Fashion firm hopes its products and interior design will make a British hotel into an experiential advertisement.
Boutique hotels are usually the preserve of luxury designer labels, such as Armani and Bulgari, where their monied clientele can eat, sleep and shop the brand. That is about to change as Laura Ashley, the company famous for its floral prints, prepares to enter the fray.
The firm has bought a hotel in Hertfordshire for £5.8m which it hopes will become an attraction for Laura Ashley fans, with all 49 rooms boasting beds, sofa, wallpaper and curtains in matching fabrics. Its chief operating officer, Seán Anglim, said the hotel would become a “brand showcase” for its products and interior design service when it opens later this year.
The hotel is currently trading under another, undisclosed, name. “We are not disclosing how much we will spend on the refurbishment but we are going to turn it into something special,” said Anglim, who added that over the years the 60-year-old company had been approached by hoteliers who wanted to license the brand. “The concept of a Laura Ashley hotel has not come out of the blue.”
The hotel plans were revealed as the retailer reported profits of £18.8m on sales of £285.9m in the year to 28 January. The brand’s popularity has waxed and waned over the decades but is back in vogue again, with like-for-like sales up nearly 11% in the last eight weeks, defying the tough high-street conditions faced by retailers selling big ticket products like furniture. Laura Ashley shares were up 5.1% at 22.9p in London by lunchtime.
The brand’s roots date back to 1953 when Laura and Bernard Ashley started printing fabric on their kitchen table in London. The designer had been inspired by a Women’s Institute exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum on traditional handicrafts and wanted to make her own patchwork quilts but couldn’t find fabrics she liked. After swotting up on fabric printing in libraries the couple invested £10 in wood for a screen, dyes and some linen, and printed their own.
They owe their big break to Audrey Hepburn, who started a trend for wearing headscarves in the film Roman Holiday. The Ashleys realised they could produce the scarves themselves, and within a short space of time, were receiving large orders from shops including John Lewis and Heal’s.
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