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Ashley Williams SS24 01
Photography Jamie-maree Shipton

Ashley Williams on her big comeback and staying cute in the apocalypse

After a two-year hiatus, the designer landed in London with an off-schedule show supported by UGG’s new XLNC programme

Imagine a bracelet – what trinkets or pendants hang from it? Do they crowd the bangle or sit sparse? Do they knit a narrative thread, or incite charming aesthetic chaos?

For Ashley Williams, returning to London Fashion Week after a two-year hiatus, her SS24 collection was conceptualised with the charm bracelet in mind – “a charm bracelet that was filled with charms which represent my personal experiences and interests,” Williams says. “Each look is a charm, and collectively on the bracelet, they all make up a story and timeline together.” The designer, who branded the weirdo girls of Soho and South London with her viral slogan hair clips and had tabloids clutching their pearls at sperm-print fleeces and pentagon-dotted cardis in the late 2010s, is back.

The collection’s timeline snaps elastic-like from pre and post-civilisation ideas, running aesthetically from the primordial to the post-apocalyptic, with the narrative throughline to look cute while defending your life, looting the decaying mall, and skirting armageddon. In her deviant, darkly appealing way, Williams asks: what elements of self expression can survive the fall of society?

The relics and residuum of consumerism are reclaimed for a gruelling [but still cute] life-after. Baby knits are made into bobbly court jester hats, 16th century face masks are reupped as facial-recognition blocking headwear, and dresses are printed with human practices from yogic poses to embryos and Jesus with his crown of thorns – airbrushed, darkly appealing graphics we know well from Williams. 

Pastoral linen dresses meet bright coloured checks and hysterical slogans of a self-absorbed consumerist society, with the repeating ‘I <3 ME’ graphic and creepy crayoned scribbles of children’s cartoons. Williams’ signature cutesy and kitschy motifs of bows and cats are carried through. 

Set in North London’s Collins Music Hall, models were prime for battle, clutching spears, daggers and axes accented with the aforementioned bow and cat decals, walking with purpose to an edit of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” by Caro. 

“I was and am really into mediaeval history in Europe this year in general,” she explains. The linen dresses were a new experiment, made from referencing a book about mediaeval tailoring and pattern cutting. Contemporary clothing like tube tops and low-rise mini skirts are crafted from mushroom leather. A selection of pieces in the collection were re-designed in workshops Williams led at The Gate, the West London arts and resource centre for people with learning disabilities.

Her last show was SS21, whereafter she paused the label. This runway marked Williams’ debut as part of the new XLNC programme, Fashion East’s talent incubator that takes designer alumni’s labels to the next level with funding and support. Founded by Lulu Kennedy and Raphaelle Moore in 2022 and in partnership with UGG, KNWLS was the first programme recipient. UGG supplied a £20,000 grant for Williams’ production costs and supported Ashley Williams x UGG runway footwear – the resilient, strappy ballet flat paired with tattered and mismatched socks and ever-ubiquitous UGG boot stamped with Williams’ slogans made for sensible stomping on civilisation’s ashes.

“I’m really happy. I love everyone I work with and the casting was incredible,” she says. “I loved the location we showed in. I was really pleased with everything! I’m really grateful to Fashion East XLNC, Lulu, Raph and everyone at UGG for the amazing support so I didn’t have to compromise creatively, they all really helped me to do what I wanted and I’m forever thankful.” 

It’s also ten years since Williams’ first debut, then a recent graduate of the University of Westminster, in 2013’s Fashion East LFW showcase. Much of the collection reintroduced us to Williams’ defining and galvanising house codes and creative touches that initially proved so thrilling – statement motifs, provocative and pithy accessories, and zany colour palettes. 

In the late 2010s, girls clamped Williams’ viral slogan hair clips to their heads and swung the statement earrings that shouted “CUTE”, “ANXIETY”, “BITCHY”, “SEXY”. Williams was a bold precursor to today’s transgressive trend cycle – see Isamaya Ffrench’s phallic lipstick tubes [who also did the show’s hollow-eyed make-up looks], Marc JacobsHeaven, and anything Olivia Rodrigo wears for stage – and the power of the accessory to set and lead the fashion conversation.

She says her tastes have developed, for longtime devotees and new gen fans to enjoy. “I know myself better now. I love my life and have had some intense experiences – good and bad – that have informed how I work,” she says. “I want to connect with people through my work and let that be my motivation. I think a lot of the new stuff has the same spirit as my previous collections, it’s just evolved to move with my references and interests.”

It was a reliably rebellious team working on the show with her: Carola Monteleone and Simone Schofer did the casting, with Danny Reed styling, make-up by Ffrench, and Bleach’s Alex Brownsell doing hair. Speaking of her peers and friends, she says: “I love Danny Reed and Claire Barrow’s work. And Carola Monteleone. They all helped and worked on the collection with me. They all have interesting and genuine points of view, which is really inspiring to me.”

How else does she stay inspired, and how does she herself get dressed? She remains a fastidious eBay and Etsy vintage shopper. “The last thing that I got were some Walter van Beirendonck boots,” she says.

Williams’ show took place off of the official fashion week schedule. She intends to resist the traditional formulas for fashion that expect shows twice a year and extended production cycles. She has more creative – and adjacent to fashion – plans. 

“I want to try and express myself as genuinely as possible and I feel like that might not be just through fashion and design moving forward,” Williams explains. “Showing off schedule gives me an allowance to not have to think about fashion week conformities and just think about what I wanted to say.” The funding and mentorship from the XLNC programme helps to support the Ashley Williams 2.0 collection. So stay tuned, cute, and apocalypse-appropriate.