On the penultimate day of LFW, when editors and models alike were beginning to flag, thank god for Ashish. Each season, the London-based, Delhi-born designer whisks us away into his glittering universe – though superficially wrapped up in sequins, it’s often the most thought-provoking, profound and captivating collection of the week. For SS17 we were immersed in his emotive and colourful ode to India and last night’s show was no less emotionally charged and poignant.
The catwalk was transformed by set designer Thomas Petherick into Dorothy's glittering yellow-brick road, lined with sparkling red poppies and topped with a huge pink, broken heart – the first indications that Ashish’s AW17 show would be a symbolic collection, imbued with meaning.
As the lights came up, the instantly recognisable, moving piano chords of George Michael’s "Faith" hung in the silence before "Somewhere over the Rainbow" began as the first model emerged. Befittingly, the first look was a twinkling rainbow mini-dress with matching multicoloured mules. This was followed by a funnel-necked rainbow tunic worn by male model and artist Wilson Oryema. The accompanying beauty looks, created by makeup mastermind Isamaya Ffrench, resembled the colourful masks worn by Lucha Libre fighters in Mexico, with each model sporting their own unique, vibrant design.
Rainbow stripes reappeared throughout the collection, alongside glittering checkerboard patterns and colourful sequinned rugby shirts. Sport, more specifically US sport, was a prevalent theme, as the collection took inspiration from the culture and iconography of Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago baseball. Ashish collaborated with Major League Baseball as uniforms from famous MLB teams LA Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs were re-imagined as sequinned tracksuit bottoms, jerseys, jackets and tops, capturing a spirit of athleticism, style, diversity and inclusiveness that transcends sport. “I think it is a wonderful opportunity because I love baseball as an inspiration for equality and unity – the fact that it was the first sport to allow a person of colour to play professionally is incredible.” Ashish explained.
“This collection brings together the male aesthetic translated in the most feminine way. I think I see it this season as more like the pieces being a labour of love, with really positive messaging.”
Above all, this collection was a celebration of togetherness and positivity. Models strode out in tops bearing uplifting and unifying statements such as ‘Love Sees No Colour’, ‘Stay Woke’, ‘University In Adversity’, 'As Often as Possible Be Polite and Kind', 'Planned Parenthood', 'Keep the Faith', 'Why be blue when you can be gay' and 'Pussy Grabs Back' – all personal and pertinent responses to the current political climate and Trump's presidency. “This was me being like, we need love, we need unity, we need beauty, we need fabulousness, we need to be more gay, we need more diversity because we have to fight the hate,” Ashish explained to Refinery29 backstage.
Ashish’s social statements were refreshingly authentic at a time when activism within fashion seems to be so on-trend. Last week during New York Fashion Week, numerous designers stepped out in outfits publicly asserting their feminism or political stance. Jeremy Scott wore a T-shirt reading 'Our voice is the only thing that will protect us' while Prabal Gurung’s AW17 offering included tops stating 'The Future Is Female' and 'Girls just want to have fundamental rights'. And of course, at Maria Grazia Chuiri’s Dior debut she presented T-shirts printed with 'Dio(r)evolution' and ‘We should all be feminists’.
However, in his 14-year career, Ashish’s shows have always championed inclusivity with some of the most diverse casting on the London catwalks, the collections themselves inspired by the capital’s multiculturalism. So is the designer put off by fashion’s sudden, seemingly insincere interest in overt political and social outcry? “I think it’s good for everyone to make a statement. I think it’s an important time to be doing that. I think it’s great if people decide that they feel strongly enough about something to make a statement because I think this is a good time to be doing it.”
Of course, following Brexit, Trump’s election, and the subsequent #MuslimBan, it is now crucial for those with a voice to speak up but we’re particularly thankful for Ashish who does so in such a convincing and compelling way via his clothes. The Wizard of Oz theme seemed the perfect way to convey his political frustrations. “The Wizard of Oz was really a symbolic film. Oz was actually Washington when the book was written and the hurricane Dorothy goes through represents the political turmoil at the time. The wizard was an imposter. The lesson is that you need to find the heart and courage within yourself. It’s there, you don’t need to go looking for it.”
Ashish's rousing collection certainly was the heartfelt message we needed to close London Fashion Week and it was no wonder that as the models danced down the catwalk to "We are Family", they were met with rapturous applause and even a few tears.