Having first shown in London in 2003, Ashley Isham’s collections have garnered rave reviews, prompting celebrities such as Florence Welch and Kylie Minogue to wear his creations for their red carpet appearances. Isham notes that the local fashion scene has changed from the time he started out, and people are more supportive of local designers.
“It is wonderful to see so many young ones starting their own labels and taking the job up with such passion,” he says.
“It is more than being a tailor or seamstress – only by creating items you truly believe in can you make a mark in this industry and remain resilient. It is not easy and there will be many bumps in the journey ahead.”
His namesake brand is now stocked in 11 locations from London to Moscow. This year, Isham has finally decided to release his own menswear collection. Inspired by the luxury of evening wear, pieces include dinner jackets and suits adorned with his signature embellishments.
Men’s Folio: After so many years, you finally released a bespoke menswear collection for Spring 2014.
Ashley isham: I decided to do it as there have been so many requests for me to start designing menswear. It has been amazing and I see it as a natural progression for me to develop something new within the same design philosophy of my brand.
You’ve always cited your mum as providing your initial passion for fashion design.
She was a seamstress, and I remembered watching her sew on the old Singer sewing machine for hours on end as I did my homework. I guess it explains the strong bond I have with her today. She used to cajole me and sew or customise my shirts and trousers.
How did studying at London College of Fashion (LCF) and Central St. Martins set your foundation?
At Central St. Martins, I did the Fashion Folio Diploma where they taught draping before moving on to do my BTEC Extended Diploma at LCF. This was where I learnt how to draft proper patterns. As a designer, I felt it was important that I have these skills. Moving on, I did my Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Womenswear at Middlesex University – making me the designer I am today, being particular about draping and razor-sharp tailoring.
Do you think Singapore is conducive to producing more talents in fashion design?
With Audi Fashion Festival and the Blueprint programme championing the local fashion industry, there will be light at the end of the tunnel for many designers. There are so many wonderful opportunities today that were not readily available back in my day. I can only hope that today’s youth will grab every chance and opportunity given to them.
What was the first article of clothing you designed?
I really can’t remember as it feels like eons ago since I first started my brand in 2000. It’s been 14 years which equals to 28 mainline Ashley Isham collections plus the pre-collections (pre-Spring and pre-Fall) that I have been designing for the past 6 years.
What makes a quality piece of clothing? Do you think local designers understand what it means to have quality pieces in their collections?
Quality is paramount in designing clothing and not just piling on the outer decoration such as feathers that detract from the skillfulness of a design. To showcase your talent, you must give shape to a piece of cloth and mould it like a sculptor would marble. That is why I have such immense respect for fellow Singapore designer, Thomas Wee – he is a brilliant pattern maker that can sculpt a piece of cloth.
You have used top Malaysian model, Tinie Bibbaby for many of your runway shows. What is it about her that represents your brand?
I adore Tinie for being fabulous and she still is my muse after all these years. I even invited her to come to London and do my show there and Paris for the salon presentation as she is special. She encapsulates the brand philosophy and always makes my design come alive. Elegant and fearless, Tinie knows how to make my pieces desirable – a sign of a true blue supermodel.
You launched Tradisi, a modern kebaya collection – what makes this collection modern?
Tradisi is an ode to my mother as she used to sew the kebayas and the baju kurungs for the family and friends. In a way I am re-living that part of my childhood. Also, there have been so many requests from family; friends and clients that I decided to embrace my roots, thus creating Tradisi. The collection marries Eastern sensibilities with a Western point of view, making the pieces nostalgic, yet contemporary while respecting the values and culture of being Malay.
You seem to be in Singapore a lot these past two years. What is it that makes you keep coming back?
There are just so many projects happening here and in Asia. Besides showing at the many fashion events, I wanted to spend more time with my family, especially with my mother who is not well. Also, to see and spend time with my two nephews – they are growing up so fast! Of course, how can I not mention missing the delectable Singapore’s cuisine? There is a saying, “You can take the boy out of the jungle but you can never take the jungle out of the boy.” I do feel homesick whenever I am away.
What are your plans for 2014 and beyond?
2014 is set to be another amazing year. Besides showing my collection around the world, I am focusing on my next venture which is to have a presence in Los Angeles while being represented by a huge conglomerate. There is definitely no rest for the wicked.