Laura Ashley A/W13, Archive Collection and a Sneaky Infiltration.
On Thursday Liz and I were invited to the Laura Ashley A/W13 Press Day and Archive Exhibition Preview. It takes a lot to get me to London these days but this was something not to be missed, for obvious reasons and others less so – which will become apparent later.
Liz and I have both loved a bit of ‘Lashley’ for a while now and I refer to it in my talks on ‘buying vintage’ as the prime example of a British collectable brand that retains its value. We also sell LA dresses in our regular vintage collections. In honour of the archive collection preview we donned our best vintage pieces and arranged to meet at Victoria station. I was wearing a short 80s skater style dress with a daring low back (rather saucy for Mrs Ashley) and Liz being Liz, of course had a mind-blowingly rare 70s number that featured a dear print on swathes of blue cotton.
We were rather tickled at the reception bestowed upon our frocks on arrival. Before we even got through the door we had been asked to do numerous shots of us walking into to the venue by the camera men who were recording the event. Cue lots of walking a backwards and forwards up the same steps. When we finally entered (Il Bottacio off Hyde Park no less) we were warmly greeted by the social media team whom we had previously chatted to via twitter. I bought a copy of my book as a gift but it turned out they had it already and were fans which made me feel a bit fluttery, as one does when there is a mutual meeting and appreciation of one’s efforts.
After a beetroot and berry smoothie and a strong coffee I set about examining the new collections with determination (more on why later). I had a chat with their new accessories designer who has been at the company for 6 weeks and we discussed future archive inspired pieces and the vintage girl’s love of the wicker basket bags they bring out each season – both the current tan coloured one and the much coveted white wicker version that came out a few seasons ago. Liz and I both honed in on a delectable plum riding jacket which I promptly decided to try on (probably a press day faux pas). The equestrian theme was carried on in a number of garments featuring horseshoes and even horse heads. The rich plum colours almost made me long for autumn. There were fewer dresses than I had expected but a huge selection of tunics, slim fit trousers and cropped jackets.
We proceeded to have a good gander at the archive collection. Liz rapidly became engrossed in a long conversation with their archivist who looks after the Welsh LA treasure trove…I think she had her eye on Liz’s dress. We had a good look around home wares and we both loved the new geometric print wallpaper and home accessories inspired by a vintage 50s (yes 50s) LA scarf (pictured below). We even bumped into the super hot illustrator Emma Block, who I hadn’t seen since my book launch early last year.
The gathering of ladies in the Home dept. were also quite keen to quiz us on our frocks. We had a good old chin wag with the design team, the buyers, the PR peeps and the Head of Buying. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk to so many of the current creative force behind LA. We discussed what Liz and I do, who we write for…even our secret project that we have coming up. I then dropped a mini bombshell. I mentioned that, two weeks ago, I started working as a shop girl for…yes, you guessed it, Laura Ashley! I currently work in the Southsea store in the fashion floor and was partly there as a sneaky shop girl spy on strict orders to report back on the new collections. Staff AND writer – a pretty unique position to be in, do you not think? I think it certainly threw them a little.
You may be wondering why I’ve returned to ‘work’? Well for a myriad of reasons, starting with the fact that the shop is a sunny seven minute walk from my house. More importantly, I am enjoying the return to the ‘front line of fashion’. In my short time as the latest part-time ‘LA gal’, I have met some extraordinary people and it is a joy to have them come back in again and again. I get to share the mixture of exhilaration and relief when the perfect outfit is found for an important life event, or a gift has been found for the person ‘who has it all’. It’s the same kind of satisfaction I got from being a freelance vintage personal shopper, except this time there is more than one size! You are let into the intimate details of a person’s life and then it’s up to you to see how you can help problem solve their dilemmas. I get the feeling that, as a trusted British brand, people expect to find what they need and they rely on us to help them achieve that. I hear about their weddings, families, funerals, first homes and once-in-a-lifetime excursions. I also enjoy hearing their feedback, their likes and dislikes, their views on the new collections and their stories of wearing the brand as children. And of course there is the uniform allowance and the discounts, which are rather generous and certainly not to be sniffed at! Furthermore, I get to assist with visual merchandising, which I very much enjoy. All this is seamlessly held together by a harmonised team of like-minded people who all genuinely care about the customers and pulling together to make the shop a success. It can be exhausting and hard work (ahem, Sale time!) but I don’t take my work home at night and have plenty of time to write.
Importantly, it has actually improved my well being. Although I initially found being on my feet hard, it keeps me active and fit – no need for a gym membership. I enjoy the routine and I get to talk to real people about real clothes, rather than working from home and communicating via the internet. As any freelancer or home work knows, the day can easily become lonely and stagnant. As I explained to the Head of Buying, it’s a life style choice. So there you have it. I’m pretty chuffed to be a LA shop girl and I’m delighted to say I will also be producing a blog for the Laura Ashley website shortly. It’s the perfect combination of the two things I love.
I’ll leave you with a selection of pics from the event and you can read more about the new collections here.