Pocket Guide: Nick Ashley of Private White V.C.

Nick Ashley’s style is inspired by militarywear, and he prefers minimalism (and a good pocket) to overindulgence. And as for accessories? Best not ask…
Pocket Guide: Nick Ashley of Private White V.C.
Nick Ashley isn’t your average fashion designer — though to label him as such is perhaps inaccurate to begin with. Nick doesn’t do fashion. Rather, he’s spent the past 40-odd years applying his expert eye to functional, usable design, whether in his role as Creative Director of Laura Ashley — the family business — or in his stints at Dunhill, Tod’s and, most recently, Private White V.C. The latter, since launching eight years ago under Nick’s direction, has become particularly noted for its luxurious takes on military and workwear garments, which of course have strong roots in function. One of his design secrets? “With men’s clothes you can never have enough pockets — if you put loads of pockets on something, it sells.” A simple notion, sure, but one that is key to the direction menswear has taken. Practicality is of equal importance to style these days, especially when on the move. After all, as Nick notes, “If you’re travelling with your passport and phone you want them zipped up. Phones are like a fucking thousand quid these days.”  Nick has recently taken a step back from Private White — he is now acting as a brand ambassador for the Manchester-based outfit — which allows him to further indulge his lifelong motorcycling passion, which he’s managed to pass on to his youngest daughter, Edie. Far from slowing down, Nick’s boundless energy is contagious and defies the sexagenarian bracket he now represents. Inherently stylish, he takes inspiration from military clothing, but he’s quick to point out that he’s “not a revivalist” and prefers minimalism to embellishment. Just don’t get him started on accessories: “I don’t go for rings or little shit like that. I don’t need a watch because I’ve got the time on my phone. I’ve got an old Rolex thing and I just keep it in the drawer, I’m not sure where it is. I think it’s in my sock drawer in London. My tools are my accessories.”   This article was originally published in Issue 57 of The Rake. Subscribe here for more, and click here to discover more about Private White V.C.
Under his parka are Nick’s “new-old stock, dirty whites”. Up top is another of Nick’s Private White designs: the ‘Track’ sweatshirt has two front “drop pockets, so when you put things in they fall in and stay there”. Made by his own brand in Japan in the 1990s, his trousers are a hybrid style made from heavyweight cotton with padded knees and slanted front pockets. He’s dubbed the “motocross chinos”.
This is Nick’s custom 1970s Triumph Flat Tracker. It was built by the legendary Eric Cheney, who was Steve McQueen’s personal bike builder and one of the finest frame engineers of the 20th century.
Nick's motorcycle helmet doesn't offer much in the way of protection, but it does signify his allegiances to Private White V.C. and The Piston Broke Club.
Nick's 1939 Harley-Davidson WLC 45 features a 'jockey' gear shift to the left of the fuel tank. It's operated by hand and requires a 'suicide' foot clutch.
Nick acquired a dozen of these canvas bags from the War & Peace Revival in Kent for just £17 each. “Most of them I handed out,” he says. “I’ve got a set of stencils and if I was going to stay with someone, instead of giving them a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine, I’d give them a fucking bag and stencil their name on it.”
Edie's helmet sports a quote to live by. She also wears a vintage black leather one-piece motorcycle suit that Nick sourced for her.
A big fan of military clothing, Nick designed this bag as the ultimate oversized, go-anywhere rucksack. “It’s a sample from Japan that was going to be for Private White, but now it’s just ‘Nick Ashley Archive’.”
Handcrafted by Cheaney in the style of a WWI field boot, this pair is made from a ‘dark walnut’ grain leather, features Private White’s signature copper hardware, and is versatile enough to wear with casualwear or tailoring.
In the New Forest, Nick accompanies daughter Edie on his 1939 Harley-Davidson WCL 45: “I did my brother a favour, and he was so happy that he gave me his beloved motorbike that he’s had since he was 16, although hit was in boxes. That was in 1971, and he had two of them. I had it built up by Toshi, my Japanese friend in London, and now I can ride with my brother on twin bikes and it’s great. I’m in love with it.”
Nick’s olive green Private White V.C. parka was designed by him. In the style of a Korean military parka, it’s made from a special ripstop cotton Ventile fabric that’s both durable and waterproof.
This innovative piece of kit is a bespoke creation by Nick, which he had made in Wales “for rugby matches” — it’s designed to hold a can of beer, or, indeed, a bottle of whisky. His belt is by his now-extinct eponymous brand and is made from tough bridle leather.