Laura Ashley was, in fashion terms, dead. When people talked about the brand, it was during fond, misty-eyed moments, and mainly due to Princess Diana wearing the label so much when she was pregnant. Often, it was a by-word for frumpy styling, and the furthest thing you could get away from being on-trend and directional. In a world that celebrates Virgil Abloh's elevated street style at Off-White, clean lines of Phoebe Philo's (old) Celine and Daniel Lee's Bottega Veneta, it seemed like Laura Ashley was the exact opposite of the way fashion was going.
Oh, but how wrong we were. Suddenly, Laura Ashley was phenomenally popular. Etsy and eBay were full of vintage and pre-loved dresses from the brand that were selling for about £100 a pop. The prairie-dress silhouette, voluminous sleeves and dainty floral patterns that were the brand's design DNA were suddenly what everyone wanted to wear. Whether you realise it or not, Laura Ashley became the brand that inspired every It dress of 2019.
Vintage Laura Ashley dress
I'd argue it was the root cause of the million prairie dresses that began sprouting up all over the spring/summer 2019 runways. Then there were the nightie-style dresses featuring tiny floral prints that were cropping up on every luxury retailer site. Brands such as Batsheva, Loretta Caponi and Vampire's Wife were selling out. Influencers wore Cecilie Bahnsen, Mara Hoffman and Gül Hürgel—all of which are drawn from the more Laura Ashley school of design.
While all the aforementioned designers might not have been directly influenced by the brand, there's no denying puffed-sleeved, prairie and floral dresses pay homage whether they realise it or not. But the final aspect that confirmed it for me? The high street similarly replicated oversized, modest-style floral dresses, and Urban Outfitters even went one step further and collaborated with the OG brand on a new collection for a younger generation who hadn't grown up with it in the '80s.
So how did this old-school brand suddenly become the reason why we were all desperate to wear dresses that used to be decidedly un-cool? I spoke to womenswear buying director for Urban Outfitters, Malika Zagzoule, to get a better insight about its reemergence. Malika says one of the main reasons is that the "move towards a more modest femininity has coincided with a throwback to the '80s and has given Laura Ashley a real reawakening." She also mentioned another aspect that was fascinating: "The prints are timeless and coupled with those original design elements, they have an irresistible nostalgia about them. There's a naivité and lightness about them that I think holds particular appeal when the world feels quite chaotic!"
While I have no doubt there'll be a new take on floral, prairie and puffed-sleeve dresses when we come into spring/summer 2020, I can't see this trend dying down any time soon. Keep scrolling to see how influencers wore some of 2019's It dresses, and then keep going to shop vintage Laura Ashley dresses and Laura Ashley–inspired versions.