We commonly see the flawless appearances of the world’s top musicians and overlook the scrutinizing effort that went into perfecting their look and style. The stylists behind these recognizable faces are among the most hard-working and creative forces within the industry. One of the most respected designers in the entertainment universe is Ashton Michael. Based out of LA, Ashton works alongside the greatest entertainers and public influencers in the world, adorning their aesthetic in spectacular fashion. I recently had the good fortune to chat with Ashton Michael and get insight on the breadth of his extraordinary experiences. Check out our conversation below and Ashton Michael’s website for constant inspiration on lifestyle and fashion!
What were some of your musical influences growing up?
As a southern California native my mother loved listening to 94.7 and 103.5. which for those who know is all easy listening. So from my mom it was Sade, Etta James, James Taylor and anything else you may hear in a Hallmark movie (which I will admit is a guilty pleasure). I am the youngest of 3 and my sister being the oldest was into Guns and Roses, and every hair metal band you could think of. My brother being the middle was in to gangster rap. ie: Tupac, NWA, Snoop Dog. So I came out completely a wreck. If you were go hit shuffle on my music you will feel like you need to take a xanax and possibly question why we are friends. I base my music on my mood through the day and my life. I love everything from country to house. I look at music like a well written book or gorgeous vision of art. It doesn’t matter if I can relate to the content as long as it’s quality I can connect with it on an energetic level.
How have those musical influences inspired your designs?
Music and design have always been one and the same to me. Music has an energy and feeling much like fashion. Both can be powerful mind-altering substances.
The way you feel when you hear a song that triggers a memory or moment in your life is the same way a garment can carry with it. Each collection we produce is heavily influenced by what I am listening to. For instance we are currently getting ready for our SS17 collection and all we have been listening to is “White Ring, Salem, and different witch house artist.” The collection we are showing is very moody and dark . It would be very difficult to try and create a ritual inspired collection while listening to top 40 per say. I consider music to be my the ideal compliment to the overall vision. It helps create a story that brings concept to reality.
You have a huge musician clientele. Describe how you began working within the music industry.
I have been very fortunate and blessed to have such a wonderful clientele. The range from indie electro all the way to Beyonce. I started my first company with my college mate when I was 19 years old back in 2002. We had items on Britney Spears and Naomi Campbell just to name a few. At the time we were selling to a store called Show Pony in Echo Park and they were the gate way. Further down the line when Ashton Michael was started, I was working as one of the stylists on American Idol. Ultimately this is where the gates really opened up for the brand to be connected to the music industry. Being around labels, management and talent really gave me the opportunity to make those connections. From there, labels were aware of what I was doing and the word spread.
When you’re designing a custom piece for a musician, what key factors do you consider?
Musician typically need 3 key things. 1: comfort and mobility 2: trust within me 3: to feel like a total bad ass when they get on stage. All 3 of these elements are totally key to produce a wicked stage piece. If the client trusts my opinion of design with high quality construction while being able to perform looking epic without being restricted, I’ve done my job!
Does the personality / aesthetic of an artist have precedence when starting designs?
Of course. As a designer it is important for me not to push anything on a client that doesn’t suit them. There needs to be a balance from both parties of pushing the limits without feeling over-compromising. I have always said that even when making custom pieces for clients I always want it to resemble the brand and what we stand for, just catered to the client specifically. I don’t want to create costumes nor do I want them to feel like they are wearing one.
Do artists give you lots of free creative reign to design or do you typically go back-and-forth with ideas?
It all depends on the circumstances. There are clients and situations that have a blank canvas and no prerequisites and there are clients and performances where there is a lot of factors that involve entire camps to collaborate. For instance, when we did Janelle Monae for the BET awards last year, we had to create an allusion cape that was easy to tear away as she was hovering over the stage. With that outfit we had to do multiple mach-ups and redesign based on safety and function. What started off as an extremely long garment became wildly shorter and a completely different silhouette. I always feel like a healthy amount of back and forth between the client and myself is good. It ensures we are all on the same page and working time effectively.
Which artist(s) closely shares your creative visions?
Female artist wise I’ve worked with Ciara for a while now and we always vibe so smoothly. She likes to be sexy and tomboy and I love to make my females look that way. I’ve become so familiar with her body and requests that designing for her is a breeze. Tasteful cleavage, stretch leather for comfort, something to add movement to her dancing, and a touch of masculinity and we’re golden. She’s a gorgeous woman and we just click. As far as male
artists go, I would say Rico Love. He is not only the man behind some of the most popular hits for artist like Beyonce, Usher, and Kelly Rowland, he is my fashion brother. We started working together years ago through Usher and from that day on it is rare I need to draw him something. It’s usually, “Yo I need something white for this event I’m hosting.” He tells me the location, time and type of occasion and I know exactly what he’ll want. We definitely speak the same language.
Are some design projects particularly difficult due to disagreements with the client?
It is rare for us to come across such incidences but I never take it personal. I’m 13 years into this industry so I feel like we have gone through the bulk of the mess many years ago. We like to create a comfortable, inspiring work relationship with all our clients and management. There has only been a couple times in the past decade that I can honestly say were a nightmare. Different strokes for different folks. I would much rather refer someone I know that would be a better match for a gig than have a heated moment between an artist and myself or my team.
Global Citizens festival is coming up and Demi Lovato and Ellie Goulding are playing. You’ve designed for them both! What was it like working with them?
I have worked with both of them many times. I adore both of them. Both so talented and so amazing! Ellie we have done UK tour stuff, back to back Coachella performances ( 2014, 2016), and one off gigs here and there. What I love the most about these two amazing talents is that they are just that: amazing, talented and beautiful souls. For Ellie we typically select from the collection and only slightly tweak it for performance appropriateness. For Demi we have done many concert looks for her and it’s the same experience. Wildly professional, appreciative and easy to work with. I will continue working with them for as long as I can. I respect them as artists and the hustle they do.
If you could classify your label, Ashton Michael, as a musical genre, what would it be?
Ghetto goth house.
What are some exciting new developments in the works for your designs and label?
We are branching out into home goods. We are launching our line of candles and luxury pillows this Fall. We are thrilled to venture in to this new market. As much as I LOVE fashion, it has a shelf life. Not to say that certain items of clothing are staple and last iconicity forever, however we spend most our times in our homes or surroundings so it makes me happy that if you wear Ashton Michael and come home to a place that you can smell, and lay on Ashton Michael you never have to be without us. The pillows are all leather Mongolian fur, rabbit, and very tastefully fetish feeling.