Ashley Clark was pursuing a dual degree in law and business at the University of Baltimore when she was jolted awake by a vivid dream.
“I call it a spiritual enlightenment, an awakening,” she recalls. In the dream, the 30-year-old was making hats and ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. A word also came to her: soigné, or elegant.
“I speak French,” says Clark. “It was like my life flashed before my eyes.”
The following day, she made a life-changing decision: She quit school. Her family wasn’t amused.
“My mom was like, ‘You’ve played with a hot glue gun, but what the hell?’ ” Clark says with a laugh. “I said, ‘Please, just trust me. I have a gut feeling.’ ”
Clark, whose grandmother had a fondness for ornamental headwear, spent a year studying millinery and learning how to draw, sketch, and sew.
“I’m self-taught, and I have the pricks and scars to prove it,” she says.
Now based in Boston’s Chinatown, she launched her e-commerce site, fittingly named Soigné, in November 2016. She originally hoped to market her hats as an NFL cheerleader for the Patriots.
“I used to be an NFL cheerleader for the Ravens and the Redskins, so I hoped it could be free marketing,” she says. “But I didn’t make the team.”
No matter: She debuted her latest line, Sexual Aristocracy, at slinky Downtown Crossing restaurant Yvonne’s during a Boston Fashion Week event on Friday. She targets women who aren’t afraid to be daring, as the name suggests.
“My line is bold; you have to be very sure of who you are as a person,” she says. “In my hats, you can be a bit outrageous.”
For the latest line, she was inspired by royals and notable women throughout history and across the world, including a headdress inspired by the Bamileke tribe in Cameroon and oversize, flowered headpieces that call to mind Marie Antoinette, she says.
“I wanted to embrace women’s sexuality and bring out this power. I think we’re shamed a lot in that sense,” she says. “I want women to put my pieces on and feel like they can conquer the world.”
The hats don’t come cheap: Prices start at $950 and can range up to $5,000. But, as Clark points out, they have many uses. They can be worn three ways — they come with detachable parts like veils, chokers, and broaches that can be repurposed as accessories with other outfits.
Meanwhile, law school isn’t off the table, she says.
“I would love to have a fashion empire. Chanel started with hats,” she says. “I’d go back to law school, finish, and broker the IPO myself.”Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.