A fashion week fixture since completing his MA in Fashion at Central Saint Martins in 2000, Ashish has captivated the industry with his playful, culture-clashing designs. After two decades of adding some much-welcome sparkle and shine to the LFW calendar, next week marks the opening of his first career retrospective Ashish: Fall in Love and Be More Tender, at London’s William Morris Gallery. While an exhibition justly celebrates the designer's extensive career, his A/W 23 collection shows no signs of him slowing down anytime soon.
‘It's a clash of cultures,’ Gupta tells me during a visit to his East London studio. Having moved to London to study fashion in the 90s, the designer explains the metropolis was a hotbed for Indian couples on their honeymoon at the time. Reflecting on the styles he would see at Heathrow airport, the collection is a playfully nostalgic amalgamation of wardrobes from his home of Delhi with those of London.
An apt representation of globalisation, the collection is rife with sari dresses styled over striped tracksuits and faire-isle knits paired with short slip dresses and mini skirts indicative of the decade. One of the brand's more inventive signatures includes a whimsical take on the classic boucle skirt suit, crafted from sequins, of course. ‘[They were] wearing traditional ornate clothing mixed with modern western things, especially coats and jumpers and sportswear', Gupta explains.
Still, it's how he reinterprets the sari into traditionally western silhouettes that shines throughout the collection. ‘I like the idea of people wearing sportswear when they travel to be comfortable, and why can’t that be a sari?’, he tells me. While embroidered midi length skirts and dresses dominate his latest lineup, the key pieces of the collection are lightweight bomber jackets crafted from upcycled saris. 'A sari is such an amazing garment - literally a rectangle of fabric and anyone can wear it, in several different ways. In a way it is the prefect juxtaposition to sportswear, which is all about comfort and ease.'
Ashish's connection to India goes beyond exploring his hertiage for inspiration. Since his eponymous label was founded his output has been primarily manufactured by in his factory in Delhi. ‘It isn’t cut from a sheet of fabric. They’re individually embroidered by hand,' he tells me of his sequined creations. More than a business, the brand fosters local, artisanal craft and has been supporting a community since its inception. A family affair, it's Gupta's own mother who manages the factory. ‘It’s grown and grown. There are still people who have been there since the beginning.'
This, of course, is nothing new. Along with highlighting Indian craft, since the brand was first established, Gupta has artfully used fashion as a means to start important conversations. Becoming synonymous with playfully political designs thanks in part to witty and timely slogan T-shirts (like those that dominated its A/W 17 collection), its his more nuanced designs like the sari reimagined as sportswear that reveal a deeper exploration of identity.
This multi-layered exploration will be front and centre at Ashish: Fall in Love and Be More Tender, that opens on 1 April at the William Morris Gallery. The career retrospective co-curated by Roisin Inglesby and Studio Voltaire director Joe Scotland, is set to showcase over 60 designs spanning the London-based label's two-decades in the business. While he's ready to celebrate his past, Gupta very much has his sights set on championing a brighter future for fashion. 'Much less fast fashion', is what he tells me asked about the changes he wants to see. 'We need better-made clothes which last longer.