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Can Laura Ashley be edgy?

It’s an unlikely collaboration. Minimalist Japanese basics brand Uniqlo is reviving retro Laura Ashley floral prints to create a cutting-edge capsule collection

There is a fine line between chic and frumpy when it comes to a floral print. They can look edgy and fabulous – and catwalks are blooming for spring/summer 2012, from Proenza Schouler’s graphic pencil skirts to floaty prints from Erdem. But designers know they are always just a puffed cap-sleeve away from dowdy.

Over the years, Laura Ashley has tended towards the gaudier end of the market, conjuring thoughts of maiden aunts, and children dressed up for their confirmation service. But now the brand has announced an unlikely collaboration with Japanese retailer Uniqlo. Having raided its print archive to create a limited collection of T-shirts, stoles and tunics for Uniqlo’s UT brand, it is having a rebirth of sorts. It’s a surprising move for Uniqlo – known for minimalist designs and link-ups with labels like Jil Sander and Lulu Guinness – but it’s one that works.

Laura Ashley was a pioneer in her time. In 1953, while working as a secretary, she was fascinated by trends in continental Europe (Roman Holiday was a particular inspiration), so she invested £10 in some screen-printing kit and, on the kitchen table of her tiny London flat, kick-started our love affair with itty-bitty English lawn florals and kitsch, overblown prints. Her home furnishings and headscarves proved popular, and she moved the operation out of her home and into clothing manufacturing in the 60s. Soon, the label came to encapsulate romantic English country designs: think floor-length floral dresses with high, ruffled necks and long sleeves.

While Laura Ashley is still very much responsible for middle England’s taste in wallpaper and cushion covers, its clothing has been seen as fusty and out of step with the fashion world since the late 1980s. Following Ashley’s death, after a fall in 1985, the brand began to fade; puffy sleeves and “pilgrim chic” had lost their cool and the label became associated with vicars’ wives and Sloane Rangers.

The Uniqlo line is a move Laura Ashley hopes will take it to the edgier end of the high street. “We wanted to stay true to the heritage of the brand while giving the pieces a contemporary feel with Uniqlo’s designs,” says Helen Balkam, Laura Ashley’s chief archivist.

After reviewing “hundreds of boxes of vintage samples” from the vault, they chose 12 designs from the 1950s to present day and tweaked them to make them “more relevant”. Balkam says the brand wants to “focus on something we are known for, but to do it in a new and fresh way that appeals to a new market”.

“There’s a nostalgia attached to Laura Ashley,” she adds.

Uniqlo’s UT Laura Ashley Limited Archive Collection is in stores now ( © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds