“Originally I’m from Vancouver, Canada. My accent has pretty much gone away because I’ve been here in New York for eight years, and I lived in Seattle two years before that. It was the best [in Vancouver], there was a great contemporary art scene and a great music scene, but there’s really absolutely nothing related to fashion, which is what I do now. I was there 10 years ago and I was an athlete, so not into what people would think was fashion, and I was like, ‘I’m going to New York!’ And people were like, ‘Why would you leave here? It’s perfect!’
Tailoring's always been so interesting to me. When I was five years old, I remember watching how my grandparents dressed and loving their tailored suit jackets, and my mom and my grandmother both wore a lot of shoulder pads. I watched Fred Astaire films, a lot of things with Cary Grant and Clark Gable, just seeing that kind of romance in dressing, and then I was a huge Audrey Hepburn fan, so I’ve seen all her films, everything she has ever been in.
Everyone said I had to go to Parsons, but to apply you have to have a serious portfolio, so I spent a year and a half just working on that before I could do anything else. Then I won this contest through Marie Claire, which was to go and meet Giorgio Armani, and I was a huge fan! A dorky, huge fan. He has this actual presence when he walks into the room. He’s really genuine, he’s very personable. He put me in the front of his show the next day and he brought me to his after party. I had just turned 19 and at the time I thought I was just such a grown-up and now, looking back, I was so bright-eyed. After I got back from that, it gave me the extra push I needed, because I think I would have gotten distracted and not made it through school.
When I graduated, I started designing for a company called Veronica Beard. Mainly, I wanted to work in local production. It bums me out that designers have to be super market-driven in order to survive, so fashion is no longer ‘the dream,’ at least if you want to make any money. There’s a lot of talent out there, but brands usually only survive three or four years, especially in the menswear industry. By that point I had this nickname, ‘Grandpa Style,’ which started back in school because I would wear vests and high-waisted pants and pleats and plaids. After a while, I started a Wordpress that was supposed to be a blog about quality over quantity and to kind of create that conversation about craft...and almost immediately after I started posting, Mr. Porter’s team jumped on and was like, ‘Hey, we want to work with you,’ and it just kind of snowballed in terms of creating content. Then about a year ago, I started laying out the plans to print Suited Magazine, which came out this past February. I really want it to have a socially conscious message as a publication—if someone is really honest with themselves and honest with what their work is, than can show through their design and I think it can help create a better world.
I have skin that’s been problematic for 10 years and I have a soy allergy, which causes inflammation and breakouts. But soy is in everything, and I’ve discovered that there's even soy in my products—like vitamin E is a derivative of soy, so I can’t use anything with vitamin E. I’m really trying to be [strict about it] because when you’ve broken out for 10 years, you’re over it. Once I found out it was soy, my skin got much better, but before you figure out what it is, you go through denial of everything. You can’t eat processed food, you can’t eat out, it’s crazy, so it took me a while to deal with it and get into eating that way.
In the last two years, I’ve started seeing a dermatologist, Elizabeth Hale. She got me on Retin-A and that’s the only thing that’s ever worked for my skin. Right now I’m doing it once a day, but I’m probably going to go back to vitamin C and a glycolic toner–that was my regimen for a while. I’m a little bit of a special case with that because I have friends who barely have to wash their faces and they’re like, ‘Oh, I just splash water on it!’ Their skin is phenomenal, and I’m like, ‘How?’ With [Retin-A] it makes your skin really dry so that means that I use a lot of floral extracts like rose oil, jojoba oil. I actually used Chanel Hydra Beauty Créme because I was like, ‘Whatever’s the best!’ That actually did a really good job.
At night I wash with the Grown Alchemist Gentle Gel Facial Cleanser, and then I dry and wait for a while to put the Retin-A on—for maybe 20 minutes. It’s better when your skin is dry and you don’t have any water on it. Then put on a little bit of Grown Alchemist’s Matte Açai and Borago Balancing Moisturizer, or Grown Alchemist Detox Serum Antioxidant +3 if I’m dry. In the morning I wash with pH balanced water—I use a filter that has a beauty water setting, which is a pH level of 5.5—and then I’ll spray Tata Harper’s Hydrating Floral Essence. My SPF is Mayron’s Goods Sun Stuff SPF 30. With the Retin-A, SPF is so important, so I’ll usually do a layer of SPF, especially if I’m going to the beach...I'll have SPF and then a giant hat. Smith’s Rosebud Salve is just my everyday balm.
