Interview Profile: Ashish
Anyone who’s familiar with Ashish Gupta’s designs will recognise the cult following that he’s attracted. His bold, tongue-in-cheek collections have sequin magpies saving up for a piece of the glamour every season, and celebrity devotees include Haim, MIA, and Miley Cyrus. Such a dedicated fan-base is unusual for a London-based designer. But then again, Ashish is far from usual. With an aesthetic amalgamation of sportswear, opulence and attitude, Ashish’s urban-cool designs are more current now than ever.
While it may seem like only London’s coolest can get away with his daring aesthetic, the Dehli-born designer says, ‘there isn’t an ideal Ashish woman. She likes sequins, has a sense of humour, and an interesting job – or at least fantasises about one.’ With his clothes stocked everywhere from French boutique Colette to ASOS, his audience varies from fashion students to the wealthy older woman – ‘what unites them is their sense of humour.’
Ashish’s label was started in 2001, and with the help of Topshop’s NewGen scheme, which supports emerging young designers to establish their work, he has turned what began as a love for sequins and party dresses into a business. The designer came out of the NewGen process, an award he has won three times, with huge success – unfortunately, a feat many young designers find difficult to maintain. Perhaps this success lies in the fact that he has great personal conviction, and is loyal to what he believes in. Unlike many designers, who are jumping at the chance to create pre-collections, he feels the pace of the industry is going too fast. Does this make him feel pressured to generate more? ‘No! I’m making beautiful clothes and enjoying it! I’m not saving lives – there’s nothing relying on me producing more. It’s important to stay with your own style but move forwards too. I’ve learnt that it’s your name on stuff, so if you’re not happy, don’t do it.
Although he’d love to branch out and create a perfume – ‘it’d be really strong, sexy and exotic’ – he says there’s no way he’d sell out to create a distasteful make-up range just for the sake of expanding the brand. Interestingly, Ashish says he’d love to design a glasses range: ‘I spend a ridiculous amount on them as they always get sat on or stolen. I went to the toilet in a restaurant once and my favourite pair were gone.’ With a wry smile, he adds, ‘I hope the thief choked on their salad.’
Topshop has played a big part in the designer’s commercial success. With collaborations over seven years, Ashish has designed everything from ski and sportswear to sequin dresses for the highstreet kingpin, which have been so popular that Queen Bey bought an entire collection. Something about the designer’s work draws in musicians, particularly strong, cool-as-hell women – perhaps it’s the fact his designs satisfy the craving for glamour, whilst also making a bold statement, not to mention how great the sequins look on stage, in motion and reflecting the lighting.
His career highlight (so far – ‘I hope it hasn’t happened yet!’) is when he saw Madonna wearing his jacket on stage: ‘I designed it for her, and she’s an icon of mine. I never thought I’d see her wearing one of my pieces!’ And speaking of ostentatious women, what does he think of Miley wearing his clothes? ‘I like Miley. She has balls – hats off to her. She wore my Combination Pants and people online kicked off – they renamed them ‘Frankenpants’. These people really think I’m the child of Satan for designing them!’
His S/S14 collection showcased at September’s London Fashion Week saw his recent partnership with giant corporation Coca Cola featured on the designs. Ashish says of the collaboration, ‘I was interested in the brand imagery – they’re iconic. Andy Warhol wrote about Coke: ‘You can be rich or poor, but you’re drinking the same product’.’ His collection also referenced his love for the multi-cultural aspect of London: ‘if you didn’t know it was England, you could be anywhere in the world.’ With Arabic scripture emblazoned on the clothing reading ‘thank you, please come again’, Ashish is paying homage to the corner shops of London – ‘you see Arabic food next to cheddar cheese – that’s why I placed the icon of a global corporation (Coke) next to the script’ – a fitting celebration of the city’s cosmopolitanism.
He explains that the styling process for a show is far from straightforward – ‘we were going to do minimalist accessories, but then we thought ‘no, this is boring’.’ Instead, the collection featured elaborate statement headwear and jewellery – ‘they’re from this eccentric guy that collects it from all over the world. He has a house full of the stuff – it’s like Aladdin’s cave’ – and ‘ugly velvet and rhinestone slippers from Shepherd’s Bush market.’
Of course, the show contained lots of sequins. Lots of them. What first drew the designer to his trademark embellishment? ‘I wanted to make party frocks, which is so un-Central Saint Martin’s-y, but my tutor said ‘why the hell not?’ I love old Hollywood glamour, and in India we had so much of that material, but I didn’t have access to it, so I was fascinated.’
Just don’t ask him whether he’ll be using sequins again next season: ‘I hate it when people ask that– you wouldn’t ask Burberry if they were still doing trench coats. In the past people haven’t seen sequins as a valid art form, similarly to how tattooing used to be viewed in New York. Sequins are what I do, it’s my signature, I’m obsessed with it! I’m not ashamed of that. You wouldn’t ask Mary Katrantzou if she was still doing digital prints.’ The loyalty to his vision, and his refreshingly insouciant attitude, is what separates Ashish from his contemporaries – and perhaps explains his success where other emerging designers have failed.
Dismantling all the stereotypes about designers, Ashish is grounded, witty, and affable. He looks to Tumblr for inspiration – ‘it’s a modern version of Victorian scrapbooks, every page is a different zeitgeist’ – and chooses his own show music. He’s unfazed by bad reviews, and values the close-knit team he works in. A designer whose tongue-in-cheek and playful attitude is evident in his clothing, Ashish is certainly set for a stratospheric career ahead.