With their new collaboration, Même Chose and Laura Ashley are each reaching for new customers.
The tie-up connects a relatively young U.S.-based company with an established British heritage brand. Même Chose was started in February 2019 as a direct-to-consumer model by Alison Bergen and Jessica Joffe, who first met while working at Diane Von Furstenberg several years ago. Initially their focus was shirting-driven, but they have since branched out into new silhouettes.
The Laura Ashley capsule collection signals a switch for Même Chose. Bergen said, “This is really a step in a new direction, which is well-timed with what feels like a switch back toward a sense of optimism, joy and frivolity after getting hammered by COVID-19 for the last 14 months.”
Last summer Même Chose added shorts to coordinate with its men’s wear-inspired shirts, and whimsical prints and more silhouettes offered more options.
After first focusing on a few key items and aiming for repeat purchases, Même Chose founders saw over time that gaining visibility online affordably was getting tougher and they “got a little bored.“ Bergen said. We really wanted to stop thinking so much and being obsessed as business people and do something with integrity that we loved to see where that took us,” she said.
After discovering Même Chose through personal shopping and recognizing the quality, Laura Ashley U.S. president Penne Cairoli liked the prospect of working with the brand. And the founders’ “true love of Laura Ashley from their childhood” brought another dimension, she said.
The union reflects the ethos of Laura Ashley, in that the company was established to represent “quality, based on design and being authentic to who their customer was. That’s what Même Chose has brought to the table.” Cairoli said.
Gordon Bros., which owns the British heritage brand, named Carolyn D’Angelo managing director, brands, and president of Laura Ashley IP Holdings. In the U.S., the brand is under license to Laura Ashley Inc., Cairoli said.
The collaboration is meant to hark back to Laura Ashley’s barebones start in 1953, when founders Laura and Bernard Ashley began handprinting headscarves and textiles in their kitchen.
To portray the painterly designs of the capsule collection, Grace Johnson and Stella Banderas were recruited to model. The pair are friendly with Joffe and were on board with the raw approach that was not overly made up, Bergen said. Each has Hollywood ancestry beyond their connection to Dakota Johnson. Grace Johnson is the daughter of Kelley Phleger and Don Johnson, and Banderas is the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas.
A $275 floral stripe linen dress, a $275 short-sleeved dress in an aviary bird print, $110 patchwork botanical printed shorts and $145 flora garden printed pants are among the offerings. The collection officially launches Saturday.
Joffe had a personal connection to Ashley since her mother had written a story about her. Joffe recently found a calling card with Ashley’s office number crossed out and her personal number written below. Joffe took that as a sign that the collaboration was meant to be. “She was such a hero of ours for so many reasons, but especially for her incredible and tireless entrepreneurial spirit,” Joffe said via email.
Bergen also needed no introduction to the Laura Ashley brand. She said of meeting Cairoli, “I was elated because I grew up in a Laura Ashley bedroom. It was like status at the time. I grew up in Pennsylvania. I was not a New York City kid lusting after a Louis Vuitton bag, when I was 13,” she said. “But when I look back and think about understanding brands and desiring brands, I think of Laura Ashley as my first experience in that sense.”
Referring to a scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” when the main character’s sister peeks out from under a Laura Ashley printed comforter, Bergen said, “I had that. I wanted all of it. I had the same kind of thought process around how I wanted to dress in coordinating dresses and matching with my mother and sister, which they were not into. I didn’t get to fulfill that dream. But I held it in very high esteem in my mind.”
Bergen noted how there is now nostalgia for the Aughts, the ’80s and the ’90s stylistically. The outpouring after the death of Jessica McClintock in February seemed to be testimony to that. As for whether McClintock’s death may have been a reminder to shoppers, who feel so strongly about Laura Ashley, another heritage label with strong consumer connections, Cairoli said, “It could be — absolutely. I can’t say that we’ve felt that specifically. But the whole cottagecore and nostalgia of one’s childhood had started to build in the last few years. Certainly, the pandemic helped that along with people starting to connect with our families and histories a little bit more in different ways.”
Like many companies, Même Chose is trying to get back to 2019 sales. “Last year means nothing. We didn’t really bring in inventory under any normal calendar. Thank God. We wouldn’t have sold it or been able to do events to market it,” Bergen said.
That being what it was, Même Chose is gunning to sell all of the 2,500 collaborative Laura Ashley units. Accessories — coordinating headbands and scrunchies — will be available in the last delivery at the end of this month.
Trying to reach more people at the beach and in resort communities, Même Chose is now sold at One, the multibrand pop-up located at 1 Main Street in East Hampton, and at EHP Resort & Marina. Travel retail is a priority, said Bergen.
She recalled how during a December lunch at the Eden Rock in St. Barths, a friend, who works in finance, had to pop out to take a Zoom call, and did so wearing a Même Chose shirt. “It was perfect. That will always be in my mind as one of the reasons why it is such a great item. I really do think we belong in the best travel retail and resort shops. That’s a big opportunity. It’s a great business and a really fun partnership. We’re definitely looking to advance that,” Bergen said.
Having collaborated with Urban Outfitters and Rag & Bone in recent years, Laura Ashley has another one planned for July that has yet to be disclosed, Cairoli said. As a privately held company, she declined to disclose annual sales.
Meanwhile, the late Laura Ashley herself is about to get more attention. A new home renovation show hosted by Charlotte Cook will redo a property that previously belonged to Ashley, who died in 1980. As for how that exposure could potentially affect sales, Cairoli said, “Any time that we can talk about the brand and bring it in front of people in fresh new ways is a great opportunity. The whole idea of renovating any of their wonderful properties is great from [the perspective of] talking about the brand. It’s not only about sales necessarily. The Ashleys, and Mrs. Ashley herself, mean a lot to a lot of people. There are a lot of young girls who were named after Mrs. Ashley. Again, keeping that history alive and valuable is wonderful.”