Ashley Isham

Born Eshamuddin Ismail (b. 1979, Singapore–), Fashion designer Ashley Isham is one of Singapore’s most prominent figures in the fashion industry. Isham has been based in London since 1996, and his collections are often showcased during London Fashion Week. He once owned two boutiques in London,1 and his first flagship boutique in Singapore, Ashley Isham, was located at Fullerton Hotel.2 In 2007, Isham was awarded the Berita Harian Achiever of the Year Award for his achievements in his profession.3

Early life
Isham grew up in a conservative Malay family. His mother was a seamstress, and Isham often watched and helped her with her sewing. He started designing his own clothes because he was dissatisfied with the extremely limited designs in local shops. Isham started sewing his own pants at the age of 12 and his younger sister, Khaty, was often the “live Barbie doll” for his design experiments.4

Harbouring a desire to see snow, Isham ventured abroad in December 1995, heading first to Amsterdam. After a year in the Netherlands, Isham travelled to London to pursue a diploma in fashion design at the Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. Despite applications having closed three months earlier – and it being the first day of the semester – the school’s director was impressed with Isham’s portfolio, and Isham started school that very day. At one of the school’s fashion shows, Isham’s designs caught the eye of an executive at investment bank Substantia Invest AG. The bank consequently agreed to sponsor his further education, first at the London College of Fashion and then at Middlesex University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with honours.5

Isham acknowledged that he would never have had such opportunities in fashion design had he remained in Singapore. His family had been supportive of his pursuit in fashion design from the very beginning, and he has often cited their support as a great boon to his successful career.6

In 2000, Isham set up his own label, Ashley Isham, and created his first collection.

His applications for a scheduled main show for two seasons of the 2001 London Fashion Week were rejected. However, his breakthrough moment came at the well-received off-schedule presentation of his collection at his studio apartment in London. At London Fashion Week in 2003, Isham made his on-schedule debut.7 Attaining an “on-schedule” fashion show was significant because of the media attention that such shows receive, especially as Isham’s collection was shown alongside those of international labels such as Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood.8

Isham garnered international attention when Zara Philips of the British royal family was photographed in one of his designs at Royal Ascot in June 2002.9 Shortly after his debut at London Fashion Week, he was appointed the official womenswear stylist for the 2004 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), where he dressed stars such as Angelina Jolie and Keira Knightley.10 One of the gowns from his 2006 Spring-Summer collection also made the cover of the 100th issue of British travel magazine Conde Nast Traveller in December 2005.11 In the same year, Isham was also a guest judge on the fifth season of reality show America’s Next Top Model.12

Isham opened his first boutique, acQuaint, at Covent Garden in London in 2001. His second boutique, Ashley’s, opened at Conduit Street in November 2004.13 In June 2008, he launched his first flagship boutique, Ashley Isham, at the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore. This was followed by a multi-brand boutique in Orchard Central in 2009.14

Isham’s designs integrate feminine, well-draped cuts with Southeast Asian–inspired motifs and detailing. Such Asian influences feature prominently in his collections because Isham feels the need to assert and be proud of his heritage as an Asian, especially when there are so few Asian designers in London. His Spring-Summer 2006 collection, for instance, contained elements of Balinese art and Asian threadwork.15 Isham’s creations are available in cities such as New York, Paris, Spain, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Dubai, and have appeared in the pages of Italian Vogue, British VogueWallpaperElle and In-Style.16

By 2010, Isham had shuttered all his retail outlets with the expiration of their leases, as online shipping has changed the retail landscape. He opened a boutique, Ashley Isham, at The Village, a fashion-and-lifestyle mall in Seminyak in Bali. The collections showcased at the boutique include swimwear.17


Isham has also been actively involved in Singapore’s fashion scene. His collections have been shown at local fashion weeks, and he has had multiple collaborations with local designers and brands. Isham, working with a team of DesignSingapore scholars, won the 2008 Evening Standard Window Display Award at the London Design Festival for their multi-disciplinary installation, My Garden.18 In 2009, Isham collaborated with Lee Hwa Jewellery, designing a jewellery line for the brand. The jewellery pieces were paired with Isham’s creations and showcased at Singapore’s Audi Fashion Festival and London Fashion Week that year.19

Besides his collaborations with local brands and talents, Isham has also designed for international brands such as Coca-Cola. In March 2009, he created “Jewel in your Hand”, the first-ever Coca Cola can and bottle design by a Singaporean. The design was used on over one million commemorative cans and 100,000 bottles of Coca Cola light for Singapore’s 2009 Audi Fashion Festival. That same year, Isham also designed limited-edition mobile straps for the Samsung Ultra Touch mobile phone. These were auctioned online to raise funds for the Go Red for Women Campaign, an initiative by the Singapore Heart Foundation.20

In 2007, Isham received the Berita Harian Achiever of the Year Award for his achievements in his profession as a fashion designer. He is the youngest recipient of the award then.21

Jubilee Primary School, Singapore
Nan Hua Secondary School, Singapore
Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, London, United Kingdom
London College of Fashion, London, United Kingdom
Middlesex University, London, United Kingdom

Hong Xinying

1. Dylan Boey, “Staying Rooted,” Straits Times, 26 September 2005, 4; Sandra Leong, “And Sew the Story Goes,” Straits Times, 23 January 2006, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Ashley Isham Comes Home,” Business Times, 12 April 2008, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Arun John, “Hot Young Designer Ashley Isham Is BH’s Top Designer Achiever of the Year,” Business Times, 6 July 2007, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Leong, “And Sew the Story Goes.” 
5. Leong, “And Sew the Story Goes.” 
6. Leong, “And Sew the Story Goes.” 
7. Boey, “Staying Rooted.”
8. Leong, “And Sew the Story Goes.” 
9. “Charms of the Orient,” Straits Times, 26 September 2004, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Leong, “And Sew the Story Goes.” 
11. “Ashley Isham Gown Makes Cover,” Straits Times, 15 December 2005, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Lee Sze Yong, “Presenting... Judge from Singapore,” Straits Times, 4 January 2006, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Boey, “Staying Rooted.”
14. “Ashley Isham Comes Home”; Tay Suan Chiang, “Ashley & Company,” Straits Times, 22 June 2008, 63 (From NewspaperSG); John de Souza, Cat Ong and Tom Rao, Fashion Most Wanted: Singapore’s Top Insider Secrets from the Past Five Decades (Singapore: Straits Times Press Pte Ltd, 2016), 122. (Call no. RSING 746.92095957 DES)
15. Boey, “Staying Rooted”; Leong, “And Sew the Story Goes.” 
16. Lynn Seah, “Runway Success,” Straits Times, 24 March 2005, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
17. de Souza, Ong and Rao, Fashion Most Wanted, 122.
18. “A Step Towards Design Excellence,” Today, 20 September 2008, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Cheah Ui-Hoon, “Iconic Inspirations,” Business Times, 11 December 2009, 73. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Lim Yan Ling and Daphne Lee, “Design Inspiration Off the Runway,” Straits Times, 6 May 2009, 49; Zhang Yi Ting, “Coke Gets a Local ‘Flavour’,” Business Times, 28 March 2009, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
21. John, “Hot Young Designer Ashley Isham.”
22. Leong, “And Sew the Story Goes”; Boey, “Staying Rooted.”

The information in this article is valid as at April 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Fashion designers--Singapore--Biography
Ashley Isham, 1979-

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