A new cohort of New York designers has replaced the city’s chic conservatism with an explosion of rigorous transgression. They straddle opposite sides of the same shiny dime, opting for minimalist rhapsody or intersectional influence, serving both with precision. Clothes that go straight to the point.
Ashlynn Park (her almost anonymous brand name uses only one “n”) is the latest addition to expanding the lexicon of American fashion. She left her native South Korea in 2006 after winning first prize in a competition where 200 model makers had to interpret the same sketch. She won a scholarship to study in Japan and went on to earn a master’s degree from the eminent Bunka Fashion College. After winning the prestigious SO-EN award from Japan in 2008, she went to work at Yohji Yamamoto where she stayed for three years. âI honestly thought my role there was as a designer, but there weren’t any designers. Everyone was a model maker, âshe says.
More than a decade later, Park is sitting in her own daylight-flooded studio facing the Empire State Building. She is flanked by a well-proportioned bar of crisp clothing in cool whites, blues and blacks. The tailor-made model over her right shoulder wears a cropped black crepe jacket with a wide-necked white shirt underneath. “I’ve always had this vision of living in New York, having a long career, maybe getting married and having kids, you know, laying down in Bryant Park and doing a sketch for my own label, âshe says, musically describing her own life. “People say the American dream is gone, but I lived it.”
After Yohji, Park arrived in New York without a job but with a handful of maintenance offers. She was quickly hired as a menswear designer for Alexander Wang, but soon moved to work on the brand’s women’s runway collection. Stays at various brands followed, most recently working alongside Raf Simons during his whistle-blowing tenure at Calvin Klein. Happily settled into the creative profession, she has protected herself from the distractions of high-level marketing gossip and studio buzz. Even his own label – ASHLYN – is consciously under the radar.
Tired of making “things that weren’t wearable, museum pieces and celebrity dresses,” she poured her savings into a capsule aimed at consumers of smart, cutting-edge basics: “I wanted to work on things that you could wear, so I made a lot of simple pieces that are now part of a staple collection. Now, after the pandemic, I’m ready to push it. “
Ashlynn reconstructs traditional silhouettes, deconstructs tailored archetypes and cuts them with lavish volumes and sheer knit dresses. Bonded crepe suit jackets fasten with elongated ties and suspenders; silk and cotton poplin shirts can be worn in multiple ways. The hips swell slowly. Her clothes are confident and fun and flirtatious.
One of the first to see the line was Joh Siff, a brand advisor who has spent 25 years working with companies like Comme des GarÃ§ons and Prada. Park rounded up 18 knitted styles from seasons past with some of his bespoke work and guided Siff through. “When you’re browsing a collection you want each piece to jump off the rail and hug you – that’s what I’m looking for anyway – and every style Ashlynn showed me was breathtaking. “Joh recalls. She had had the same feeling when she saw Martin Margiela’s first collection in the early 90s. âI knew Martin and Jenny [Meirens, Margielaâs creative and business partner] very well. We saw Margiela in his early days and in his first season he was creating his brand universe. This is what I saw in Ashlynn. His language was clear and the codes are there. And you know, we’re a tough industry, people have seen it all. So those who have seen ASHLYN are excited for a good reason!
What makes Ashlynn’s work so right is her ability to encrypt provocative ideas into wearable clothing. A shirt dress made from a single piece of fabric or a dress with a cinched cutout back and pleated saddlebags are delivered with sharpness. Above all, she is a devout pattern maker: âI think Joh was interested in my skills which range from drawing to stitch – Margiela also develops ideas during the pattern making process, where things are deconstructed and reconstructed. I think Joh could see the singularity of the approach. Joh agrees: âThis kind of organized working method has shown someone of great discipline and experience. She has seen the best of the best while working for Yohji – creatively, operationally, balancing conceptual and business.
Working at Yohji was like a training camp. Park spent his first year sewing only his colleague’s samples. The studio was laid out like a regiment, with all the staff dressed in an exhilarating, uncluttered uniform all in black so as not to distract the eye. Flat shoes were worn to keep noise to a minimum. âIt’s very serious,â says Ashlynn, âeveryone stands up straight like planks of wood during design reviews and if Yohji even moved a finger, you would run to him and fix what it was. was a really good workout. “It taught her to question every thing she does. The team had access to all the models from last season and could play with them, cutting pieces and adding details that Yohji would eventually tear off. “We always questioned the clothes: do you need this shape? Why did you choose this fabric? Do you need this pocket? Yohji would ask and you had to have an answer.
Ashlynn works the same way today, although she wonders. âWe have to eliminate because if I put in more detail it becomes a cost to the wearer or changes the way the garment is worn,â she says. Joh’s time at Comme des GarÃ§ons provided similar tutelage: âYou are in such an extraordinary environment. This kind of rigor and discipline goes from the top to the shop floor – it’s not hierarchical. There is a sense of community around this discipline and there was no feeling that anyone was âabove it allâ. You all put your hands together around everything that needed to be done. Nothing slipped through the net. I’ve benefited from it my entire career and basically speaking Ashlynn and I share that.
The deviations of the past year have only confirmed Ashlynn’s penetrating philosophy. Along with the AW21 collection, she launched Zero Waste – a capsule with the promise of reducing fashion waste through careful design.
âI couldn’t think of sustainability before the pandemic – I was just working at my job. It was my dream to have my own label, but the last 18 months have made me feel a lot of responsibility. I am a mother of two small children and I was thinking about the future of the planet. There are already a lot of designers, a lot of clothes, 85% of which goes to the landfill. Should I stop? âPark decided to do it differently, offering her precise, handmade, bespoke clothing, pledging to never make more than she needed, and working with stock fabrics. from the best factories.
âPeople just don’t talk about creating patterns – it’s always about the final, flat look,â she says. The archetypal ASHLYN garment is a “boyfriend” shirt cut to sit snugly on the shoulder before falling gently around the arms. âIt took me so long to get it right because I think mostly about how the wearer feels,â Park says. âSo many high-end designers often miss this point. I adjust the model over and over again because I want to problem solve, to make sure it’s right. We tend to project theories on clothes that result in beautiful costumes that you can’t move into. But we don’t work for ourselves, we work for the people who wear these clothes.
Photography Josh Olins
Fashion Katelyn Gray
Hair Tomo Jidai at Streeters using ORIBE.
Make-up Susie Sobol at Julian Watson Agency.
Nail Technician Eri Handa at Home Agency using CND Shellac.
Photographic assistance Evgeny Popov, Stefano Ortega and Stephen Wordie. Stylist assistance Lindsey Eskind and Katarina Silva.
Miwako Urasugi hair aid.
Mical Klip makeup aid.
Casting director Samuel Ellis Scheinman for DMCASTING.
Model Betsy Gaghan at DNA.
All ASHLYN NEW YORK clothing.