Bernard was the business brains to Laura’s creative force. The couple married in 1949. It was after a holiday in Italy in 1953 that the couple decided to reproduce some scarves they found on their travels.
They set about creating them in their Pimlico flat, with Laura in charge of the designs and Bernard creating and operating the printing machine.
Laura took the first fruits of their labour to John Lewis and by the time she returned home, the duo had secured a repeat order. The range was expanded to include napkins, tea towels and eventually dresses, using designs Laura adapted from old plates, books and quilts.
The couple sold to Heal’s and Liberty and then to outlets in the US. The first store in London opened in 1968 and the business struck a chord with the fashion-conscious in the 1970s.
After Laura’s untimely death in 1985 following a fall down the stairs, the business failed to move with the times and Bernard’s manner of management meant he lost favour with the City.
In 1998, after a period of declining sales and the departure of five chief executives in seven years, Bernard resigned when the business was rescued by the receivers and control passed to Malaysian conglomerate MUI Asia.
Bernard was known for his eccentricities. BT is said to have been reluctant to reconnect his telephone after he had pulled it out of the wall once too often. He had also been rumoured to have once thrown a refrigerator down some factory stairs.
He stepped down as chairman of Laura Ashley Holdings in 1993 and resigned from the board in 1998. By 2001, the family had cut its ties with the business.
Bernard Ashley died on Saturday, aged 82.