Re-interpreting the classic trench

In conversation with founder Amy-Eliza Wilkinson of Ashby London on redesigning the traditional trench

With winter fading and spring in sight, the time for investing in a trans-seasonal trench is now. But this year Melbourne men are doing the trench a little differently. Made famous by men such as Humphrey Bogart—who wore a classic Burberry style in ​Casablanca​—Michael Caine and Brad Pitt, the trench has been a wardrobe staple of fashion-forward men for decades. Originally developed for men as an alternative to the heavy serge greatcoats worn by British and French soldiers in the First World War, the old school trench recently received a sartorial reshaping, and it happened here in Melbourne.

In the name of capturing the classicism of the traditional garment and honing it with a contemporary edge, designer Amy-Eliza Wilkinson has created a sleeveless trench for men, a piece that recently launched her local label ​Ashby London. ​Designed here in Melbourne where she currently living and manufactured in London’s iconic East End, the ‘​Ashby Sleeveless Trench Coat​’ will challenge everything you thought you knew about in-between-seasons layering, simultaneously keeping your wardrobe a cut above the rest. Not quite a coat and definitely not a vest, this piece promises both functionality and flexibility by nature of its adaptable form, making it the perfect item to add to your collection of trans-seasonal essentials.

As the late American minister Henry Ward Beecher once said: ‘Clothes and manners do not make the man; but when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.’ By taking the classic trench to contemporary places, the ​Ashby London​ sleeveless trench is a piece that promises to do just that.

KATHRYN CARTER: What inspired you to launch ​Ashby London?

AMY-ELIZA: I’ve always been a big daydreamer or, as I like to call it, an “imaginative artist”. Society makes us believe that dreaming is a distracting trait, but it has led me to many inspirations and ideas. One of those ideas was [my label] Ashby London. Albert Einstein once said: ‘Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.’ The preview for Ashby came in high school when I had the idea of designing a sleeveless trench; it was this initial idea that inspired the creation of my brand.

The sleeveless trench is such a go-to piece for so many women, because of its versatility. However, when researching more into my idea I found very few men’s sleeveless trenches, most of them had been designed for women. As someone who has always been passionate about menswear, I saw a window of opportunity. My vision for Ashby has always been to see people on the streets wearing my Ashby trench. Many designers will tell you that they persist in the often grudging process of building a brand just to see their garments on a customer, it’s a feeling you just can’t describe.

You chose to begin your brand with a sleeveless trench, which is the perfect layering piece for your Melbourne clients. What have your male customers been saying about the piece and the versatility it offers?

The majority of my male customers have never thought of wearing a sleeveless trench or ever considered it, so some of their reactions have been to try to understand how they can wear the trench itself. I knew bringing a re-imagined, fashion forward piece to the menswear market would be challenging, which is why I’ve worked with stylists to create style guides for my male clientele, to help them gain an understanding of how to style the trench in an effortless way, and to show them the many ways that they can wear it.

Melbourne offers the perfect unpredictable climate for the sleeveless trench. As a city we are also the European capital of Australia, so many Melbourne men have been drawn to the trench as a fashion forward piece that they can see becoming a staple in a man’s wardrobe.

Given the novelty of the piece, what style advice would you offer the man who wasn’t quite sure how to incorporate a sleeveless trench into his current wardrobe?

I’d say, look at your wardrobe and select five to ten outfits that you regularly wear. Then, incorporate the sleeveless trench into each look, whether by placing it under a coat for work, or layering it over a nice dinner shirt with matching chinos for a date. It’s all about playing with the trench, mixing and matching to find what feels best. There’s no right or wrong way to wear the trench, it’s all about how the individual wants to wear it.

The ​Ashby London s​leeveless trench is the perfect piece for the man who likes to wear distinct and quality garments. Are there plans to offer one-of-a-kind variations, made-to-order old school style for private clients, further down the track?

Definitely in the future. Right now I’m focused on the development of the trend, my experimentation with sustainable practices, and marketing the Ashby trench so that it’s more recognisable. I’d love to create one-of-a-kind pieces eventually though, I think this will make the trench personal for the future customers of Ashby London.

The traditional, long sleeve trench coat coined its name during World War 1, as it was often worn by soldiers. Today, it is often seen as a symbol of class and sophistication. What do you think the ​Ashby London sleeveless trench represents?

As an effortless, re-imagined basic that’s made to last, the Ashby trench represents the streets of London.

And what do you envision for the future of ​Ashby London?​

I’ve spent most of 2020 developing new ideas and designs, and researching new materials to incorporate into future Ashby pieces. This year has allowed me to step back and slow down, to look at perspectives we might have missed before. It’s hard to make precise future goals, as the fashion industry itself is constantly changing. But that’s what I love most about the industry, it means that there is always more to learn. You can never know enough. My goal for ​Ashby London​ overall, however, is to create a brand that people can trust. To create products that people recognise; garments that the wearers can make their own.

KATHRYN CARTER for Ashby London 2020

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