A couple of weeks ago, my friend of a very long time, Ashley Gunkel, reached out to me about us possibly doing a collaboration to celebrate the release of her new jewelry line. Not only was I ecstatic that she considered me a good enough writer to do a post for her but I was also very excited to hear she was now designing jewelry as I have been such a fan of her clothing for a long time and I knew branching out into jewelry would be an amazing next step for her. She sent me a few of her pieces, a gorgeous silver double chain necklace with holographic blue beads and a dangling feather as well as two bracelets: one with blue and black beads on a black chain and the other matching the necklace she sent me, and I was completely sold. I sent her some interview questions in order to get to know her and her aesthetic for her new line better.
Me: When did you decide you wanted to design and what made you want to become a designer?
Ashley: I’ve always known that I wanted to do something in the arts. As a kid, I was always into crafts and creating things but as I got older I started becoming creative with my wardrobe. I never wanted to have anything anyone else would be wearing and would coordinate outfits that stood out. Then in high school I would sketch outfits out all the time and got really into high fashion. Lucky for me, the guy I dated in high schools mom was a seamstress so she offered to make my prom dress for me. So my junior year of high school I designed and sketched out my dress, picked out my fabric, and she made it for me. That is also when I got my first sewing lesson! After that I was totally hooked on being able to create and make whatever I wanted and decided that’s what I was going to go to college for.
Me: When you’re designing a new collection, what sort of things inspire you?
AG: This is always a hard question for me to answer because for me inspiration comes from everywhere. When I first get ready to design a new collection I start out with a trend board where I post colors, fabric samples I may want to use, and inspiration fashion pictures from Pinterest, Magazines, etc. Then from there, I start sketching out different ideas and start fabric sourcing. Sometimes when I find fabrics I love I get inspired and have design ideas just pop into my head immediately. Other times it may be through colors, nature, sunsets, experiences…I design a lot based on my mood and how I’m feeling at the moment to. If I’m feeling edgy I may add spike details to something, or if I’m feeling super girlie I may incorporate lace or softer fabrics throughout the collection.
Me: What type of girl do you see wearing your pieces?
AG:I actually feel that I am a very versatile designer that throughout the collection there are pieces that your edgy girl would want, your girlie girl, your classic girl and even your funky girl. I tend to gravitate more towards color as opposed to a lot of neutrals, such as black, so my collection would gravitate more towards a girl who isn’t afraid of standing out and being seen.
Me: Who are some of you influences in fashion/art/life?
AG: Some of my influences in fashion high fashion designer wise would be of course your big names like Versace, Alexander McQueen, and Zuhair Murad. Their attention to detail in their couture is just amazing to me, and being a designer you understand the time that goes into every piece with that much intricate detail. I think it is amazing the things they come up with. I also get inspired by other local emerging designers. Everyone has their own perspective and their own style so it is always interesting to meet people and know them and see their point of view in the execution of their collections. I am very inspired through abstract art. This probably relates back to the fact that I love color, love using prints and I usually gravitate towards abstract if I find pretty ones that I like. In life, my family inspires me just in the way that they have always encouraged me and supported me to go after my dream and believed in my talent to the point there is no limit I can do whatever I want. Over the years my dad now has a better understanding of fashion and coordinating after all the shows and classes I have attended. He likes to help and give his opinion when I send them my beginning works when designing new collections (haha).
Me: What is the one item of clothing you feel every girl should have in her closet?
AG: This is probably so cliché but definitely a little black dress. If you have the right one you can literally wear it so many different ways that people wouldn’t even know it’s a re-wear. For example if you have a sexy little backless structured dress 1. It’s already good for a night out on the town just pair it with the right jewelry and heels. 2. Add a blazer you got a work outfit 3. Add a more casual kimono type top and some flats or boots and you have something you can wear around during the day.
Me: Being from Mississippi, do you try and keep your designs fitting for Southern culture?
AG: In a way yes and no. I feel that I have been trying to focus on more ready to wear based items as a whole just because that is what the masses are going to buy. But with my ready-to-wear, I do incorporate unique design techniques such as interesting back details, cut outs, or pattern shaping so that they are not like anything you would find in your typical department store, they are still uniquely one-of-a-kind. With the custom and formal wear/wedding business I feel that I get to escape a little bit more and can express myself in a more high fashion couture way. From a business perspective, I am just trying to establish a steady line that is different but can be for your everyday girl still looking for something unique, then I can start expanding more towards that New York, L.A. fashionista. I am beginning to branch out in my evening wear and have started doing a lot more work in this area. Within the next few months before it gets too late in the season my plan is to design a capsule of formal dresses of at least 6 one-of-kind high fashion evening wear pieces that I will market for the upcoming Mardi Gras season. Each design will only be allowed to be picked up from one client and then will be custom made for them to wear to their balls and formals etc… I want to start building a VIP clientele where I can start making all their dresses for all their different events. I have a few girls that have started using me for all their big events so I am slowly growing in that aspect.
Me: Tell me about your new jewelry collections and why you decided to branch out from clothing.
AG: I’ve never actually been a jewelry person myself (until now) but to complete an outfit you definitely have to accessorize if you want the complete look. So I started playing around with a necklace here and there and actually really enjoyed doing it. Just like in clothes, you come up with an idea and can execute it the same way and you have your one-of-kind accessory. Just the way that I come out with new clothing collections, why not add on coordinating accessories to offer my clients the entire look!
Me: Who is your favorite jewelry designer?
AG: Harry Winston
Me:What do you feel is your greatest achievement so far?
AG: I have 3:
-Last year when I won Fashion Week New Orleans Top Designer Competition
-Opening my own boutique, going for the dream and trying to make being a full time designer a reality and my official career.
-Making it to the semi-finals casting for Project Runway season 13 this year.
Me: If you could trade closets with any celebrity who would it be and why?
AG: This is a tough one to answer haha I think I’ll go with Selena Gomez. She is always very well put together at all of her red carpet events and appearances yet always looking sexy but chic and never raunchy. Plus she’s younger and I bet she spends a lot of money on clothes and has a huge closet full.
Me: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
AG: I see myself living in a bigger city (such as NY or L.A. maybe even Austin, Chicago, or Atlanta) as a successful designer and business entrepreneur. Would like to have my ready-to-wear and jewelry lines in stores throughout the country as well as a custom design house where I could do high fashion and couture looks for celebrities and VIP clientele. Hope to be married, maybe kids? Really, just happy being able to wake up doing what I want every day. I also would love to go global so maybe in 10 years I can make that happen!
Ashley will launch her new jewelry line called “Shipwrecked” this coming week. It is coastal themed and inspired, as she is trying to stay true to her roots and wants to acknowledge the beauty of her life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. As a part of the collection, Ashley will donate a portion of the purchase to charities and companies that strive to be a part of helping to rebuild and preserve coastal life and landmarks. Feel free to visit her website for more information ashleygunkel.com