Ashi Studio: Couture’s Comeback

It’s the middle of an unusually hot summer afternoon in Beirut. And in vogue fashion, Saudi couture designer Mohammed Ashi and I find shade in the newly opened Hermes boutique in the city’s downtown Solidere area.
“What do you think?” asks the petite designer, whose physical statue is a total foil to his robust post-modern creations that have a larger-than-life-presence.He’s holding a rare, oversized Hermes Kelly travel bag in rich brown. I contemplate telling him it’s a bit too loud for a man, in the hope that I may have a chance of coming back after our interview and snatching it for myself. But it’s Ramadan and I can’t lie. It’s perfect, I tell him.
He nods in agreement as he poses in front of the mirror with the bag that covers a third of his small frame. “Okay, let’s walk around for a bit as I make up my mind.”

Wait a minute. A non-compulsive shopper? Do these kinds of people even exist in the fashion industry? I thought we all suffered from the same infliction?

But it’s Ashi’s pensive demeanor that makes him a unique breed in this industry. His collected contemplation — and sometimes scrutinizing attention to detail, is reflected in his work and is what makes it so undeniably desirable.Every piece is precisely thought out. Each one conceived in his head for days then transferred directly onto the dress form, skipping the step of sketching altogether, as if to retain as much of its dreamlike purity as possible.

Ashi is old school couture with a postmodern twist. He is redefining the fashion industrythat has been so quick to abandon its once most prized haute couture for more commercialized ready-to-wear collections during the difficult days of the recession. Ashi is giving couture its comeback and he’s doing it through the finesse of his gravity-defying folds and rebellious silhouettes that have so effortlessly enchanted the international fashion scene.
Yet Ashi’s irrefutable talent is only equaled by his fashion intelligence. His knowledge of fashion is impressive, while his knowledge of textiles even more so. He modestly tells me that this insight is involuntary, if not inherent.

“My family is in textiles, but ironically, they still didn’t want me going into designing,” reveals Ashi.
“Instead, my father wanted me to study marketing to go into the business side of it. So I studied marketing only to realize that the urge wasn’t going away — I really wanted to design.”

Ashi then attended fashion school in Vermont, Beirut and Paris to graduate with an obvious mastery of haute couture and a refined six-sense of contemporary style.
This combination catapulted Ashi through his formative years quite quickly. From an internship at Givenchy to becoming the main designer for Elie Saab in a matter of months, “quite quickly” is an extreme understatement, but a necessary one. Hyperbole must be reserved for the descriptions of his exaggerated, avant garde pieces that can only be characterized as permanent imprints of delicate dreams.
Ashi’s triumph in Future TV’s “Project Fashion” worked to cement his name on the radar of regional fashionistas and stylists, while his transatlantic debut at LA Fashion Week established him in the West. Since then, Ashi has become a celebrated fashion brand and beacon of inspiration for Saudi talent.

“I was determined to make it as a designer with my own brand,” says the couturier. “And I want to celebrate fashion through haute couture.” That’s exactly what he’s been doing with more than just a bit of success.

Eva Longoria in Ashi Studio

Not only has he dressed A-listers, such as Natalie Portman and Juliette Lewis, but his designs have also graced the covers of numerous fashion publications. Recently, his nude one-shoulder cocktail dress placed Lauren Conrad on Hollywood’s best-dressed lists and fashion bloggers can’t seem to get enough of Ashi Studio.

Unfortunately for me, Ashi is no longer the coveted secret of fashion insiders. Fashionistas from around the world want Ashi pieces, which are authentic couture, making them limited and highly exclusive. This would explain my desire to keep the designer, who was once referred to as the “Giambattista Valli of Middle East,” all to myself. But with undeniable talent comes inevitable recognition.
Currently, Ashi is being recognized for his latest collection, MODE 1, the first out of Ashi’s new “MODE 6” project. MODE 6 is a series of 6 limited pop-up collections, each with a different theme and short vogue video.
MODE 1 is a 20-piece caftan collection of formal, modern interpretations of the traditional. It is the designer’s first time making couture ready-to-wear and has become an instant hit. Ashi’s loyal clientele in Qatar, London, and Kuwait are snapping up the caftans faster than fashion editors can write about them.

His fusion of vintage 1950s Afghani material with modern textiles such as imported silk gives the collection a timeless elegance. The deconstructed designs play with volume and manipulate proportions to the degree that they transform into sculptural masterpieces. His colors are restrained, eliminating any distractions from his innovative forms and flawless tailoring.

Ashi plays with his signature garment — the classic trench, which he reinterprets in each collection. “I love the trench,” confesses Ashi, “There’s something mysterious about it; you can manipulate it in various ways making it a true piece of art.” This time, the trench is an ode to our dear fashion icon Grace Kelly. A muted shirtdress trench embellished with colorful Afghani embroidery is a perfected manifestation of her Hollywood sophistication with an Eastern flair.

Carefully crafted, the artist’s hand is apparent in each piece. With an Ashi creation, you’re not simply getting a dress, but rather an ethereal manifestation of the designer’s fantasy. A fantasy of contradictions that we would all like to get lost in: stark yet decadent, visceral yet painfully real, structured yet uninhibited.

As we’re about to go our separate ways, he casually announces, “I’m going to get the Kelly.”

It’s the same tone he probably used years ago when he told himself, “I’m going to win Project Fashion.”

He could have just as easily replaced “Kelly” with “BFC Designer of the Year Award,” or “CDFA International Award.” It’s that resolute determination and unwavering belief in his art that tells me the fashion world needs to brace itself for the coming of Mohammed Ashi.

And then, in that exact same collected tone, I’ll be able to say, I told you so.

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