Ashley Williams’ first solo show epitomized what London fashion week is all about: young talents doing their own thing and doing it well. Williams is a graduate of Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East, which has helped kick off the careers of such designers as Jonathan Saunders, Craig Green, and Simone Rocha. It was during Williams’ tenure with that initiative that she debuted a range of plush shark handbags, which got the London fashion set talking.
For an emerging designer, Williams’ front row was pretty impressive—everyone from Sarah Andelman (who stocks the 26-year-old’s fashions at Colette) to top editors to It Brits Alexa Chung and Pixie Geldof (both of whom are friends of Williams) turned out to support her. What was more impressive, though, were Williams’ clothes. The designer said she was inspired by Vietnamese prostitutes in the ’60s who were influenced by American culture. “They’d make imitations of popular American clothes and get it slightly wrong,” she said. This translated into kitschy spaghetti-strap dresses, tops embellished with crystal bras (Williams was inducted into the Swarovski Collective this season), and color-blocked, ’60s-style day frocks with geisha details. A few pieces were painstakingly hand-beaded (like a maxi dress with a cool Coca-Cola motif—Williams has forged a partnership with the brand), and many of the garments screamed funny phrases. A black and gray sweater had “Hassle” in a circle with a line through it printed on each breast, and a beaded white skirt featured a cartoon depicting a shoe heading for a girl’s rear. It read “Kick Ass.”
The collection was balanced—it offered women everything from knitwear and trousers to slinky dresses and printed blouses. There were lots of feminine elements here (pink, sparkle, and ladylike little shoes, a collaboration with Red or Dead), but the clothes also emitted a toughness, which Williams magnified via a series of long-sleeved T-shirts. These were worn underneath almost all of Williams’ sleeveless numbers, and, down their arms, graffiti letters spelled out “Zuburbz” (like suburbs, but with Zs), or Coca-Cola in Chinese. “I think they harden the dresses up a bit,” offered Williams of the T-shirts’ role. “It’s also just how I would dress. I like to dress things down.” She was wearing one of said tops with a pair of gray pants backstage.
Thanks to Williams’ famous friends, as well as a heavy-hitting list of retailers (in addition to Colette, VFiles, Selfridges, Joseph, and Joyce Hong Kong stock her collection), it’s safe to say this up-and-comer has some serious potential. But what really makes Williams’ star shine is that she does whatever the hell she wants, and she does it well.