Meet Ashlyn Chesney, Mr Porter’s Style Council Director, who has the enviable task of appointing chic and interesting gentlemen as ambassadors to the online shopping site in order to collate the secrets behind their very good taste – count David de Rothschild, Pharrell Williams and Alex de Betak among them. During a recent stopover in Sydney, Chesney shared her thoughts on the mood-enhancing power of fashion and borrowing style, quite literally, from the boys
- very now and again I have the opportunity to look inside a new friend’s suitcase, their handbag or wardrobe (in the name of research!) and inevitably this reveals a few clues as to what they’re all about: as it happens, Ashlyn Chesney, Mr Porter’s London-based Style Council Director, has a deep connection to ancient mythology, crystals and likens her personal fashion to armour. I love her point of view. Over coffee we examined the amulets in her purse – a collection that includes a treasured crystal orb from Istanbul, agate earrings, a malachite stone and Buddha beads; all tokens with meanings and purpose – and discussed the ways in which well-designed clothes can embolden and boost confidence:
- Rolling Stones: above, Chesney's precious collection, which travels everywhere with her. Of the orb, Chesney says: "The motto of the shop where it came from was 'Why Not Now?'. That has stayed with me forever. I do believe everything happens for a reason."
- What sparked your love of fashion and design? I was the kid who played dress ups, jumping in and out of my mum’s closet pulling things together. I was raised in Maine with a strong, single mother in a very liberal household. We did a lot of arts and crafts, and I would put on plays for mum’s friends just as an excuse to make costumes. I think what solidified my career path, though, was watching a runway show on television one day by Alexander McQueen, it was more like a performance and for me it was one of those really moving moments. Seeing these powerful beautiful women perform in his incredible clothes was also inspiring. I knew then and there that I wanted to create moments like that.
- Can you describe your personal fashion codes – how do you embrace new trends each season? I have a very feminine take on fashion but there’s always a little edge to my look. I like something that feels a bit rebellious and playful – and comfortable, most importantly. So I don't know if I do embrace new trends, but rather once I discover a shape that suits me, such as wide-leg trousers, then those pieces stick with me, like great staples. Being quite petite, there’s not a whole lot that I can play with that doesn't necessarily overwhelm my proportions. I love anything backless and off the shoulder. That is definitely a personal code because I don't like to have anything on my back. That's how I approach life, too. I want things to roll off my back and not weigh on my shoulders. I think, in a lot of ways, your clothes become like armour.
From around the world, which Style Council tastemakers are you excited about championing on Mr Porter right now? Every single one of these men is at the top of his field. They’re the most interesting individuals – Alex de Betak, for instance, is a new recruit and an extraordinary creative, and Alexander Gilkes, co-founder of Paddle8, is also brilliant. I’m very conscious of growing the members base slowly, and further expanding the diversity of its industries. I want to desperately find a really stylish engineer, somebody who is changing the world with his ideas.
It’s an impressive line-up of forward thinkers. How do you research new creatives, new ideas? I’m the type of person who reads the nutrition facts on the back of a food label. If something interests me, I will delve in to it and end up down that rabbit hole, which often leads to new avenues and new ideas you might not have considered. If I like something I’m not afraid to tell a stranger ‘hey, that looks beautiful on you, where did you get it?”
And on the topic of style for men, have you any advice for shopping the runway online? For men, I love classic. There’s nothing better than a handsome man in a well-tailored suit. Day to day, I think it’s best to keep it comfortable and tailored. These days, it’s much more acceptable to wear relaxed garments such as cashmere sweaters in place of a shirt and tie. In recent times, designers have taken such a beautiful step in the right direction by making pieces comfortable and casual yet still elegant and playful. For instance, I love what Gucci did this season with the Woodcock character as a motif – what a lovely flashback to being a kid. You can’t help but feel good when you’re wearing a piece like that.
- Above, top row from left to right:
- 1. GUCCI leather pouch: "I'm obsessed with this print, I love the idea of being able to throw this in my bag, it's very uni-sex."
- 2. GUCCI silk scarf: "This bumblebee-print scarf is what I use to tie up my hair into twists and headwraps when traveling."
- 3. RODIN Olio Lusso parfum: "I wear this jasmine perfume every day. It has a very crisp and light fragrance and makes me feel calm."
- 4. WOHNGEIST 24-piece tool kit in wood case: "Growing up as an only child, my mother tended to play both roles. I remember a tool set was one of my favourite ever Christmas gifts from her. This artisan version is super chic."
- Middle row:
- 5. TATEOSSIAN Campo Del Cielo meteorite rhodium-plated cufflinks: "Cufflinks are something that I'm constantly stealing from my friends. This pair is very encompassing of my style. I love crystals and anything that comes from the earth."
- 6. FULL MOON By Darren Almond (Taschen): "I would love to explore this book. When asked what my all-time favourite book would be, however, the one that always comes to mind is The Women’s Encyclopedia of Mythology. My mother went back to college when I was in middle school and I remember reading excerpts from it while she was studying."
- 7. THOM BROWNE striped cardigan: "I love a good men's sweater or cardigan, I wear them tucked into a pair of high-waisted tailored trousers."
- 8. PAUL SMITH silk pocket square: "Another chic addition to anyone's wardrobe, be it his or hers."
- Bottom row:
- 9. THOM BROWNE convertible burnished-leather backpack: "It looks like an old doctor's bag, I am obsessed with it."
- 10. LEICA XU18435 compact camera: "This would be ideal for the chic traveller."
- 11. LANVIN sterling silver onyx cufflinks: "I love the formality of these onyx cufflinks."
- 12. BELLOCQ Gypsy Caravan No 54 tea: "This is my pick-me-up, a black tea blend with rose and chilli. I love it in the mornings when I am home."