The creative director of Private White VC on his love of dirt biking, cooking and British garment manufacturing.
As the son of Laura and Bernard Ashley, did you always want to work in fashion?
I am immensely proud of my parents. I grew up in a family where the word fashion means to fabricate something in a factory and I’m still doing that big time.
Did you feel any pressure having such a successful family?
If I ever felt pressure from having such a tough act to follow, I would flip that pressure on its back and kill it. Life is difficult enough without carrying any extra baggage.
What did you learn from your family?
My mother and father taught me a book-load of stuff, best summed up by dear old Einstein: “Any old fool can make something complicated, it takes a genius to keep it simple.”
What’s your favourite thing you’ve designed?
A leather biker jacket style that I have made up in a wool from our mill. There isn’t a hint of Jeremy Clarkson about it anymore.
Private White VC made its debut at Pitti Uomo this season - how was the show for you?
The reaction was totally mind blowing, I had no idea that what we were doing was being watched by some of the greatest men on the planet.
What did you make of the show personally?
I love the family atmosphere at Pitti and, as a people watcher, I was in heaven every day.
I honestly cannot wait until the next one.
Why is UK manufacturing so important to you?
I was raised in a family that did more for British garment manufacturing than any other family in recent history; our stubborn refusal to counter source abroad cost us our business. Having survived as a person I’m not giving up now, I have a strong feeling that I’m being watched by my parents and that gives me a lot of drive.
You worked with Edward Sexton at Savile Row tailor Tommy Nutter. Who did you make suits for?
While at Central Saint Martins I got a morning job as a trotter [a tailor’s man who goes round for orders] at Tommy Nutter. I met Mick and Bianca Jagger, Paul and Ringo, we were chilled about the stars. It was very uncool to make a fuss over them, and still is.
What shops are your favourites?
I love the Anderson & Sheppard casual shop, the staff are adorable. I love Goldsworthy in Hay-on-Wye, a proper posh farmers’ outfitters. I love Mark Powell’s tailoring shop, a place to truly bespeak your requirements, that’s proper. I love J Crew and
Mr Porter - I’m not paid to say that!
You’re a self-confessed speed fanatic - what’s your favourite mode of transport?
I’m a petrol head. I’ve been racing off-road bikes for 40 years. My crowning achievement was getting a medal in the Paris-Dakar Rally in 2000. I also have a helicopter licence, but my favourite form of transport is a dirt bike, it’s so dynamic. I’ve finally mastered it and the sense of freedom is addictive.
Rumour has it you’re also a great cook?
My mother encouraged me to cook by giving me some fantastic pans. I find cooking very therapeutic; if I’ve not had a very creative day I can make up for it by cooking something.
You’ve designed three hotels. Where are they?
I restored and designed our first hotel in Hay-on-Wye, then [in the US] we did the same thing in Maryland with an old hall, then we did a 48-bedroom ground-up build in Virginia. It was something I did with my father after my mother died, and it helped us to carry on together without her. The whole experience was very cathartic, I really enjoyed it and was well and truly challenged.
We didn’t make any money, but money isn’t everything, we were prepared to die trying.
It seems you like to try all sorts of different things, why is that?
I’ll try anything once.
Are you a trainers or brogues type of man?
I have four pairs of brogue boots on rotation that I live in but, because my job often involves actual running, I also have some British-made trainers by Walsh and New Balance.
Suits or jeans?
From my Savile Row days I have the odd coat, vest and trousers. I save them for best, otherwise I’m Mr Casual.
What’s the most treasured item in your wardrobe?
My wedding outfit, made by a frock coat maker who went to jail for killing his girlfriend. I stand by the principle that no man should allow himself to get larger than the day he married. After 30 years it still fits, but to be honest I’ve had the seams let out on the trouser waist.