To mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of Laura Ashley Ltd, the first major retrospective of this iconic designer will be exhibited at The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle from 21 September 2013 to 5 January 2014.

A selection of 70 dresses from the 1960s and 1970s - on loan from the Laura Ashley archive in Wales - will be displayed. The exhibition will also include loans from the Fashion Museum, Bath; private collections, and a recent donation of five Laura Ashley dresses gifted to The Bowes Museum by the chairman of its Friends, Caroline Peacock, who describes herself as having ‘lived in Laura Ashley’ during this period

In the late 1960s knee-length shifts and mini-dress styles were dominating fashion; Laura Ashley decided to create something that was completely different. The exhibition will show how she changed the look of fashion in the 1970s and gave rise to a new term, the ‘Laura Ashley’ dress.

Drawing on the past for inspiration, she gave the world the chaste full-length cotton frock in earth hewn natural colours with simple distinctive printed designs; a style which was inspired by a notion of life in a rural golden past, away from the city. In so doing she set a particular trend in the 1970s, which enabled countless women and girls to dress in a thoroughly modern way which combined romance and femininity whilst rooted in a nostalgic view of the past. No other designer or retailer was making or distributing the long Victorian-style dress which was suitable for parties in the evening and could also be worn during the day. The Daily Mirror described the look as ‘soft-core femininity’ and ‘Victorian-type demureness’, (January 1st 1970), a sentiment echoed throughout the fashion press in the early 1970s.

Curator Annabel Talbot said: “It’s really great to be staging this Laura Ashley exhibition, which is representative of so many people’s lives in the 1970s.