to be said for a brand that has stood that test of time,” D’Angelo said.