Interview with Nick Ashley from Private White


November 22, 2013 by Ville Raivio

‘I’m 56 years old and a fashion designer. I went to 13 schools, none of them private, as conforming was a problem. I’ve two daughters; Lily, 21, film maker, helping me with the PW visual image, and Edie, 17, fashion student. Both are proud of their famous grandmother, and plan to help me when they can. When I finished fashion school, I joined my parents’fashion business, so they reacted quite well as I helped build it into a giant! My hobbies: dirt bike racing, desert racing, car rallies, Dakar rally, helicopter flying, cooking.


I was born into an environment that was all about making things, even though my parents could not afford a home (we lived in tents), they always had a fantastic workshop, so that was my inspiration, and why I got interested in clothes. There is a principal in British men’s dressing that when a man walks into a room you should notice the man before his clothes, this is based on the wearing of classics. Any changes made to these classics should be really carefully done, and for a reason, otherwise the delicate balance is upset. I learned to gather knowledge from my mother, the designer Laura Ashley. She taught me the principle of looking behind before going forward, the importance of evolution in design, then adding on the relevant technological updates in order to make the product more practical for today’s society. We used to spend a lot of time in museums and archives, I still do and this is the best part of my work because the editing of old and new can be done “on the hoof” while looking at old stuff and planning how to modernise it.



 Freehand technical sketch for Private White

My own style is quite eclectic, I have never had a problem with expressing myself. I was brought up on a farm in Wales, at junior school the other boys all looked the same; pudding basin haircut, duffle coat and Wellington boots. I used to look like Jimmy Hendrix! When I went into the sweet shop, the lady said, “yes, miss!” It didn’t bother me then, and I still continue to have fun with some cranky outfits, the only difference now is that I have two daughters, each with an “objective” view on how their dad should look…and they both prefer cord trousers, cashmere jumpers and brogue shoes, but I’m still too young for the grandpa look! I use myself as a guinea pig for new Private White products. If I get too many negative reactions to something, then I may not run it…immediately. So, to sum up, my own style is eclectic.



All in the details: tablet pocket behind wallet pocket

Private White is the last coatmaker in Manchester, the whole of the Global clothing industry was founded in Manchester, and when we are gone, that is the end of the Holy Grail. We are throwing resources at keeping this last finger hold on the cliff edge of the manufacturing industry; we have added a woolen mill in Yorkshire, a cotton mill in Lancashire, and a pledged flock of Wensleydale sheep to supply the wool. This month we will open our factory shop, the products inside that shop will have been made from sheep to shop within a fifty mile radius of the factory. These facts alone make Private White worth a visit. My designs are a matter of taste…I am a people watcher, I am inspired by people.


Twin Track Jacket in Red Waxed Cotton

I joined Private White because I did not want to see the very last coatmaker in Manchester close down. I went straight to the factory, sat down with Mike Stoll, my friend of 25 years, and he introduced me to James Eden, the great grandson of the founder. James was prepared to throw everything into getting the business on its feet again, Mike and I are his support. It is very emotional, a brand needs an emotion, that’s what the customers radar picks up on. I started work straight away. The Private White “House Style” is very subtle. Our heritage as coat makers dictates that we specialise in outerwear, the layer that keeps you warm and dry. Our founder, Jack, was a private in the army, and soldiers make fantastic designers — they have to design stuff while dodging bullets! All of the above is more than enough to get on with, I believe that the customer should be in charge of their own look, we just give them the component parts. I do have to put outfits together though, and if you want to categorise the brand, I have coined a phrase “Techno-Retro” that just about sums it up, it is Gentlemen’s outerwear that has been updated.


Manchester Pea Coat in Brown Melton wool

I work a lot with museums and archives; in fact, I consider the whole of the British isles to be a museum these days, I like to consider the past before going forwards, that way evolution is respected, and modern technology is added so the product becomes more relevant to our lifestyle right here and now. My favourite Brands are Anderson&Sheppard, they have not only a bespoke service, but they will disassemble your suit, steam the pieces, adjust, then re-assemble for you, that is a proper tailor shop, and Cheaney shoes, who will sell you a new pair of shoes, then will re-sole them at the factory for the entire time that you own them. I like to be able to buy clothes from the factory or workshop where they were made, it helps to form a relationship with possessions.

Interview_with_Nick_Ashley_from_Private_White_at_Keikari_dot_com7Donegal Wool Cadet Sweater in Khaki colour

My favourites in the [Private White] collection are either in our archive, or have been abandoned somewhere! It is one of life’s frustrations that the best-selling products are not always the designer’s favourites, there is a mismatch between what designers want people to wear, and what they actually buy, maybe because we have to work so far ahead, but I can never seem to get the timing right! This is not at all a problem, merely an observation, OK, a frustration!


Inspired by British Army tropical wear, Private White’s shacket in chambray

My definition of style is when someone has a confident sense of themselves; they may know all the rules and are therefore qualified to break them if they feel like it. Clothes are a reflection of how you feel on the inside, displayed on the outside, so some people make a really nice read! What I’d like more men to know about military-inspired clothing is that soldiers make great fashion designers. The outfits they wear can save their lives, they have to design the clothes with bullets flying at them so there is no bullshit or wasted effort; if an extra pocket is needed, or if something needs to be re-enforced or strengthened, then it happens.

Interview_with_Nick_Ashley_from_Private_White_at_Keikari_dot_com8G1 Harris Tweed Flight Jacket

What I’d like more men to know about military clothing is that it’s made to the highest possible specifications of any clothes in the world, and they are ferociously expensive to produce for civilian wear. This starts with the construction of the fabric and just doesn’t stop. I decided that if we are to make our clothes in the most expensive factory in the world, then we should construct them in the best possible way, like military clothes. The cost confuses people because they expect tailoring for that price, but our customers want casual clothes that are constructed to tailoring standards, made in Manchester. All things considered, we are fantastically good value.’

Photos: Nick Ashley and Private White


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