'Coffee, Pizza, And Lots Of Haribo' Ashish Tells Us How He Survives Show Season
The Debrief: Behold; The King Of Sequins
At last season’s Ashish show, fashion designer Ashish Gupta took his final bow with his grin fighting for our attention from the mega-bling sequinned FML slogan on his sweatshirt.
In just 14 years, he had gone from graduating from London’s Central Saint Martins’ notorious MA course, to presenting to the world’s fashion press, knowing that the likes of Madonna, Miley Cyrus and Victoria Beckham would all have their eye on whatever trotted out of his imagination.
As it turns out, it was Kanye who called Ashish after the show, to say a casj ‘thanks’ for immortalising his face on a sequinned sweater. Somehow, I’m guessing the FML sequins were probs a bit tongue-in-cheek.
Sequins, you see, are Ashish’s thing. He is, to me, the sequin wizard. As the only designer to have so convincingly made them his bread and butter, much like Burberry has relied on its trench, or Mulberry on its dogs and Brit-It-tastic girls, Ashish never sends out a single collection without a whopping fistful of sparkle.
‘When I was growing up, sequins were always associated with women of a certain age, with cocktail dresses and “glamour” dressing,’ he tells The Debrief two days before London Fashion Week kicks off. ‘I wanted to make them casual, bring them into daywear and take them out of the traditional context. My fantasy was to see someone in a sequin tracksuit in a supermarket.’
Here’s the thing, Ashish is the kind of guy who makes fantasies happen IRL. His stuff is now stocked in 17 different countries, and I’m willing to bet someone, somewhere has definitely worn his T-shirt or trackies to do the weekly shop. And looked damn fine.
Ashish was born in Delhi, far from the circus of London’s fashion scene. As a teenager, he obsessed over watching Dynasty and Dallas on cable (ask your parents), and reading his mum’s copies of American Vogue; knowing from the age of 12 that he wanted in on the industry.
‘I found it so inspiring, it was like this magical fantasy world to me. I used to rip out all the fashion and perfume ads and stick them on my bedroom walls,’ he says.
Didn’t we all. But Ashish was determined that he wasn’t just going to admire fashion, he was going to do his bit. ‘All that imagery was a big, big influence, all the 80s American designers and models and movie stars and advertising. Everyone and everything looked beautiful and sexy and desirable... and I really wanted to have a small part, any part, in that world.’
After studying fine art, surviving his MA course (the most gruelling in the industry – trust me, I’m a fellow survivor) and finally making it to Paris to talk jobs with major studios, Ashish had his entire portfolio pinched at Gare du Nord. And thank God, too, as it might have taken him longer to set up on his own.
As it happens, he headed straight home to India to design a small collection that was gobbled up immediately by Browns Focus. Fifteen years on, they’re still stocking his stuff, and every season there are sell-out, cult items.
These days, Ashish’s studio is nestled in the depths of Hackney, but his dual culture is definitely present in his collections. When he talks of India’s colour riots, and how the street style is mish-mashed together from swarms of different patterns and styles, you can feel an affection for its flamboyancy.
But Indian style doesn’t define his work; it’s just sometimes, like if you probe a pair of his embroidered, shredded jeans that you realise you’ve pored over similar intricate needlework on a sari, and you remember there’s a hint of exotic heritage behind each glitzy piece.
Work on the AW15 collection, which will be shown on Tuesday, started about three months ago. The big ideas were conceived in London, where Ashish began researching the shapes and the mood, as well as sourcing and creating initial ideas for embroideries and colours, before flying to India to develop the actual samples in the factory that his mum still oversees.
He’s not much of a sketcher, he says. ‘Instead of sketching looks I often collage fabrics together as “outfits” and photograph them to see what I like and what I don’t. I prefer to be more hands-on.’
This method allows him to make every piece ‘special’. If you pull apart a show look from Ashish you suddenly realise that each bit stands strong on its own – there might be eight different items in one look, but they’re all making their own cool noise. I get the vibe that I could label him a perfectionist though.
‘Trying to get everything I want made in time for the show is hard. I always feel like I run out of time and have to stop what I’m doing,’ he explains. ‘But I guess in a way that’s the nice thing about fashion – you have to force yourself to stop at some point, but you can pick up a thread and continue developing it next season.’
Ashish has that compulsive drive you see with a lot of creative types, they’re always hungry to do, see, and spawn more stuff, but all that energy has to come from somewhere other than just blind passion. There’s a magic combo of power fuel leading up to the show: ‘Coffee sees me through designing the collection, and when it comes to show-prep time, it’s lots of pizza and haribo,’ he laughs.
Music is important too, apparently, with lots of 80s pop and disco pumping out from his Hackey bolt-hole. ‘Lots of early Madonna always makes me happy. I suspect a lot of my musical taste is rather trashy…’
Before every Ashish show you’re always wondering what he can possibly do next with twinkly bits. He’s already put One Direction’s faces onto a pair of jeans, and sent out a whole storm of models wearing tiaras (they looked just as likely to whip them off and use them to jimmy open a bottle of Coca Cola as they were to preen prettily in front of a mirror).
He’s tight-lipped about what exactly to expect next week, but he has set the scene for us, telling me that the starting point was the fashion shoot scene in the 1978 film Eyes of Laura Mars – one of his favourite movies. And having received the invite – a credit card to shop the Ashish show – we can only imagine what he has planned for us.
In his studio, the collection’s moodboard is currently packed full of skinheads, underwear, lingerie, jewellery, army surplus, and street-style snaps he took himself. He assures me that this collection is going to be very sexy – a side to the sequin you don’t often see.
‘So many people told me not to do sequins, or that I had to move on from them, but I’m glad I’ve stuck to my guns. I feel like it’s a kind of constant rebellion, like it’s an art-form, no less valid than print or knitwear,’ he says.
And what about the haters? What would he say to them? ‘I like the fact that sequins are often considered uncool. A bit of bad taste is a very good thing.’
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