Ashley Kolln of Atomik Bomb
I met Ashley Kolln through work at Topshop Chicago and was hardly surprised to learn that she had a background in fashion design. While working with her, I was struck by her coif of beachy curls, and the unique, crafty jewelry she would pair with her everyday outfits. Feathers, body chains, combat boots, DIYs — Ashley is a girl after our own hearts.
Her technical design skills and creative point of view are expressed through her stellar accessory brand, Atomik Bomb. Fascinated by her most recent creations — a collection of avant garde handmade ombre chain jewelry, I was lucky enough to snag an interview with Ashley to learn more about her products and her background in design.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Milwaukee Wisconsin. I have always had an artist’s outlook on life, and knew at 14 that I wanted to be a fashion designer. Both of my grandmas were very good at sewing, and one of them used to make me and my sister matching dresses when we were little. I think I am following in her footsteps, but with more of an entrepreneur outlook. I started sewing in high school, and was lucky enough to take a college course at a private all women’s college offering fashion design when I was a senior.
After graduation, I started my fashion education at Mount Mary College, transferred schools to University of Wisconsin Stout and knew I had to study abroad. I lived in London for a semester and it was the best life experience I’ve had so far. After arriving back home, I was so inspired. I designed my senior collection, won a few awards for my graduation work and moved back to Milwaukee to complete an internship. I worked on a very talented and hard working team for Fashion Ninja, a Milwaukee design label. There I learned the process of fashion production, and with my educational background proved to be an asset to the production team. Lead designer Erika Ikeler moved her company to L.A. where she now has an outstanding store called 8-Limbs in Echo Park California. Following my internship, I fell back into the retail world, and this is what brought me to Chicago. I currently work at Topshop, and have kept up my small line of accessories, as my passion for design still lives within.
Two photographs from Ashley’s Senior Collection, utilizing neutral tones to illustrate architectural structures that accentuate feminine figures:
When did you first fall in love with fashion?
I was always into fashion as a little girl, playing games like Pretty Pretty Princess, and having a grandma that sewed me clothes. I knew that I wanted to be a designer when I was in 8th grade. I started sketching out some of my own ideas, and since drawing and art has always came naturally to me, the career choice seemed to be a perfect fit.
Describe your personal style.
I love to mix and match my wardrobe and tend to dress on the quirky side. I am fully adorned with accessories and love wearing things that may not be considered popular yet in the retail world. I like to be on the trends early and tend to buy classic, reworked items so they can remain part of my wardrobe for more than one season. I love vintage shopping and mixing the old and the new pieces together for a modern vintage twist with tons of large accessories.
Where do you like to shop?
Currently I love shopping at Topshop mainly because I work there and have fallen in love with the brand. I also love ASOS, Nasty Gal, Lulus, Akira Chicago, and good old vintage resale stores.
What’s something you think will never go out of style?
Denim jacket. The denim jacket always comes back every spring in a new and interesting way! Plus it makes a great canvas for some DIY projects.
Name one item currently in your closet that you couldn’t live without.
This one is very hard for me, since I an equally in love with all of my accessories. I think my silver rings I inherited when my grandma passed. It’s the first jewelry item I can wear that doesn’t turn my fingers green.
Describe what your wearing exactly at this moment. Doesn’t matter if it’s a party dress or pjs — be honest.
Half chiffon, half leather top from Topshop
Leggings with mesh panel down the side from Wet Seal
My own design of a long dip dyed sheer chiffon skirt
Black ankle booties from Topshop
Wrap real leather bracelet from Aldo
Small tiger stud earrings from Forever 21
Biggest fashion mistake?
When I was in 8th grade I bought this pair of hot pink, pleather, pants that were so incredibly hot because lord knows pleather is not made for making pants. I look back at pictures and just wonder what the hell I was thinking.
Did you always know you wanted to design for a living? Or is fashion a more recent career path you’ve chosen?
I have always wanted to be a designer! The intense preparation, extreme deadlines, and fast pace is what attracts me the most because I am a person who needs change in her life otherwise I get bored. I am so creative by nature, so I knew that this would be a perfect fit for me. Right now working retail is still exciting because I am a people person and believe I have truly met some of the most interesting and incredibly talented people whom I work with.
Describe your fashion education experience. What was the best part about it? The worst part?