If I do have soy, I get purple under my eyes. The reaction isn't intense, but I can see it, so I'll use Sephora Instant Depuffing Roll-On Gel. For a time, I was using the Glamglow Supercleanse like a cleanser but that was way too intense while on Retin-A. Now I do it once a week and it's good to exfoliate and detox. It just works, and it feels fresh and minty—an insanely fresh feeling. Other than that, I’m a huge Lush fan. I have Ultrabland, which I really love because it’s a great cleanser that does the job but doesn't scrub too hard…I make sure I don’t scrub my face too much these days.
I didn’t wear any makeup in high school until I cut all my hair off at one point. It was not quite Mia Farrow, but it was really short—I looked completely unrecognizable because I also dyed it blond. I woke up the next morning, looked in the mirror, started crying, and I was like, ‘Shit!’ So that’s when I started wearing makeup. But that only lasted two years because I was done with it. I don’t wear a ton of makeup and, if I could, I would wear none. I do love it, though. I just want to look very natural. So I just have worn less and less and am figuring out how to refine that–wearing the makeup that looks like no makeup, but a little more groomed. I’m turning thirty and that whole thing.
CK One is my foundation—it has an SPF of 8, so I like to put it on. It’s really light and it feels like a tinted moisturizer, but it covers, and if I need more coverage under my eyes and under my nose, I’ll use this Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer in Custard. I use Too Faced Better Than Sex Mascara. The first time I used it I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ It was way clumping and too heavy, but after I used it a few times, it was perfect. If I look in the mirror and I have raccoon eyes, that's not OK. Or when you have mascara that’s clumpy and it gets on your face and it’s dusty. But I don’t really like waterproof mascara that you can’t get off at the end of the day. Then I do the Bare Minerals Hydrating Mineral Veil over the top because I’m very oily. In the summertime I won’t put as much powder on because you’re just going to get sweaty anyway and then you’re going to get creases in your smile lines. But I really like that one in the spring and fall. Then I use my Nars [Laguna] Bronzer just below my cheeks as a slight contour. I have my Aqua Brow from Make Up For Ever that's like a liquid eyebrow. I have a scar on my left eyebrow, so I like to fill it out, plus I had that moment in school when I over-plucked. For eyeshadow, I use dark brown Make Up For Ever on my lash line, and then I’ll use the Stila Smudge Stick Waterproof Eyeliner for right underneath the eye. A lot of days I barely put any makeup on, but this is what I’ll do if I’m going to look fresh.
I have so many hairstylist friends who I always just bump around from for cuts—I’m kind of a player. A friend of mine has a beauty product showroom, so he turned me onto this and I’m just obsessed. It's the Grown Alchemist Shampoo and Conditioner with Damask Rose, Black Pepper and Sage. My hair is really dry, so if I don’t have something that’s really moisturizing, my hair goes crazy But I don’t like anything that’s too heavy and a lot of things make me break out along my jawline, so I have to find something that doesn’t have all the things I’m allergic to and is still really moisturizing.
After I wash, I usually use a sea spray like Sachajuan Ocean Mist. It’s great because it’s not a salt water, which dries my hair out. I was using TXT It Tousle Waves Spray from L’Oréal for a while, it’s good if I want extra wave. My routine is that I wash, I don’t really dry my hair, and I spray it. Now I’m kind of getting to the place where I’m like, ‘OK, I need to style my hair a little bit more.’ I’ll take an iron to the top because it’s super wavy. If I want some texture, I do use this pomade–it’s from Blind Barber. With some water, I’ll kind of twist the bottom [of my hair]. In the summertime there’s no hope for me in trying to get my hair straightened. I have a lot of hair and it’s going to get frizzy, so it’s better to put pomade in it and make it look like I came from the beach or something. My hair's been like this for years and years, so I’m just embracing it.”
—as told to ITG
Edit note : Since we interviewed Ashley last summer, she's made even more headway in figuring out which products do and don't contain soy. She wrote us a brief update via email—
'Hey guys, I found out last summer that the Tocopherol in Sun Stuff SPF and the Grown Alchemist Moisturizer is actually vitamin E aka can be soy-based. Thought I'd write you just in case any soy allergy peeps start buying the suggestions. Vitamin E can be a mix of plants but generally in the US, it's soy. Though some products use non-GMO, non-soy Tocopherols, which I don't react to. I'm not sure if they were effecting my skin too much, but I replaced SPF with Laneige Sunblock Supreme Sensitive and moisturizer to Mario Badescu.”
Ashley Owens photographed by Tom Newton in her home in Brooklyn on July 21, 2015.