Fashion is nothing if not a great escape, so it's fitting we headed to one of my favorite settings, a vineyard, to shoot an epic fashion session with Zigmund Orzech. What's chic right now? Great style in a snap, high-impact colors, and more. Here, we have sat down with designer Ashley Harris in Detroit, Michigan, to interview the It Girl on how her brand became a name. A one woman brand and here we spill her details to making it all happen.
CF: How would you describe your style?
AH: "I would describe my style as bohemian minimalism. It's a mix of a free spirited bohemian girl with the young contemporary category. I like to incorporate accents resembling armor pieces and different weaving techniques to certain garments. I'm also very attracted to prints. One of my favorite things is making a statement with a simple silhouette and an out of the box print."
CF: Define fashion the way you see it and interpret it.
AH: "Fashion to me is making your own rules and styling your look by what makes you comfortable and for your individual body type. I think each persons personal style is based on their lifestyle as well. I love to get dressed up, but in my day to day life I'm usually running around from 7am to 10pm, so it's hard for me to be super styled and layered and accessorized for that long of a day."
CF: I know you have worked with pretty large labels. Give us the details of your internship period and experience.
AH: "I interned in the design studio for Vera Wang for 4 months then was asked back to help with the next fashion week preparations after my internship had ended. I worked directly with the Ready-To-Wear and Bridal designers and creative directors. It was a small team; only 3 designers for RTW, 2 for Bridal and one creative director for each category. I got to do a lot of hands on projects like hand sewing appliqué that went straight to the runway in Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, pattern making and I got to work in the showroom dressing models during sales meetings. However, it wasn't all glamorous. I still had my typical intern tasks like running errands, picking up fabrics from contractors, searching the city for special Swarovski crystal beads in a certain size and shape, and special handling of transporting garments across the city. I stayed up all night for about about a week or two before each fashion week preparing, sewing and organizing. I would have to clean up the very room Vera Wang herself would be styling her collections, adding to or moving around items on her mood/inspiration boards, and having her fit sessions in. It all was worth it in the end when they handed me a ticket to the New York Fashion Week show. I couldn't even believe it, it was probably one of the most magical moments of my life. I never thought walking into New York in just two months I'd be making my way to NYFW and in the presence of Anna Wintour herself."
CF: Where did you study fashion design?
AH: "I studied fashion design for 4 years at Western Michigan University, then went on to continue my education in the one - year AAS program at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City."
CF: Who was your most impactful professor and why?
AH: "I had two professors that I'd say changed who I am as a designer. One from WMU, Patti, and the other from FIT, his name is Professor Blackman. Both have extensive backgrounds in their craft. Patti took my love of couture and ran with it. She taught me so many cool and beautiful hand crafting techniques for my passion for evening wear. I challenged myself so much my senior year in her specialty class. I did two dresses almost entirely out of hand mini pleats and one all completely rouched by hand as well. These techniques in turn made me stand out at FIT in Professor Blackman's class. He taught pattern making which was one of the toughest classes we endured at FIT I would say, he pushed us so hard every day. His class was different than anything I've ever experienced, his way of assigning projects tested us because we had to mix different techniques then problem solve to figure out how to make the pattern work. It was up to you to decide how much effort you'd want to put into the project. He also gave us a lot of valuable real life industry help and advice. He would pull us all to the front to have a seat for about 30 minutes some days and talk to us about the things we would be encountering while job searching or once we landed that job, I think that's what stood out to me the most and that he strongly believed in my talent. He would even come talk to me about how my search was going on offer up advice that way as well."
CF: What is your design process?
AH: "My design process is basically not following the books which is probably frowned upon by many of my previous professors. If I'm creating a dress for a client however, we start with a test fabric and I create the piece according to style and their measurements. We then move on to fittings and alterations before the final piece is cut and sewn. After that, we do a final fitting and final touches are put on. When I'm designing just because or for a show I sketch a basic idea after gathering inspiration from all different sources whether it be nature, magazines, Pinterest, books, quotes and even music. Then I just start draping on the mannequin. It usually turns into something completely different than what I originally set out to do, but in a good way."
CF: How do you gain clients?
AH: "I mostly market myself through social media. I'm big on updating my Instagram and also I try to keep my Facebook up to date with projects also. I've really stepped back from participating in fashion shows lately because the producers are asking for significant amounts of money to show my work in their events. It's frustrating because I'm just starting out as a designer and I work a full time day job to pay my bills and buy my tools for my projects. It's not right to spend $250-$500 to show in an event that may get me some publicity, but most of the time I'm not getting enough business back from it to invest."
CF: Tell us about the press, fashion shows and media you have been involved with.
AH: "I've gotten a lot of press actually wearing my own pieces to events around the city. My work has been in The Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News numerous times including being featured during Fashion in Detroit wearing my own look. I'm currently working with new magazines like Wake Up Detroit and DDEAF (Detroit Design Entertainment and Fashion). I was recently seen on Fox 2 Detroit also wearing my own look for the spring dress section, Style Files. Other than that I worked on a WE TV pageant series called "Americas It Girl" briefly in LA. I designed 3 looks for a contestant on the show."
CF: What do you enjoy most about designing?
AH: "I love being able to express who I am through my clothes. Everything I design I can see myself wearing. I like to pick different aspects from things I see in the world and mix them all up to create something interesting. The most important factor in my designs is staying true to myself."