Catherine Brickhill, design director of ready-to-wear at Ash, fuses rock and boho to create collections that are true to herself and the brand.
Founded in 2000, Ash creates collections with a rocky, independent spirit. Stocked by House of Fraser and Office, and a favourite among indies, the brand is known for its strong footwear and directional men’s and women’s clothing. Drapers chats to Catherine Brickhill, Paris-based design director for ready-to-wear for the brand.
What’s your background? How did you become interested in fashion?
I have three brothers, and very early on I realised that clothes were a way of expressing my femininity within my male-dominated family – of self-expression and rebellion. To this end, aged four all I wanted to wear was a bikini or a long nightie. My mum studied at art school with [designer] Ossie Clark and she always had – and still has – masses of glamour with a dash of arty make-do-and-mend thrown in for good measure. Vogue and The Clothes Show from the mid 1980s were also major influences.
How would you describe the ethos of Ash?
Ash is free-spirited, irreverent and effortlessly wearable. It combines vintage, bohemian and rock influences with a modern edge.
How do you work the brand’s existing heritage into your designs?
I enjoy revisiting Ash’s heritage and putting the different elements in contrast with one another, which allows for a really modern silhouette. [For autumn,] we reworked a nylon military MA-1 bomber jacket – it’s embossed with a very “Ash” cashmere design and reverses to vibrant orange fake fur. In the look book, it is worn with a bright orange merino sweater and black leather biker pants. The contrast of colors and textures takes the boho and biker aspects to a dynamic, sportier level.
What is your design process?
Lots of research – exhibitions, concerts, books, my own archives, visiting suppliers to find fabrics and trims, people watching. And analysing what worked last season.
What kind of things inspire your designs?
All my favourite things mixed together: military uniforms, motorcycle clubs, female rock icons such as Debbie Harry and Suzi Quatro, shaman, different ethnicities and their ideals of beauty, travel, nature.
What are some of the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?
The design part of my job is really the tip of the iceberg – the real challenge is seeing the project through to realisation and being creative in problem solving along the way. Visualising the end goal is helpful. I also teach fashion part time and really appreciate the exchange I have with my students who have a very different view from my own.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
I love the moment when a sketch takes life and we see a prototype for the first time.
Is there anyone in the industry you admire?
Many people. To make it in fashion takes a tremendous amount of team work, dedication, talent and perseverance. I spent five years (until 2010) working with Lee Alexander McQueen and besides being a genius on so many levels, I really admired his ability to collaborate with the incredibly talented people who were drawn to him. He appreciated and acknowledged their contribution. He refused to accept “no” as an answer, which drove him and everyone around him higher.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
There is no such thing as luck – success is a result of preparation meeting talent.
Favourite clothing brand
Favourite places to shop
London, Delhi, New York, LA
Last fashion purchase
Two gorgeous jumpsuits by Gagan Paul
Turkey – a detox near Bodrum followed by a weekend in Istanbul
Last book you read
City of Djinns by William Dalrymple
Last film you watched
Elle with Isabelle Huppert
Before I left school, sewing buttonholes at a friend’s atelier. After college, making show pieces for Alexander McQueen.
How you unwind
Running along the Seine, looking after my kids and hanging out with friends