Ashley Rowe Makes Wearable Art in Marfa

Tag Christof

November 20 2017

Ashley Rowe, a Toronto-native, designs and produces art as functional fashion from the impossibly-remote West Texas town that Donald Judd made legend.

I spend a good chunk of the year at home in Santa Fe, a proper city with Camino Real roots still thought of by most East Coasters as an exotic art outpost far outside the civilized world. But Marfa, with a year-round population of less than 2,000, is the real outpost. From Santa Fe, it is a full day’s drive due south on U.S. 285, a crumbling, menacing highway that passes from desolate New Mexico nothingness on through incandescent Texas oilfields. At Pecos, you turn straight south into the wilderness of Texas 17, a scenic hundred-mile ribbon that sweeps between low-slung grassy hills, a few empty towns, and past enigmatic Marfa Lights.

Marfa’s art scene has been productive and positively pivotal on the world scene ever since Donald Judd set up shop there a generation ago and recruited contemporaries, starting with Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain. Elmgreen + Dragset’s Prada Marfa, these days one of the world’s most famous pieces of site-specific art, is a few miles west on the road to Valentine, and everyone from Solange to Robert Irwin has made significant work here. Still, even if the town itself has clearly evolved over the past decade—there are more and better hotels, new restaurants, and new artists arriving all the time—it remains an outpost: a tight-knit community hours from any big city of note, with one blinking traffic light, surrounded on all sides by silence and desolation.

Ashley Rowe arrived in 2014, and has been producing her eponymous line entirely in the city ever since. Everything she makes is at once conceptual and wearable, easy and rigorous, and it all clearly draws inspiration from the enigma that is Marfa.

We visited Ashley’s new atelier, in an airy new space several times larger than the two studios she’s outgrown since launch, just before her SS18 collection arrived at Need Supply. George Michael, the friendly shop dog, showed us around.

You’re a hell of a long way from Toronto down here. What brought you to Marfa and why did you decide to settle here?

I was on a road trip from Toronto to Los Angeles. I had decided to leave Toronto and was planning on spending the winter in L.A. while I figured out where I wanted to go next in my life and career. I saw a friend post about Elmgreen + Dragset’s Prada Marfa on Instagram, and knew I had to check it out. Four days after I got to Marfa I knew I needed to move here. Two months later I officially did.

The place is sort of a dream, isn’t it? The skies, the fascinating mix of people, the art… What are your favorite things about it?

It really is. I fell in love with the landscape, the laid back way of life, the fact that the entire town is 2 square miles, that I can run home for lunch, or run home if I forget something. That everyone knows everyone and everyone helps everyone. That Judd lived here and created such amazing spaces, which I look to constantly for inspiration.

Does the isolation ever get to be a bit much?

Oh yeah! The running joke here is that you have to get off the island every three months.

Most people know about Rainer and Flavin Judd who do a lot in Marfa via the Chinati and Judd foundations, but there are so many people down here doing things in art and design and culture that you really couldn’t do anywhere else. Who else in town inspires you?

Cody Barber is a great friend and a huge inspiration to me. He started his business in Lubbock buying up Eames chairs at estate auctions. His company just exploded and he ended up here in Marfa with a shop called Cast + Crew. After a few years of doing that, he decided to close it down and re-open as a visual artist. He now fabricates really cool art pieces with pops of neons and colors that change your perspective from every angle you look at it. Also, my friend Emma Rogers, who is a multi-disciplinary artist. She photographs, draws, and creates super cool collage imagery.

So, how did you get into fashion? How did Ashley Rowe get its start?

From a very young age I always knew I wanted to work in fashion. I did the usual internships and jobs in fashion, but it wasn’t until I discovered Marfa that it all really clicked. I moved here and found a small studio, and taught myself how to sew and make patterns. From there, my first six-piece collection was born.

"The running joke here is that you have to get off the island every three months."

How would you describe your style?

I definitely adapt to the Marfa lifestyle while I’m here. I’m obsessed with sneakers, so I’ll go through different phases of shoes. It was Vans for a while, now I’m super into the Nike Huarache. I bought a few Veja sneakers recently. And from there I usually wear jeans and one of my tops, or jeans a tee and one of my jackets. Hooded pieces are also one of my go tos. Sometimes, I wear a clyde hat that I picked up from a shop called Freda that’s here in town.

I find it fascinating how differently namesake labels can be approached by their designers. Do you think of Ashley Rowe as more a manifestation of you in clothing form or, rather, as works of art you sign your name to? Have you ever designed something for the line you wouldn’t wear yourself?

From the very beginning I only designed for myself. So, everything you see in the collection was made for me. If I make something during sampling and don’t end up wearing it, then we pull it from the final collection. It’s very important to me to stay true to myself.

Huge congrats on the new space, by the way. What was here before you moved in? This is exactly the kind of spot that will make everyone in New York and L.A. jealous. What are your plans for it?

Aww, well thank you! The artist Dustin Pevey was in this space for the past few years, and before that it was the book store, and even before that it was a lumberyard!

"If I make something during sampling and don't end up wearing it, then we pull it from the final collection."

We are planning a small retail space in the front, a place where we can also add hats and bags. We will continue all of our production here too, and we are also building out a gallery space that will be used for rotating exhibition space. This is  a passion project of mine, a place where I can curate different work I find interesting and that goes along with what I’m doing in clothing.

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