Ashley Strout is a talented fabric designer and aspiring tattoo artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She started out modeling in her 20's, then studied fashion design in Manhattan, and eventually got a degree in fabric design from Central St. Martin's in London. A native of LA, Ashley is a self identified California girl, although she prefers living in New York because it has seasons. Four years ago she started her own textile design company Black Rose LA Textiles. Her designs are a dark nod to vintage fabric designs and cartoon art of the 1940's. Here's what she has to say about being a freelance fabric designer in NYC.
T: When did you begin drawing?
A: I guess every since I was little, when I first could. Kindergarten! I’ve always drawn. My dad built me this little easel in my room, this little art center. He customized it for me. And I’d sit there and draw. He was always really supportive.
T: I love that. How did you get into designing fabrics?
A: Well, when I was living in California, I started painting designs on vintage clothing, but I didn’t know that I was creating textile designs. I was just doing what I wanted to do. And then when I went to school here for fashion design, I kind of realized after taking a textile design class, that’s what I wanted to do.
T: Oh, where’d you go to school in New York?
A: Katherine Gibbs. It was a secretary school for women originally. It’s just a trade school here in the city, but it doesn’t exist anymore. I got a two year degree in fashion design and merchandising there. Originally I was going to design clothes.
T: What inspires you to create?
A: I’ve been really into old illustration and old advertisements. I like the characters. Old 1940’s cartoons. I pretty much get all my inspiration from anything that’s vintage or antique.
T: So you’re in New York City now...why did you keep LA in the name?
A: Even though I can’t stand Los Angeles in a lot of ways, I feel like it’s a part of who I am. It’s important to me because I’m a California girl. You know?
T: Is there anything specific to NYC that inspires you to create?
A: I really like the architecture here, like the old churches. yeah, mostly the architecture.
T: What are some of the biggest jobs you’ve had in fabric design?
A: I would say when I did the big project for the Macy’s/Milk Studio collaboration. It was advertised in the subways and everywhere. As far as my work being publicly seen, I guess that’s the biggest project. And I’ve done stuff for Urban Outfitters. For me, it’s been more about finally being able to get to a point of drawing the way I want to. My own personal work has flourished, so for me that’s bigger.
T: What is the most fun you’ve had at a fabric design job?
A: I guess when I was doing stuff at Urban Outfitters. There were times that I got to be creative–the most creative I’ve ever been able to be as far as working for a company. But it’s hard, you know, people see a certain thing as being attractive and I don’t. It’s not very often that I get to be the way that I want to be with my work in a company.
T: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced, being a fabric designer? I guess you’ve answered this one already...
A: I guess I find it difficult to take common prints like leopard and polkadot and find ways to recreate them. I find it kind of boring. You know, I was working for a lingerie company and I designed fabric with these little bobby pins and they thought objects like that were too sharp to go on clothing. It’s hard because there are so many rules about what can go on the fabrics.
T: You’re a little bit more progressive.
A: Yeah. I think fabric can be taken really far. Vintage fabrics is where I get my inspiration from, and it’s very edgy and it’s very weird and it doesn’t necessarily make sense. But you can do that with textiles. It doesn’t have to be conventional. You know? People love that kind of stuff, it’s just no [fashion clients] want to take that chance, unless you’re doing something high end.
T: What’s your favorite fabric design you’ve ever done?
A: Recently I just drew this haunted looking house.
T: Oh yeah, the one that looks like the Psycho house?
A: Yeah, that one. So far I think it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done. I just like the positioning of it, the way it reads.
T: Haha! Do you pursue other forms of art?
A: Yeah, I’m gonna be a tattoo artist. I’m apprenticing at Magic Cobra in Brooklyn. I don’t know where I’m going to end up, but I want to travel and hopefully tattoo at shops all over the place. Maybe in LA too.
T: So are you still going to design fabrics in addition to tattooing?
A: Always! I’d like to just keep selling my prints. Design them and sell them to design companies. Give them ownership and have them do what they want with it. I mean, it would be nice if I could do a collaboration and have my name attached, but it’s difficult. People want to put their name on things. I have to get one good job that puts me out there in a big way, not just one piece of fabric I designed.