From Foundation to MA Knitwear, Ashley Kang has been studying at Central Saint Martins for the past six years. Originally from South Korea, Ashley moved around from country to country at a young age before settling in London. Having lived in France, the Philippines, and the USA, as well as in England and Korea, she began to explore the idea of developing a connection between herself and her past. “I really love the personal relationship I have with the cities I lived in,” she says. Ashley’s experiences became central to her creative process, which eventually led to working on her graduate collection entitled Layers of Memory.
Staying in college from 8.30AM to 10PM each day, Ashley has only had a couple of hours to herself, in which she was able to meet with friends or relax before heading to bed for an early morning the next day. Telling us about some of her favourite spots to visit in London, she mentions: “I can’t wait to go to Bistrotheque and Lanka once my collection is over. Also I love going to Yauatcha on weekdays.” Endlessly working on her collection for the past year and a half, she admits she’s had no time for a personal life. However, she made friends on the course who’ve been her support system — encouraging and motivating her to get through the arduous production process.
Spending most of her time listening to music, reading, and watching films of all genres while working, Ashley constantly looks for ways to connect her daily life and hobbies with her artistic development. Books, documentaries and exhibitions can trigger an inspiration for a collection she’s working on, but sometimes these things can simply provide artistic and creative entertainment. Going to places such as Marcus Campbell Art Books and Pompidou Centre, Ashley exposes herself to a wide selection of art books whenever and wherever.
For this particular collection, she looked to Notebook on Cities and Clothes, a documentary by Wim Wenders. Although she had watched this documentary three years ago, it gave her the opportunity to rethink her values about fashion and its relationship to her past experiences. “I don’t know why, but this documentary caught my eye while I was doing research in the library. I had seen it before, but I decided to watch it again, and it felt so different from when I had last seen it.”
Ashley took a very personal approach when beginning her collection, which is based on four major cities she has lived in the past – New York, London, Manila, and Seoul. “You change your habits, languages, and opinions when you move to another city,” was a particular line from the documentary that resonated with her. “I would wear different clothes depending on where I was. Well, it was not only the visual things, but also how I thought, spoke, and acted. Everything changed. I struggled to define myself when I was so different and versatile depending on where I was, but I learned to embrace those parts of me.”
Layers of Memory got its name from particular imagery that Ashley was used to seeing. She noticed that when someone new moves into a home, he or she layers new wallpaper on top of the already existing wallpaper. Tearing everything away when leaving the property, layers from the past become visible, which became the entire concept of her collection. “It has quite an antique and authentic feeling.”
Although she initially designs for an idealised self, she creates garments that can be worn by her actual self. Drawing from personal preferences, most of her collection is comprised of tight tops and loose bottoms, both skirts and trousers. She also places great importance on the comfort and mobility of her designs, making sure that it does not restrict the body.
Throughout this process, she faced several challenges. Although she had hoped to take a year off before starting her master’s programme, she ended up coming directly from her BA, claiming that “life moves on and sometimes you just have to carry on.” This was, however, quite a draining experience for her, as she had not expected such a shift in atmosphere and people. She began to challenge herself as she learned to broaden her view and fully grasp her personal style. Unlike her undergraduate degree, where she did whatever she wanted without any restrictions, she had to start thinking about the specifics and know the target, market, and herself. Through various projects during her first year of MA, such as the Book Project, she went beyond simply searching for aesthetic references and began to mind map relevant source material, which surprisingly seemed to all connect in the end.
Going to trade shows such as Pitti Filati in Italy to source yarn and working on the Stoll machine, which Ashley only had access to on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the main challenges she faced were producing more within a specific amount of time at a higher standard with limited resources. “Mentality is key,” she says. From this, she learned to embrace mistakes and work with what she had. “In the end it is my collection, my portfolio, my work. I just need to know what I’m doing and like my work – no matter what others say.” Once she started the process of creating from shapes to textiles she was able to overcome the challenges. “It is so rewarding to see a lookbook or editorial photos and see the work finally come alive on human body.”
Having recently received a job offer as a junior designer from an Italy-based company, Ashley is excited to start her professional career and be a part of a team. When asked about starting her own brand, she tells us that she is not currently considering it, but that she would be willing to think about it when the right time comes. From her design developments to her future plans, Ashley’s spontaneity remains consistent.
Words by Grace Ahn
All images courtesy of Ashley Kang