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      Connected | September 8, 2021

      Designer Ashley Rose to unveil new collection at PEM inspired by Salem witch trials

      Alyse Diamantides

      Written by

      Alyse Diamantides


      In her go-to black biker shorts and a tank top, avant-garde designer Ashley Rose describes her personal style as simple.

      The same cannot be said for the intricate handmade couture designs she boldly creates for runway shows and music videos. The designer’s debut 2019 New York Fashion Week presentation was described by Nylon Magazine as “full of killer looks” that “took our breath away.”

      The Boston-based designer returns to Salem this October to unveil a new 18-piece collection for an exclusive fashion show presentation in PEM’s historic East India Marine Hall. The collection, conceptualized and created during the last year and a half, is inspired by the museum’s new exhibition The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming.

      We recently spoke to Rose about her new collection, her sources of inspiration and her connection to the Witch City.

      Q: How did you first become interested in fashion?
      When I was in high school, they offered design as an art elective. I took ceramics. I remember my best friend took fashion design, and I was jealous of what she was making in class, while I was making pinch pots. So I took it all four years of high school and was lucky to continue my education at Bay State College in Boston for fashion design.

      Q: What was the first piece you made?
      It was a clutch that was an assignment. But I remember being so excited about it.

      Q: What designers would you consider your biggest influencers?
      Alexander McQueen was the first designer who really opened my eyes. I remember seeing his Savage Beauty exhibit at The Met. When I went to college for fashion design, I knew I wanted to do design, I just wasn’t happy with anything I was making. It wasn’t until my mother took me and my brother to that exhibition, and I saw fashion as more about being art than something that’s made to wear. It blew my mind.

      An evening dress by designer Alexander McQueen, which will be on view in PEM's The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming. Dress is from the In Memory of Elizabeth How, Salem, 1692, Ready-to-wear collection, fall/winter 2007. Velvet, glass beads and satin. Gift of anonymous donors in London who are friends of Peabody Essex Museum, 2011.44.1. Photo by Bob Packert/PEM.

      Q: What inspires you?
      Usually however the day goes, I put on music and try not to go into designing with a plan. What happens, happens. For me, I feel like when you plan and it goes wrong, it feels like everything goes wrong.

      Q: Do you primarily create for runways and music videos?
      Definitely. I’d love to one day design looks for film. I think that’s my end goal. It’s when I do fashion shows, I enjoy presentations so much. It’s about creating a scene rather than selling the garments, which is the worst thing a fashion designer can say. The music videos are a step toward that. Growing up I worked at record stores for over a decade and combining both worlds has always been important to me. It’s why I work with a lot of musicians.

      Q: Talk about your process. Do you sketch or does it come to you once you see the fabric?
      When I see material at fabric stores, I have to go touch everything. When I see something that I want to work with, it’s when I get a vague idea. When I’m building a collection, I’ll start five pieces at once. Then start adding. They’re all variants of each other. It’s all about visuals and how I think it will work on the dress form.

      Q: How did the pandemic affect this new collection?
      This is probably the most frustrating collection because I’ve beaded every single piece. Each piece has probably over 800 beads. It was about patience. Once you get through it, then you can start building on the fun stuff. This is definitely the most detailed collection. And I’ve learned to not rush and to take my time.

      The designer, left, adds finishing touches to a piece.

      Q: How did the idea come about to reveal your new collection at PEM?

      A: It was ironic because I reached out years ago about using the space when I first started doing shows in Salem. The timing is perfect. It’s around the anniversary of my brother’s death, who was my biggest influence and motivator. I’m very much looking forward to it.

      The designer, left, adds finishing touches to a piece.

      Q: Tell me about the new collection. How is it different from others you have created?
      My first two shows I did in Salem in 2016 and 2017 were about life and death. There’s two realms and you choose either the light or the dark. The dark was the void and the light was life. That’s what the first collection was about and the second one was about choosing life.

      Ashley Rose instagram image
      Instagram posts by Ashley Rose, working on the new collection, which will be shown at PEM.

      This is my first all-white collection. I never want to do bridalwear. I tried it and I curse because the three dresses I made never walked the aisle. I’m already nervous people will want wedding pieces from it.

      Ashley Rose Instagram image
      A look at the designer's new collection, which will be shown at PEM.

      Q: How familiar were you with the Salem witch trials story before you began this project?
      I’ve always been fascinated with it, especially being born in Salem and growing up on Cape Cod. My friend who is making the score for the runway show is a witch. A lot of the people I’m working with are also in that community.

      Q: How do you want your models to feel? What do you want them to emulate?
      Hope. It’s not meant to be pretty. It’s strong women pushing through what life throws at them and there’s always going to be hope.

      Q: What are you most looking forward to about the show?
      I work with such a great group of girls that know how to make it more into movement and a scene, rather than just walking down the catwalk. I love fashion, but there's something personally about making it more about the show, the experience.

      Q: What are your go-to items in your own closet?
      My wardrobe is as boring as it gets. I have a jean jacket I wear as long as I can. My boyfriend bought me Crocs. But they’re house shoes.

      Q: Finish this sentence, every woman should invest in _____ (fill in the blank).
      Definitely cats.

      The PEM exclusive Ashley Rose Couture Fashion Presentation is on Friday, October 8, at 7 pm.

      Follow Ashely Rose at @ashleyrosecouture. All photos in this post by Emily Birds.

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