Ashley Isham is Singapore’s pride. This highly-admired international fashion designer is recognized for his signature draping, strong tailoring, distinctive blend of high-octane glamour and contemporary styling. Ashley was brought up in a Malay household but his dreams were larger than life…
He left Singapore to Netherlands to experience snow – a desire he has harboured for a while – in 1995. But it was not till 1996 that he made a step that changed his life and career forever. Ashley Isham pursued a diploma in fashion design at the Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design where he started school on the same day that he applied for submission. While at London College of Fashion and Middlesex University, his education was sponsored by Swiss investment bank, Substantia Invest AG.
That is how Ashley Isham is. He continuously impresses many with this fashion visions and garnered respect and unconditional support from his army of followers worldwide. He has been showcasting his designs at London Fashion Week since November 2000. Simultaneously contemporary and classic, the dresses Ashley creates possess a unique handwriting synonymous with the designer.
He was born to be on the red carpet. He was born to rock the runway. Ashley Isham was born to show the world that dreams do come true. And akin to his native country, size and location do not matter when it comes to success. Just like how Singapore has grown to be a cosmopolitan city in just 45 years, Ashley Isham made history in less than 34 years…
You have dressed Kylie Minogue. How was the experience? How was she like as a person?
I was asked by Kylie Minogue to design a couple of dresses for her recent X Tour and being invited by her to attend her opening night in Paris. I was also invited to attend her after-show party and spend time chatting to the AMAZING Kylie.
As a person, I found her to be to be a wonderful, thoughtful, a kind human being.
You seem to like sexy, glittering, swirling dresses. Any particular reason why so?
I design for a particular type of woman. She is not the girly sort. She is more of a sophisticated femme fatale. That is why my designs are floaty, feminine, goddess like. It is contemporary, chic and elegant at the same time as that is my design philosophy and it will need to have my signature draping. I don’t do the old fashioned meringue type of dresses.
Harbouring a desire to “see snow”, you ventured abroad in December 1995. Do you still remember that first experience of snow in the cold?
I certainly enjoyed the freezing cold as it was a dream fulfilled. Its so beautiful and pure especially the light powdery snow. It has a very romantic but dark connotation which I find interesting.
You mentioned you would never have had such opportunities in fashion design if you had remained in Singapore. How do you think your career will be like if you were to remain in here?
I can’t predict the future so I wouldn’t know how my career will be like if I were to remain in Singapore unfortunately, but I am very blessed to be given the opportunity to fulfil my dreams. I love being in London as it’s the melting pot of different nationalities, vibrant art movement, culture and traditions but Singapore will always be home. Home is where the heart is after all.
In March 2009, you created “Jewel in your Hand”, the first-ever Coca Cola can and bottle design by a Singaporean. Tell us more about the thought process behind it.
The design was inspired by my Autumn/Winter ‘˜09 collection. I had designed a Blade Runner-inspired jewel-encrusted corset dress as a futuristic showpiece and thought that it would be a great idea to mould this couture look for Coca-Cola light.
Last year, you introduced new jewellery collection which was divided into 4 distinct themes – Infinite Passion, Cascaden, Love Divine and Knotting hill. They all feature hallmarks of your designs – sensuous draping and intricate knots. Care to describe each theme with our readers?
The whole collection encapsulates my design philosophies, utilising draping silhouettes and knots.
Infinite Passion showcases two infinity symbols interlocked ‘” representing the coming together of two different personalities, merging light and dark. It combines rose gold with the sparkling brilliance of diamonds and the mysterious allure of black sapphire set in black rhodium.
Cascaden utilises white gold tassels gathered at one end into a white gold-and-diamond knot. Stirring in its deceptive simplicity, the line’s bold yet delicate lines and draping silhouettes simply cascade with femininity and eloquence.
Love Divine embodies enduring love and devotion with its stylised heart-shaped knot work. Fashioned out of white gold and encrusted with glittering diamonds.
Setting, the line exudes new-age modernity ‘” perfect for the young and young-at-heart.
Knottinghill is reminiscent of spell-bound ties that forever bind.It is a resonating statement of eternal companionship.
You have a rather close relationship with your mother. How do you maintain the strong relationship?
As a family unit, I am very close to my mum and my 2 sisters. We speak every weekend for almost 3-4 hours, hence the astronomical phone bill every month. I believe that my family keeps me grounded and make it real, hence the reason I tend to spend more time in Singapore lately especially to spend my time with my super duper cute and handsome 1 year old nephew, Adam.
I have a very closed-knitted friends too who will always be there whenever I needs them like Skye Tan (photographer ), Karen NG (power stylist), Sally Teo (ACP Editor), Watson and Ewan (Upfront Models). I tend to be very private and my trusted circle are small but it’s all about the quality of friendship.
Your designs are inspired by his Southeast Asian heritage with motifs and detailing taken from Eastern influences. What about these cultures that fascinate you enough for an interpretation to your ingenuous designs?
Every season, I try to develop my signature draping and goddess dresses. I am always fascinated and inspired by my surroundings and translate it to my work. I always believe that you can find inspirations every where you look if your mind are open for inspirations.
I am from Singapore after all, so of course, I am naturally inspired by the Southeast Asian heritage as it is my roots after all and what I grew up knowing. The Southeast Asian heritage is vibrant, exciting and broad so it is always very inspiring whenever I am back in Southeast Asia.
Born Eshamuddin Ismail, why did you choose to name yourself Ashley?
Well, I have always been called Ashley as Eshamuddin is way hard to pronounce and remember right? ;-)
What would your advice be for youth with big ambitions for the fashion industry?
It’s so cliche, but “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”. Be brave and work hard to achieve your dreams and try to find solutions to any obstacle or hindrance that might present itself. The most important thing is to learn from the mistakes that you make along the way.
In your own definition, what makes a woman modern and smart?
The key is being yourself. Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way to live. To have good taste and style, your mindset must be relentlessly focused on the smallest detail.
I believe in the late Yves Saint Laurent quote that “Fashion Fades, Style Is Eternal”. It is very important to be able to create one own’s individual look as it creates one’s own personal, individual character.