My education was the best. I may not have been at a well-known school, but my school is packed with information and real-life situations that put me beyond other design students. I am an expert at computer design with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and I have mastered technical design learning on how to draw technical flats, and create a complete specification packet in Microsoft Excel. I have learned the process of production, grading and marker making, fit of garment and high levels of pattern making. One of my favorite classes was functional design, where we researched the technology behind fashion design and how this will change the world as we know it when it comes to new textiles and fabrics. My favorite experience was studying abroad. I went to London and had the chance to experience menswear and fashion show production.
The worst part for me was the all-nighters that I had to pull in college to get my projects done, but to me it was all worth it in the end. As silly as this sounds, now that I am not in college anymore, I miss those all-nighters.
What are the major differences in the process between designing womenswear and menswear? Do you prefer one over the other?
Women’s clothes are much more creative and there is a lot more to the fit of a woman’s body. There are curves for all of her body parts, but you have to make sure that this fit can be complimentary on many different body types. With women, things tend to be a bit more tricky. You can create new shapes and silhouettes. There are more choices. Men are more to-the-point; they tend to like things one way, and that means comfortable. A man’s wardrobe can consist of very fashionable well made pieces, but categories are more limited.
Two screenshots from Ashley’s portfolio, illustrating the thought process that goes into her menswear designs and how those ideas are translated onto the runway:
What do you enjoy more — creating accessories or clothes?
How much time do I have? is the question. I love making clothes but they tend to take up a lot more time — perfecting the fit of the pattern, making the item in a prototype form, then in final fabric! Right now, working a full-time job tends to leave me with little time, so I am really enjoying creating accessories. I still have the same creative process – it all starts with a sketch, but moves more quickly with no need for fit on most of the items.
Where do you get inspiration for your designs? Is your personal style reflected in your work, or is your work more of a reflection of a fantasy wardrobe — something completely separate from what you typically wear?
Most of my designs are inspired by home interiors. I do a lot of window shopping for things for my home but since I live in an apartment, all of the things I see in the windows stay in the windows. Color stories and shapes are what stick out the most, and trends for these colors seem to stay pretty in tune with what the fashions are around me. I tend to design for more of a high-end client. I use a lot of sexy silhouettes for women because I think the best parts to show off on a woman’s body are her back and her legs. I do think that my designs show off a large part of my personal style, because I would wear everything that I design. I’d like to think if you are designing things that even you won’t wear, than who will?
What’s the most challenging part of the design process? How long does it typically take for you to complete a garment or accessory?
Most challenging part of a garment is definitely the fit process. There are times when you may think that the hem needs to be shorter, but even a half inch can make the garment cross into the unwearable zone, and then you are back at the beginning.
The most challenging thing with my new line of accessories was the paint finish. It ended up taking about 2 hours or more to complete each of my new accessories, because each piece was hand wrapped with metal wire to create the geometrical shapes. The ombre chain necklace was almost trashed during the process because the paint kept pooling up, but in the end this piece ended up being my favorite one.
Three pieces from Ashley’s latest collection for Atomik Bomb, modeled by Ashley:
Tell me about Atomik Bomb’s origins? How did your brand get started? What inspired the name?
In 2009 I was given my first opportunity to sell my accessories in a store, and I wanted an edgy name that would have both of my initials, A and K, in it.
Ashley kindly let me shoot some of her accessories. These were my favorite pieces:
What other interests and hobbies do you have outside of fashion?
I love to paint, and although I do not always have the time for it, I like to give paintings as presents for special occasions for my friends and family.
Coolest place you’ve been/thing you’ve done so far.
One of the best places that I have been so far was Barcelona. The city itself is so beautiful and has some of the most inspirational architecture that would make any humans jaw hit the floor. The Gaudi Park is so magical and I could spend days there sketching, and coming up with new ideas beyond all of my exploring.
What are your career goals? Where do you want to be in one year? In five years?
I want to become a designer for a small design team. I feel it is in small companies where you learn the most and are challenged, with the best outcome for the future. I see myself becoming a designer, and if this doesn’t happen I will work in some field of the fashion industry for the rest of my life.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring designers?
I do. Follow your dreams! Don’t let anybody tell you that you cannot do it. In fact, if they tell you you can’t, do it anyways and prove them wrong.
With Ashley’s entrepreneurial spirit and eye for style, Atomik Bomb is going to take off! Grab some pieces for summer!
- Lesley xox