A problem with fashion is the relentless drive for "next." Trends have to zoom; models must morph; editors try and churn pages of "the new" and "the fresh" and "the It" for fear of being left behind. This is great for reinvention, and usually for business, but sometimes it puts young talent in a weird place. Witness the case of Ashleigh Verrier, whose first collection - created as her senior thesis project at Parsons - got bought, in its entirety, by Saks. This was in 2004, when Tim Gunn was her thesis adviser and Proenza Schouler was her boss (she was their first-ever intern). Soon, the 22-year-old was billed as an "up-and-coming" by magazines and newspapers, about a year after she could buy vodka. Now 26, Ashleigh is still younger than most emerging designers, with a sponsored show in Bryant Park and a list of celebrity clients fit for Page Six - not to mention a licensing deal in Japan that could grow her company and label. Still, the "up-and-coming" title hasn't vanished, despite newer newbies like Alexander Wang, Vena Cava, and Chris Benz (who shared several college classes with Ashleigh!) hitting the scene. "But I'm not complaining," remarks the San Francisco native. "Sometimes, when I work with my seamstress, I feel like I'm still in grad school!" Maybe - but does anyone in grad school make dresses for Courtney Cox? Didn't think so.
Name: Ashleigh Verrier Age: 26 Hometown: San Francisco, CA. What was your first job in fashion? I interned for Proenza Schouler in 2004, when their label was pretty new. I was at the Parsons School of Design at the time, but originally, I came to New York to paint and be a visual artist... I was just so passionate about fashion that I knew I had to go for it.
But when I first started, I was definitely the Special Ed student of the class! It was a humbling experience.
Why do you think your line got so much traction right away? I attribute a lot of it to being in New York. After school, I was in California and I thought, you know, I have to come back to New York... a lot of it was being in the right place at the right time. And I believe in being ready for luck.
Really? Yes, but not just waiting for something to happen. You have to be a hard worker, you have to be focused, and a lot of it is timing. Sometimes a detour feels wrong but it ends up working out later in a different way. But you can't just sit around and wait for someone to realize how good you are, and don't just feel your way around - have a plan. What's the first thing you do when it's time to make a new collection? Pick fabric. The fabric dictates the design. And then I really love books, but not, like fashion books. Of course, the references to Chanel and Dior will always be there, but you can't take too much from them because the idea of being a lady and dressing like a lady is great, but we can't just walk around in crinoline skirts anymore!
Does being a woman in New York influence your designs? Of course. As a woman, I think about how I would want to dress, and since I'm living in my inspiration, a lot of my designs happen organically. I mean, I would never make a dress that I didn't want to wear or see on someone I really liked. Do you look at your friends before you design? No, I really like to look at books. I'm a huge book nerd. But I don't love to look at fashion related books, because then it feels like inbred inspiration. I like weirder things. I can go to an image library and find a book about insects, and I'll just stare at it for hours.
What will you never make? I am aghast at clothes that only last for a season.
It makes me really worried about the future of fashion. What's going to happen to vintage?
... My seamstress has been working in the industry for decades, and she understands what makes the cut of a Chanel jacket so special... but some of the things made now, can you imagine trying to find them in 50 years? I can't. And I want to wear things that are beautiful and well made. What's the best advice you've ever gotten as a designer?
When I was in school, Tim [Gunn] was talking to me, and he said, "If you're going to be a strong designer, you have to have your own style."
And then he was kind of like, dumb it down, Ashleigh. Like, you don't need your work to be complicated, you just need it to be good.
And the worst advice? Follow the trends! I know that works for some designers and I need to be relevant, yes, but I can't force short bubble skirts to fit into my collection! Would you ever wear one? I mean... For me, so much of my collection is trying on my clothes.
What about men, who can't do that? Well, there are so many great male designers. But I can appreciate that some days, your body is in a different place, and if you're a male designer, you do have a more peripheral perspective. I feel fortunate that I can relate to the clothes.
When women go to a man to tell them how to dress, it's a little subversive, and sometimes, there's a fetish quality to it.
When you see tight skirts, I turn to my mom and I'm like, "Would you wear this? Okay, me neither."
AND NOW, THE PROUST QUESTIONNAIRE... WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WORD? I really like Diaphanous. I'm like, "This dress is very diaphanous! And everyone's like, what?!" WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE WORD? Everyone loves the word muffin, but I don't think people should say it. Muffin and puffin. I don't like those words at all. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE NOISE OR SOUND? I'm obsessed with classical music and the sound of scratchy records being played on an old Victrola, like old opera records. I'm also obsessed with Nick Drake and his family tree album. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE WORD? Jackhammering! WHAT INSPIRES YOU? Books! But actually, working does too. When I make a really beautiful dress, and it's finally finished, I feel like I'm on top of the world. WHAT MAKES YOU WANT TO STOP WORKING? When people say "No, this can't be done." And when people won't believe in me, and I have to defend myself. I've defended myself with everything I've had and still experienced rejection, and that's so hard! WHAT OCCUPATION WOULD YOU LIKE TO ATTEMPT BESIDES YOUR OWN? I would love to be a psychiatrist. I swear, I'm going to get my degree in that. WHAT OCCUPATION WOULD YOU NEVER WANT TO TRY? I'd be a caged bird if I were a receptionist. I respect people who do that, but it would be so hard for me to sit and do one thing all day. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SWEAR WORD? Bullshit. I'm always being like, "That's bullshit!" IF HEAVEN EXISTS, WHAT SHOULD GOD SAY TO YOU WHEN YOU GET THERE? "You did a good job!" But I'm not afraid of death, though. It's the way I was raised. I believe there are guides who help get you there.