Among the international fashion weeks, London stands in a class of its own, thanks to its raw energy, irreverent sense of humour and the directional designs from the young talent on the cusp of international acclaim. One of the brightest stars on the London schedule is Ashley Williams, the 28-year-old designer who first exploded onto the scene in 2013. Fast-forward just four years and Williams outfits the UK's coolest girls in her signature aesthetic that seamlessly fuses tomboy and feminine with her take on streetwear, tailoring and more girly silhouettes.
You've probably pined over Williams' slogan statement AW17 pieces, emblazoned with the words 'Misery' and 'Save the Planet' or her puff-sleeve blouses and anti-princess dresses from her AW16 collection, showcased with tiaras and glittering chokers that read T-A-Z-E-R. Playful, colourful and always modelled by a fierce girl gang of diverse faces, Williams' collections encapsulate the dynamism and individualism of London town.
With close friends Adwoa Aboah and Georgia Jagger often on the catwalk and a front row lined with Pixie Geldof, Daisy Lowe, Alice Dellal and Alexa Chung, Williams' show is the hottest ticket each season. Ahead of her latest SS18 offering, we caught up with the designer at her east London studio to discuss her ascent, from Westminster graduate to catwalk queen.
You graduated from Westminster in 2012 and then showed your first collection in February 2013 as part of Fashion East. How did you bring your own brand and vision to fruition, following graduation?
Starting fresh out of uni I didn't have much experience, which hand in hand was a help and hindrance. If I'd have known what starting your own brand fully entailed, I would have been a bit freaked out and it maybe would have held me back from just getting on with it. I learnt a lot by trial and error, which isn't very productive. I don't regret anything though, that's how I know how to run a business and have learnt so much about fashion as a business. I'm still learning all the time.
The very beginning was being approached by Fashion East to take part in the show that coming February. I was so excited because I didn't expect it at all and I'd really enjoyed the process of making my graduate collection. What I've realised I like to do is have an idea in my mind and have it materialise – it's so gratifying and enjoyable to have your imagination land in reality. It all just went from there really, and I've just kept going.
Who have been your greatest supporters, mentors and inspiration within the industry?
So. Many. People. I probably don't even know the full extent of the work that's been put into helping me out, with sponsorship or maybe I was too busy to realise just how far out of their way my friends were going to help. It isn't possible without a high level of support from the people around you, especially when you're starting out.
I don't want to start naming names, as the list is so long I wouldn't want to leave anyone off it by mistake. But I wouldn't have been able to do half as much as I have without them. You can't ask for much more than working with your friends – what a privilege.
Having your own eponymous label for almost five years now, what have been the biggest lessons you've learned and challenges you've faced?
I've learned to stress out in moderation (which isn't easy). When a problem arises or something goes wrong, I have to question: is that worth stressing about? and to put it into context. You can get so carried away with worrying about everything you have to deal with; I would say that is my biggest work and personal challenge.
Also so many things I like have been happy accidents so just roll with the punches. However, I should probably add a disclaimer that that is easier said than done!
London is an epicentre for creative freedom and experimentation but the industry is also competitive and incredibly fast-paced. What would be your advice to a young designer or new talent?
To figure out what your motivation is and if that's going to make you happy. Not to worry so much about what people think. And to collaborate, there are so many amazing people around you. Inspire each other and have fun.
How did you go about assembling a team, from in-house to the stylist and makeup artists you work with each season?
I work with friends so it's really easy to organise and we chat about everything over the coming months. With hair and makeup teams we confirm them closer to the time and, creatively, everything happens in the last couple of days. Once you get a team that's natural and works together well, you tend to stick with it. I love all the people I work with, it would be a really different experience without them.
What does your average day as a designer look like?
There aren't that many average days, it's ever-changing. That's what I enjoy about it, it's not too methodical day-to-day.
You've done brilliant collaborations throughout your career, from Superga to Red or Dead. Is collaboration key in opening up your brand to a wider audience?
Yeah, it's great. I love to collaborate with other brands, it allows you to do things you aren't able to do on your own and work in new ways. It's one of the best parts of my job.
So what can we expect from the SS18 collection?
You'll find out on 15th September 2017.
Follow Ashley on Instagram @ashleywilliamslondon
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