Ashish: how to use sequins as a form of protest
The day before Ashish presented his AW17 collection, we met with him to find out how the political events of last year have affected his company, and whether the future is still sparkly.
Asked to dance down the runway for the finale to a Sister Sledge soundtrack, model Luke Farley, said he found “something evidently different in walking [for Ashish]. Whether or not it was the clothes, it felt less tough, I felt really strong, but still feminine. The yellow brick road, the collection, the makeup, the music, I am very proud to be involved.”
This sparkly offering was a politically charged middle finger to the establishment and the expectations placed on people today. Black and white glittery short suits had ‘Planned Parenthood’ emblazoned on the back, and slogans like ‘More Glitter Less Twitter’ and ‘Love Sees No Colour’ were written across the front of t-shirts. The striped jumpers that paid homage to the LGBTQ community were mirrored by the t-shirt covered in slogans like ‘No person is illegal’ that the designer wore for his finale walk. The overarching message of this show was one of acceptance and tolerance, something which the designer supports in his everyday life. “I think I’m just getting more and more extreme every season. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I think there’s going to be some kind of implosion at some point. Or suddenly I’m going to do this all black, no sequins collection.”
“SEQUINS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN RELEGATED TO A SLIGHTLY DODGY COCKTAIL KIND OF THING. THEY ARE, IN A WAY, A PROTEST AGAINST GLOOM, AGAINST WEARING BEIGE, AGAINST BLANDNESS.”
Forty-two-year-old Ashish Gupta has always been a supporter of liberal, tolerant politics. Growing up in India, “where it is still illegal to be gay,” Ashish knew from a young age that he wanted to be part of the fashion industry. He briefly debated what role he would play in the industry, but soon his visual creative side won out over his literary leanings, and he went to Central Saint Martins to learn his trade. “I learnt more in six months with Louise Wilson than I have learnt ever,” he says about studying under the legendary MA Fashion leader.
Central Saint Martins is a school well-known for encouraging creativity amongst its students, and it’s clear that Ashish is no exception. From the off, he has seen fashion as a magical place for escapism.
“The way I design is like a fantasy, I want it to be escapist, I want it to be quite magical. It’s almost like if you feel quite down, and you want to escape from that oppression, this world is like magic. When I first started doing it, for a lot of people, I guess it was too much. You know, sequins have always been kind relegated to a slightly dodgy cocktail kind of thing. They are, in a way, a kind of a protest. They are a protest against gloom, against wearing beige, against blandness.”
Though Ashish is known for these glittering collections, recently the political situation has become so bad it seems he may no longer be able to escape. One such example of this is the plain white t-shirt marked with the word ‘Immigrant’. The piece is currently on sale in Browns, South Molton Street, but it was never intended to go into production. Ashish originally made it to wear himself, as a response to the Brexit referendum last year. He wanted to say: “Yeah, do you know what? I am a fucking immigrant. I contribute so much and this is bullshit. I feel that even if you’re not successful, there are people that clean toilets and make beds in hotels and do all those things, and they are as valid – they are human beings and they do things that nobody else wants to do.”
When a picture of the t-shirt was posted on Instagram, many people messaged him, looking to get hold of one for themselves. They said that it was representative of how they felt as well. This touched him deeply, and after Browns contacted him, he agreed to put the t-shirt into production.
“THERE MIGHT NOT BE ANOTHER SEASON, SO SAY WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO SAY.”
Speaking about being an immigrant and how Brexit made him feel unwanted, Ashish became more emotional. “I’ve had to make a life for myself, when I came here, I had no family here, I had no friends here. I had to build a life for myself. To find out, actually, that Brexit is happening, it completely changed how I feel. You start questioning so much stuff, like really basic rights and freedoms. So that has been quite upsetting for me. In that sense, this season and the season before have been quite personal. The conversation has expanded and become about so many different issues. Women’s rights, gay rights, so many things. It’s things that people have taken for granted that are suddenly being questioned. It’s shocking that the right to abortion can just be taken away, I think that’s really fucked.”
Sticking resolutely to his principles, Ashish has remained a privately owned company, giving him the freedom to design what he wants, rather than being dictated to by numbers. Although he has no particular plans for expansion or developing a stand-alone store, Ashish does not seem to be struggling. After ten successful collaborations with high-street giant Topshop, and another in the pipeline with a different high street brand later this year, it seems to be only forwards he is heading.
As a piece of parting advice, Ashish tells me about the vision behind the way he designs. “If I wake up and think I really wanna do rainbow glitter pajamas, I think, what if I died in a week, what if this was the last thing I ever did, is this something I really have to do? I have to do it. Sorry, it has to be done. That’s how I look at it and I imagine if this was the last one, just do it. Whatever you want to do just do it, don’t hold back because there might not be another season, so say what you are trying to say.”
This method obviously works for him, as I don’t know of any other fashion designer who could send handmade sequined harlequin check sweat pants and fair isle jumpers down the runway as ‘ready to wear’ to such high praise.