LONDON — Gordon Brothers, the global advisory, restructuring and investment firm, has purchased the global Laura Ashley brand, archives and related intellectual property from the Laura Ashley group’s U.K. administrators.
“Laura Ashley is a true giant among British lifestyle brands, possessing a unique ability to span geographies, product categories and price points,” said Ramez Toubassy, president of brands for Gordon Brothers. “We feel humbled and inspired by the responsibility to reignite Mrs. Ashley’s original vision while delivering unique and contemporary products to both longtime followers and new customers from around the world.”
The terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Gordon Brothers, which last week sold the British streetwear brand Bench to its Manchester-based licensee, Apparel Brands Ltd., said it plans to partner with current management to evaluate several “go-to-market strategies” for the business.
Those strategies could include retaining a streamlined portfolio of retail stores in key markets within the U.K. and Ireland. Gordon Brothers said it intends to place a strong emphasis on building e-commerce, developing more strategic wholesale relationships, and expanding the portfolio of licensees and franchisees globally.
In an interview, Toubassy said “there hasn’t been a better time to own a heritage home furnishing and fashion brand, in our estimation. We think given all the craziness that’s been going on with COVID and self-isolation, people are spending a lot more time at home. And I think they’re gravitating, more than ever, to brands that are associated with a comfortable home and the lifestyle associated with that. The opportunity arose at a time where the brand is in a perfect place for a relaunch.”
An American who grew up in the U.K., Toubassy said he has a personal soft spot for Laura Ashley, and remembers the brand from its heyday.
Asked about specific plans for the brand, Toubassy said step one is to dig into the archives and history “and refresh the brand a bit to bring it back to its former glory. And then really lean into the home furnishings and fashion category. We definitely have plans for expanding beyond the categories that are covered by the core business and licensees, and to reestablish Laura Ashley as a true global lifestyle brand.”
Rob Lewis, joint administrator of several of the Laura Ashley group companies in the U.K., said Wednesday his job isn’t finished yet.
He said that while Gordon Brothers will now be able to grow the brand’s profile and secure it for the future, “we continue to explore opportunities to reshape the U.K. store-based retail and manufacturing businesses and are very grateful for the efforts of the entire team at Laura Ashley in helping us with those discussions.”
Asked about Gordon Bros. recent streak of British deals, Toubassy said there is opportunity in the U.K. right now.
“We definitely have a soft spot for global, iconic heritage British brands, and I think for whatever reason there’s a lot of opportunity in the U.K. marketplace right now,” he said.
Founded in 1953 by husband-and-wife team Bernard and Laura Ashley, the business grew into a retail, wholesale, licensing and franchising empire selling home furnishings, fragrances and fashion products. During the Seventies and Eighties the brand developed a loyal following, with the young Princess Diana often spotted wearing the brand’s frilly, Victorian-inspired blouses and tiny flower and vine prints.
But two months after the founder Laura Ashley’s death in 1985, the brand went public in the U.K. in an offering that was oversubscribed by more than three times. Bernard Ashley continued to run the company, but the appeal of the brand’s signature tiny florals and bohemian styles began to wane in the Nineties as tastes shifted away from nostalgia toward a more fashion-forward, minimal look. Bernard Ashley stepped aside from day-to-day management in 1993 and Laura Ashley went through a series of management and design upheavals in an attempt to recapture its appeal, but failed to do so.
Of late, the brand expanded globally with outposts in markets as varied as South Korea, Ukraine, the U.S. and Japan.
Last month, the company declared insolvency. It was already struggling with cash flow and troubles on the high street, and COVID-19 made a bad situation worse.
Until last month, Laura Ashley was quoted on the London Stock Exchange and was owned by MUI Asia Ltd., which is in turn owned by the Malaysian Chinese businessman Khoo Kay Peng.
Those companies were unable to provide financial support in the required time frame, so a decision was made to call in the administrators, Robert Lewis and Zelf Hussain, and suspend trading on the stock exchange.
Gordon Brothers said its brands division values, acquires, restructures and invests globally in under-leveraged, distressed or dormant intellectual property to help revive and reimagine some of the world’s most iconic brands.
Robert Russell, U.K. head of restructuring at DLA Piper U.K. LLP, advised Gordon Brothers on the transaction.