Working under the guidance of the renowned designer Yohji Yamamoto has graced Ashlyn with an inquisitive approach and meticulous rigour. One that bleeds into every aspect of design under her eponymous fashion brand, Ashlyn. From classical tailored garments to the single cut zero waste pieces, the collections are driven by an authentic respect for the artistry of design. We talk to the designer about the foundations of this introspective nature, and find out what’s in store for Ashlyn down the line.
To get us started, can you introduce yourself and Ashlyn to our readers?
I was born and raised in South Korea. I have spent over a decade working on the design teams of various global fashion houses before launching my brand, Ashlyn in 2020. My brand expresses a confident, modern interpretation of traditional tailoring with a focus on clean silhouettes and comfort.
Working as a pattern cutter under Yohji Yamamoto’s composed rigour and discipline, how would you say this alongside any other tutelage nurtured your approach to design to what it is today?
Yohji taught me to question everything in my designs: what is the purpose of each detail? Do we really need that trim? Because of this, I am constantly asking myself about sustainability: who benefits from it and how it can be achieved?
In your Autumn/Winter 2022 collection Identity you transpose your own personal history into these incredible refined pieces, can you tell us some more about the collection and the ways in which the locations in which you studied and worked influenced these?
The collection draws on milestone points along the way of my life, the periods that I feel really shaped who I am today. The happy memories of the 90s: in Tokyo where I was educated and first employed, and in New York, where I moved in my 20s and discovered my independence. I recall these moments filled with fun and joy, a time when love triumphed over everything.
Within this collection, and your work as a collective, we can observe a juxtaposition of sharp conscientious tailoring with daring deconstruction of pieces. Is this a purposeful contrast?
There is something so uniquely appealing to see a confident woman in a perfectly tailored garment. I’ve always been intrigued by the internal construction of a garment, which is just as important as what the garment looks like from the outside. I think it’s interesting to expose these inner workings through deconstructed details, and let the wearer showcase their unique style.
You’ve spoken previously about how the almost ostentatious nature of pieces that you were seeing on the runway inspired you to create your sharp and refined core collection. With such a focus on making statements and curating online virality, do you think the focus of runway is becoming too far removed from the pieces themselves?
At the heart of every woman’s wardrobe is a core collection, the pieces that they gravitate to on a daily basis. However, I think we also need to be inspired by daring designs that have the power to evoke different feelings and emotions.
Each season, your Zero Waste capsule collection is created with a promise to reduce fashion waste through meticulous design. Sustainability is also addressed through your 2021 Spring/Summer documentary project. How do you achieve sustainability within your work?
I am continually asking myself about sustainability: who benefits from it and how it can be achieved? The fashion industry produces so much waste. I decided that I needed to address this problem head on, so I launched my Zero Waste capsule collection. These garments are constructed from a single piece of fabric cut and produced with zero waste product. In addition to my Zero Waste garments, my entire business model was conceived to change consumer consciousness and behaviour. I offer bespoke tailoring; a pre-order option allows me to responsibly create pieces that are produced only after an order has been received, and my garments are made from responsibly sourced, low-impact natural fibres such as linen, reiterative wool, and organic cotton.
Given the ongoing climate crisis, do you think there is an onus on designers to integrate sustainable design philosophy, like this, into their work?
Yes, I believe it is our duty.
Designer x high-street collaborations are utilised by designers to drive inclusivity in the industry and showcase more stripped back collections, such as with H&M collaborations with Maison Margiela and Comme des Garçons. Is a collaboration of this nature something you would consider in the future?
I see collaborations as the greatest form of inspired creativity. As artists, we are constantly influencing and inspiring each other. I believe in the power of shared creativity and the unique hold it will have over the future of Ashlyn.
In the Autumn/Winter 2021 collection Hibernation you channel the uncertainty and unpredictability of the world during the pandemic. For many creatives the experience of this time is split: where some found the time to foster their visions, others felt the imposing restrictions left them with a sense of creative futility - what was your creative experience of this time?
I started designing the Autumn/Winter 2021 collection during the pandemic, a time of serious pause, reflection and rebirth for me. I challenged myself to reevaluate my role as a designer: how could I change the fashion system to reduce its adverse impact on the environment? I committed myself and my company to make this change. I focused on eliminating waste in cutting and adjusting my production system.
Your work has garnered substantial, and well-deserved, recognition; with comparisons to renowned designer Maison Margiela, and being selected as a finalist for the 2022 prestigious LVMH Prize for Young Designers. Is there a particular moment of success which resonates most strongly for you?
Every moment from that experience seems miraculous and like a dream. I am always looking for new goals to achieve and this level of recognition is pushing me further into my work.
In recognition of your trajectory to the success you find yourself in today and within such a competitive industry, was working with your ethos “to never give up” always so easy to maintain?
I always tell my daughters: never give up on yourself. Throughout my career, so many people told me that I would never be able to pursue my dream of launching my own brand, while also raising a family. Industry norms prevent women from balancing career and personal life. It’s like pick one: brand or baby. I don’t believe in that. I’ve cut out wasted time to work super efficiently with my team so that they too can enjoy their personal lives. We all deserve happiness.
What does the future of Ashlyn look like to you?
I’m committed to doing my part to better the fashion system. I want to continue to build my atelier in my own way, to create a happy and healthy environment for my team so that we can reduce waste in all forms. I have a great respect for the artistry of design; the attention to every detail, and the focus on perfecting the interior construction of the garment. I will continue to work in this way and share this technique with my team and future generations of designers.