A few weeks ago I attended an event where Sophie Ashby and her husband Charlie Casely-Hayford were in conversation to launch the latest Studio Ashby development project in Holland Park. The couple were charming and interesting and I thought you might fancy a little Thursday morning read of their design philosophy for both fashion and interiors.
Sophie did a degree in Art History at Leeds University before going on to study Interior Design at Parsons in New York. Charlie founded the menswear tailoring brand Casely-Hayford at the age of 22 with his father, Joe, who died at the beginning of this year. Charlie and Sophie live in a 600 sq ft apartment in the former BBC building at White City which Sophie decorated. She set up her studio five years go and now heads a team of 12.
One of the first things she said was that interior designers often turn out to have had peripatetic childhoods and perhaps that is what leads them to what to spend their adult lives creating homes. By the age of 13, Sophie had moved house 14 times living in London, South Africa and Devon as a teenager. There was, she says, no real reason for the moves, just her mother’s itchy feet.
As a result, she is fascinated by the idea of home; “The ritual of unpacking and repositioning things. Seeing my parents put familiar things out and understanding that that was home now. My sister is a chef and I am a designer. We both work to create the perfect home.”
Charlie, on the other hand, has always lived in London. His parents met at St Martins art and design college and he and his sister grew up, not only in a creative home but in Shoreditch before it was fashionable. Alexander McQueen was there as were the artists Gilbert and George.
“Fashion has always been there,” he said.
So what were their influences? Sophie is quick to point out that she was pre-digital. “There was no pinterest or instagram. I was late establishing my own style and worked for the first person who would give me a job. I have always mixed contemporary and traditional.”
Charlie was “forced” to go to art galleries, to see exhibitions by the artists like Modigliani at the age of five. But he concedes that it was probably all an unconscious influence on his later style.
They met, fantastically enough, on a blind date. Sophie says: “A mutual friend knew I was single and asked me what my type was and I just said ‘really tall’. And he said; ‘oh my God I know someone really tall… and he does something creative’.”
And the rest, as they say is history. When they first met Sophie had just a laptop and a desk, so what is the secret to their success? Sophie reckons it’s down to finding magical people: “the accountant you can ask stupid questions to, the lawyer the same.
Charlie says it’s about finding someone to share the journey with. “I grew up in a family business and then set up on my own but it’s being able to chat to someone about it as it can be a lonely business [running a business].”
It also helps that they like the same things although Sophie maintains that Charlie’s taste in art tends to the “dark, depressing and gloomy”.
“Luckily he came with very few possessions. Just his clothes and shoes and books. Although his shoes are big. They’re hard to store.”
But both can see the link between fashion and interiors so they can make it work not just in their own apartment but for clients too. Sophie says Studio Ashby has a house style but they will bend it to suit the house, the client and the location. That said, by the time they get an inquiry, it’s usually because a prospective client has explored the website and likes what they see.
“There is always a bit of marriage counselling involved and it is usually the husband who gets in the way,” she said. “But it helps if you can show them a real life space and show them what it will feel like too. We like to use lots of colour and bold shapes.”
Charlie says his aesthetic comes from growing up in London. “It’s a melting point of clashing cultures. When I was growing up I would see Turks and Jews and Nigerians all living together and my style is a mix of clashing prints and textures that all stems from that.
They have swapped clients too. The unsuspecting person who comes in for a suit and leaves with a plan for a newly redecorated house is the couple’s dream.
That’s no doubt in part, because Sophie designed Charlie’s shop. “There are so many stories in that shop but it was also my most intimidating meeting because it was in Charlie’s parents’ living room not my studio.
“But the result tells so many stories. We collected waste fabric from his work and mine and we knotted them together up the stairs. The changing rooms are yellow like his parents living room.”
“We wanted it to feel like a home. Having a suit made to measure can be very intimidating and we wanted people to feel at ease so there are elements from both our homes. It’s a family affair,” says Charlie, adding: “Someone came in the other day picked up a book, read it for 45 minutes and then left. We loved that. That shows the shop is working.”
No conversation about fashion and interiors would be complete without a discussion of sustainability though. It’s a hot topic at the moment but is that all it is? A conversation rather than a concrete effort to do better?
Sophie says: “The interiors world is slower to pick up than the fashion world. I’m very aware of that and it’s not easy. It is always at the front of my mind. The idea of throwing things away is painful. I’m putting time and energy into it.
“I would like to do product design but I’m also not interested in adding to the mountain of stuff that we already have. I couldn’t design a chair that would be better than one by Jean Prouvé so should I even do that? My industry creates waste. We have clients who want to get rid of everything. But I try and see if I can store things and re-use them in a luxury way. That way you don’t even have to know that they came from someone else’s waste.
“The till point at Charlie’s shop is made from recycled plastic bottles, the bathroom from yoghurt pots and we used scrap cloth from runway shows to make a curtain at the back of the store.”
And on that note it was time to end the conversation. I didn’t managed to get a good picture of them on the night as I was seated to one side but there they are chatting to Ellie Pithers from Vogue. Sophie is wearing a suit made for her by Charlie.