It all started with a Women's Institute exhibition and a few yards of linen. One bright idea and a few headscarves later, the Laura Ashley brand was born.

Inspired by some Victorian prints she had seen at a WI craft exhibition, Ashley decided to start up her own print-making business in 1953. Instantly spotting a gap in the market, she chose to recreate vintage patterns and produce a range of scarves, table mats and napkins.

The products were an instant hit with department stores such as John Lewis and Heal's, making Ashley, along with her husband and business partner Sir Bernard Ashley, one of the biggest success stories in British retail history.

Although Laura died in 1985 after falling down some stairs on her 60th birthday, her original designs are back in the public eye. The current design team behind the brand has announced it would be raiding the archives and reproducing some of Ashley's most successful pieces.

Among them is an original 1960s quilted bag, a youthful patchwork string bikini and Ashley's trademark daisy-print shirt. While the company has been faithful to Ashley's original designs, a small compromise has been made for all those environmentally conscious modern women: everything is to be made from 100% organic cotton.

It's all a far cry from the kitchen table-top business that won the hearts, and purse strings, of the British nation in the 1950s. Back then the Ashleys were focused on producing design-conscious products that would appeal to fashionable-but-homely women.

After the headscarves came aprons, oven gloves and gardening smocks, all made with those trademark Laura Ashley printed fabrics. As the company quickly grew, the couple moved production to Kent and then on to Wales, where Laura had been born.

From the beginning, Laura was in charge of fabric design, while Bernard took control of the production and operation sides of the business.

When Bernard developed a new printing system that could produce 5000m of fabric in a week, sales went into overdrive. By 1970 sales had reached £300,000 per year and by 1974 Laura Ashley had stores in Australia, Canada, Japan and Paris - the first store to be given the characteristic racing green frontage and wood-panelled interior.

By this time the brand had also managed firmly to establish itself on the fashion radar. Indeed, when a newspaper suggested that wearing a Laura Ashley frock would make any woman look as beautiful as Katharine Ross in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the company's London store was inundated with requests.

The introduction of Laura Ashley homewear also proved successful. Floral prints and classic designs were merged together to create an attractive package, which sat comfortably with the back-to-basics, good-life movement that was happening at the time.

Two months after Laura died the company went public and found itself 34 times over-subscribed on the stock market.

From that business high point, however, things started to go downhill. Without Laura's directional eye, and thanks to changing tastes in fashion, shoppers slowly started to fall out of love with the brand. By 2005 the company was forced to close its flagship Regent Street store.

Nevertheless, Laura Ashley has retained a following over the years and only last month the company's majority owner, Malaysian billionaire K P Khoo, announced pre-tax profits of £12.2m and an increase in UK sales of 10.3%.

However, whether Laura's original designs will impress women enough a second time round to haul the brand back into fashion, remains to be seen.