Designer behind Megan Thee Stallion’s looks is pushing for more seats at the table
If you’re wondering who created the sizzling-hot look that Megan Thee Stallion wore during her performance on the BET Awards on Sunday, look no further than Los Angeles fashion designer Ashton Hirota.
A contestant on Netflix’s reality competition series “Next in Fashion,” Hirota, founder of his self-titled brand, has designed clothes for Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Post Malone, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Lizzo.
“To work with Ashton on the BET Awards to help create Meg’s vision and see it come to life was incredible,” said EJ King, Stallion’s stylist. “I could have not picked a better person to do this with.”
In a chat with The Times recently, Hirota discussed working with Stallion, who won two BET Awards, for female hip-hop artist and the Coca-Cola Viewers Choice for “Hot Girl Summer,” how the City of Angels inspires him and what improvements he wants to see in the fashion industry.
Talk to me about your vision for creating Stallion’s outfit.
Meg and her stylist came to me as they knew I would relate to the style direction for the BET 2020 awards instantly. The minute I saw the mood board, I was in! We wanted to give a nod to “Mad Max” and Burning Man without it feeling forced. Ideally the style direction was to show her versatility as an artist while still being on brand.
This is a look she has never done, so it was very important it didn’t feel overly costumed. For anyone who has been to Burning Man, they can confirm the looks people turn out there are major! So for us, it was all about the harmony and balance to create a look that was impactful but also blended with the set location and Meg’s image.
I created a leather shrug and belt made of eight different kinds of feathers, gold chain and hand beading. For the base look, I pulled reference from one of my collections called Ritual. We wanted her reveal look to have a lot of sex appeal while feeling like a strong, empowered woman.
In addition to winning her BET Awards, Stallion is having a breakthrough year as a celebrity judge on the new HBO Max series “Legendary.” What is it like working with her for her performance looks?
I dressed Meg last year for her first BET performance ever, so to be a part of this the following year and her taking home the award was super special to me. I was honored to be a part of this night with her and the incredible team. When you get to build those bonds with clients that continue year after year, it makes you feel like you’re a part of a big family ... a creative force of respect and unity.
There is trust between us all, so that is so key to creating a successful end product. I work from my gut and off intuition. On the day of final fitting, I made this gold body harness. I just knew the outfit needed a little tasteful touch of bondage.
This was my surprise hat trick during the final fitting. Meg was super into it, and EJ loved the final touches. For me, it was the missing touch to balance out the chain and feather details. She looked strong and confident.
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Since our first time working together in 2019 for BET Awards, I have created many more looks including her recent performance for Obama’s [“Dear Class of 2020" virtual event] Super Bowl weekend, the Kobe [Bryant] tribute and her latest album cover for “Girls in the Hood,” which is currently No. 5 on Apple Music. To say I like working with Meg and her team is an understatement. I love it.
As a gay designer, what does real equality mean to you?
It’s so obvious it’s infuriating. Equality literally means the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities. Black and Black LGBTQIA people are not asking to be above others. They are simply asking to be equals. Ashton Michael has and always will be a brand supporting diversity, inclusion and opportunity.
Real equality is not booking a “token” anyone for the sake of a political safety net. It is using your platform to create the change needed in the world. It is being a brand that sees the beautiful in all walks of life and offers equal compensation for everyone involved. I have always cast an eclectic group for my fashion shows, look books and even my staff, whether it was models that were plus-size, amputees, multirace and all gender identities.
However, respect is a word I think is commonly overlooked in fashion. Many times I feel like minorities, especially the Black community, have to work so much harder to get that respect. They say there is a seat at the table for them but the invite says “pending.” Equality is not making the overly qualified person of color be a free intern while the privileged, less-qualified candidate gets salary based on the color of their skin, not the skill set.
Outside of fashion being a business, as an artist, I love to see my work take on the energetic role of who is wearing it. Clothing has the ability to transform your mental and physical state of mind. If you only let it breathe on a singular race or gender, how would you ever know its full beautiful potential?
Was there a moment during Pride Month that had special meaning for you?
Pride parade 2020 took on a whole new direction this year. Witnessing firsthand LGBTQI, all ethnicities and generations sending out the same vibration for a singular cause of All Black Lives Matter was overwhelmingly emotional. In these moments, your social status, religious views or sexuality was irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was the collective movement for long-overdue change and necessary actions needed to raise awareness.
How does L.A. inspire your creativity?
How can we not be influenced by this incredible melting pot of a city we get to call home? We experience the vast range of culture from around the world on a daily basis, even if we are sitting in traffic for most of it.
One of my recent collections was inspired by a drive from East L.A. to West Hollywood. I pulled references from my inner circle of friends in Boyle Heights and traditional Latino street culture and the Hasidic Jewish community. As far apart as their worlds may seem, I saw the beauty in their commonality of deep-rooted beliefs, loyalty and unity.
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None of the collection was created from an appropriated standpoint, rather respecting and showing it in a different artist’s light. As artists, we have the opportunity to educate through a creative medium. That to me is honoring diversity through equality as a fashion designer.
What improvements do you want to see in the fashion world?
As a whole, the fashion industry is wildly guilty of appropriating culture and deep-rooted racism but gets away with it because it can be masked as “inspired by.”
Ultimately, I want to see more collaborations across the board. 2020 has proven to be one of the most radical transformative years, and we are only [seven] months into it. The amount of unity that is coming through as the veil is being lifted on human rights, equality and crisis is so inspiring. The fashion industry needs to take note of what is happening and see how powerful a change like this could be and what it could mean for the next generation of visionaries.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
COVID-19 put a roaring halt on 90% of my business when the quarantine hit. Considering most of my income is celebrity-based for tours, performances and music videos, the entertainment world shut down and left me hanging out with the crickets in my shop. However, I quickly realized this was an opportunity to see past the usually vain fashion world I’m submerged in and do something that had a greater purpose.
With the world needing face masks, I immediately offered a free pattern on my website for people to use across the globe. The response was incredible, and to hear people’s genuine appreciation was priceless. Since then, I’ve gone further for those who couldn’t make their own and [we] are currently selling them for $9 and donating to nonprofit organizations.
The fashion world hit a massive wall, causing global shifts on how people show collections, purchase items and the capacity in which all is achieved. Fortunately, the advancements we have with online shopping and social media are available and became the platform to save the day for those of us who were still able to operate.
COVID was a bitch slap that made me realize I was missing balance between the celebrity and consumer world. I realized I desperately needed to be more inclusive and less exclusive. Building the tribe bigger and stronger than ever before has been one of the most emotional, powerful outcomes of the pandemic.
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What are you working on now?
I am expanding my diffusion line ASH by Ashton Michael. This has been a project in the making for quite some time now. I wanted to create a more cost-friendly price point available to the mass market, not just celebrity clientele. Creating a bridge between both worlds, it allows the 18-year-old kid who loves Lizzo and Megan to own a similar harness. That is such a rad feeling.
Taking it one step further, 2020 for me and the brand is about collaborations. There is usually so much “I” talk when it comes to artists, and I truly feel this is the year of “us,” supporting peers, eliminating cliché competitiveness and really expanding our creative horizons as a conscious collective. Every two months, I plan on releasing a product that will be a limited run, treated more as a specialty item, available at my Hollywood store.
Oftentimes I feel with mass production it becomes less special and more expected. The idea is to show consistent collaborations with new artists each time, to show unity and support in an industry that is so competitive.
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