A Delhi-born fashion designer living in London, Ashish Gupta's East-meets-West approach all comes down to sparkle. Runway shows might resemble Bollywood productions with parades of theatrical ensembles splashed in vivid color, but there's nary a sari in sight. Instead Ashish, known as "The King of Sequins," interprets pop culture cliches—from preppy knits to Hawaiian prints—with the dazzling material. The Central Saint Martins grad describes the instant glamour they add as magical, explaining how "sequins animate clothes and throw light on surrounding walls." The offbeat effect first caught the attention of buyer Yeda Yun at London's Browns Focus boutique, when Yun spotted a friend of Ashish's wearing a sweatshirt in brown herringbone tweed with chunky cream ribbing, covered in neon-orange sequin bows.
Such highly imaginative work isn't as easy as it looks; Gupta says, "I get bored of things very quickly so its always a bit of a challenge going from initial ideas to runway show without ending up being completely random!" For his Spring/Summer 2011 show (pictured at top), the line pairs Western accessories—cowboy hats, Native American feathers, trucker hats with Coca-Cola logos and McDonalds' golden arches emblazoned cowboy boots—with a range of sequined tops, skirts, dresses and pants that look like something like Rihanna might wear to a truck stop. The previous A/W 2010 collection (pictured above), a tad more subdued (if that word is ever appropriate for Ashish), included a range of Gypsy-inspired sequin outfts that referenced traditional Uzbeki designs and patterns found on Persian rugs.
Like a modern Midas, everything Gupta touches shines. Fabrics that on first take look normal aren't really how they appear. Flannel, cotton and wool textures are actually glittery garments, all made by hand. "I subconsciously imagine everything made in sequins, sometimes it doesn't occur to me to use anything else! I've been working with sequins so long now it's very instinctive. I love the way sequins look, the way that they move and hang on a body and how a dress can look like molten metal or wet paint."
Achieving such stunning effects takes more than Gupta's passion alone. Working with intricate material isn't easy, requiring the skilled hands of sometimes up to sixteen people to finish. Gupta pulls it off in his own factory in India, explaining, "All my garments are made to order. Its a very unusual way of working, almost couture. The fabric is stretched onto frames then beaded, then cut out and sew together and then hand finished." With each sequin sewn on individually, quantities are small but each item is truly a "labor of love."
Whether a comment on mass production or simply a love letter to the brand, Nike resurfaced as a theme in his S/S 2010 show after making its first appearance five years prior. The affinity is in keeping with the designer's slight obsession with American pop culture, but also perfectly embodies his interest in making something glamorous feel casual. "I like things to be easy, so I usually design things that can be slipped on and off easily, I love pockets and zips, things that makes clothes feel relaxed and comfy. A fully beaded dress should feel as comfortable as an old t-shirt."
Ashish will show his Autumn/Winter 2011 collection at London Fashion Week this February, mixing London references, polished punk and "really classic fabrics" in sequins, naturally. The line sells from stockists around the world.