Only five collections in, Ashley Williams has been inspired by Vietnamese prostitutes emulating American culture in the 1960s, the Beastie Boys meet Sky Ferreira, and rebellious 80s workers. From the outset, Ashley Williams has been one to watch. Not only did she have the backing of Fashion East, Alexa Chung and Pixie Geldof, perennial cool girls on the London scene, are regular fixtures at her shows; that’s not to mention Georgia May Jagger, Adwoa Aboah and Alice Dellal modelling in her shows. Only in its nascency her business, not just a generational project although pigeonholed and marketed as thus, Ashley Williams has clearly defined her aesthetic. On the overcrowded London schedule this is imperative to a designer’s success.
For her Spring 2017 show, Ashley Williams enlisted set designer Tony Hornecker to imagine her vision of youth culture. Hitherto Ashley has opted to present in the characterless venues with white walls and grey runways. A teenager living in her childhood bedroom. A messy bookshelf, colourful helium balloons, a forgotten CRT television, dolls, globes, colourful seating. It was a 90s time capsule almost, possibly reminiscent of Ashley’s childhood room. Employing Hornecker didn’t just create a distracting set piece with the sole purpose of generating Instagram likes, it was an experiential, world-building exercise which brands in their infancy, like Ashley’s, should try to do if they opt for the runway show format.
River Phoenix, Joaquin’s older brother, who tragically passed away in 1993, provided inspiration for the show. He was the heartthrob who punctuated this collection, appearing on Fernanda Ly’s opening look: a white dress with an image of Phoenix. Over that she wore a bra top—teenage rebellion. This was a nod to the “Hollywood Hills trailer trash” that the show notes spoke of.
There were also “Dalston diesel dykes, bendy weirdos and brilliant bouncy nerf herders”. Capturing various subcultures of adolescence, the overarching image being conveyed this collection, for me personally, was ‘dressing up for somebody.’ Do we dress for ourselves? Not anymore, in the age of Instagram and Snapchat. We dress for everyone else. There was Adwoa Aboah in a ruffled shirt dress; a model in an orchid-printed suit with what could be her mother’s earrings and sunglasses; a varsity jacket with a Cupid patch, presumably a boyfriend’s jacket. Ashley touched on various emblems of adolescence, imbuing it also with historical shapes. There were hoodies and multiple iterations of ‘the suit from the thrift shop’. One skirt, the bottom licked with flames and pink love hearts reminded one of Prada’s Spring 2012 collection, with it’s 50s references.
This was a dense collection but there wasn’t a shortage of great moments. With ease and finesse, Ashley sold her aesthetic once more. She targeted age old tropes in her collection, although they could’ve used some more modernist interpretations—she’s well capable. Nothing felt derivative thankfully, it was all distinctly Ashley Williams. You’d recognise the pink tunic with a Cupid pop art print and “First Born” across the body Ashley’s from a mile out.
What’s next? A collaboration with a high street retailer would be an excellent, enterprising endeavour for Ashley to embark on. The simplicity of imagining teenagers and young women queueing to buy into the Ashley Williams world goes without saying—the aim behind this would be to encourage the customers to grow up and purchase from Ashley’s mainline. The levels of effort and craft distinguish Ashley from the high street. Her unerring vision and the quasi-intellect of her pieces, of course, rule out any comparisons to the high street.
Youth culture dominates the high street and Ashley Williams manages to transform it into high fashion, with clothes worth paying for. They have character and a unique sensibility, they’re recognisably hers and frankly, that’s an achievement that few can claim to have.
Photo Credit: voguerunway.com