Last season, Ashish exclaimed that he felt like he'd staged his own funeral with a more sombre, dark and dreamy collection that reflected the turbulent sociopolitical times the world faced in 2017. Yesterday evening's AW18 show was a joyful return to rainbow colours and glittering glamour as the designer invited us inside his magical, midnight market.
The show space was transformed by set designer Tony Hornecker into a bustling Indian clothes market, with carpeted floors, garish storefronts of retro clothes shops selling "non-stop glamour" and hanging mannequins in sequinned garments and bold patterns. "This was going back to my roots a little bit, celebrating immigrant culture. I wanted to create this magical, midnight market. It was about mixing high and low art, different elements together. Just celebrating the randomness of life," the designer explained backstage.
The first model emerged through the shopfront beneath a "Glamour Fashions" sign, wearing a rainbow-striped glittering gold blouse with vertical-striped sequinned trousers, red aviators and a pink garland. Ashish's designs, which are made in India, are always an example of the finest handiwork but the level of detail and intricate fabrications of this collection were especially impressive, from hand-embroidered floral patterns and a hand-bead leopard gown to tinsel jeans and minidresses. This floral pattern continued throughout the collection, worn by male and female models alike (of course the show, cast by Mischa Notcutt, was brilliantly diverse as ever) and was actually inspired by a design Ashish made as a teenager during a work placement in a Delhi clothing factory. "It’s nice to design things that people treasure. This piece I designed when I was 16, someone had obviously kept that for 25 years and I found it in a vintage shop in Texas so I took it and redesigned it for this season."
Girls strode out with '60s inspired Bollywood beehives, created by Ali Pirzadeh, to a nostalgic soundtrack of Hindi versions of ABBA's Super Trouper, Sound Of Music classics and Cher. And of course, it wouldn't be an Ashish show without tongue-in-cheek slogans aplenty. A male model came out in a hoodie emblazoned with the word "Masturbate" in interlocking red and yellow sequinned circles, playing on the instantly recognisable Mastercard logo. Another hoodie, inspired by the Visa card symbol, read "Viva L'Amore" while a sequinned T-shirt playing on the American Express logo read "American Excess".
For those who can remember Ashish's SS14 collection, the designer made a comment on hyper consumption with a glittering bag similar to the Tesco carrier which instead read "DISCO", and another green Marks & Spencer-esque bag bore the letters "S&M". Again, Ashish masterfully remarked on Western excess with these witty slogans, explaining backstage that "it was also a take on consumer culture." There was also a strong message of love and unity with the "Viva L'Amore" hoodie and a rainbow-striped shirt that read "All I Want Is Love".
As the penultimate show on day three of London Fashion Week, when spirits are flagging and heels are dragging, we can always count on Ashish to rally and raise us with an impassioned show that was at once meaningful, moving and optimistic. Viva L'Amore indeed.