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LONDON — Sir Bernard Ashley, the charismatic British textile tycoon, luxury property investor and widower of the designer Laura Ashley, has died at age 82.
Ashley died Feb. 14 after an 18-month battle with cancer. Together with his wife, he helped build the Laura Ashley clothing, textile and home furnishings business synonymous with English floral prints, and successfully took it public shortly after her death from a fall in 1985. He was given a knighthood in 1987 as the label reached its apex.
Passionate about prints and the mechanics of producing them, Ashley regularly rolled up his sleeves and built his own presses. More recently, he was working with digital printers at his latest home textiles business, the Wales-based Elanbach.
A South Londoner with no academic qualifications beyond high school, he married Laura Mountney in 1949 after serving with the Gurkhas in India at the end of World War II. Together, he and Laura developed an interest in prints, and as she began designing head scarves and dishcloths, he started teaching himself about silk-screening and dyeing.
By the early Fifties, he’d already embarked on his multipronged career: He produced Laura’s fabric designs and traveled around Britain selling them, and built up Bernard Ashley Fabrics, which specialized in textiles for hotels and cruise ships.
To save money, the Ashleys eventually moved their business from England to Carno, Wales, with Ashley always looking to increase production with faster machines.
By the Sixties, Laura had begun designing a full women’s wear line for fashion-conscious London girls, and the company expanded quickly. By the Seventies, Laura Ashley stores had mushroomed around Britain, and the first of a clutch of Paris stores had opened. By then, Laura Ashley had also moved into home interiors offering furnishings fabrics, wallpaper, accessories and fragrances — and the money flowed.