Document goes behind the scenes at the Delancey Street haunt, as the intrepid young staff sets up for a closet sale
On a muggy Saturday, the team at Big Ash—a highly-stylized, buzzy vintage store on Delancey Street—flits from rack to rack, steaming, remerchandising, and arranging in anticipation of a closet sale. Open to the public in about 30 minutes’ time, and curated by designer and stylist Claire Sullivan, it features an eclectic array of designer vintage from Jackie Tan, Julia Delaney, Matt Holmes, and Shawna Wu, alongside Sullivan’s own fare. The pace of this particular set-up feels like being backstage at a very stressed high school production of Rent, or inside the first scene of Birdman. But Ashley Williams—namesake, founder, and owner of Big Ash—and her employees remain affable, sharing sweaty hugs and cheek kisses between preparations. Everyone in the room is a friend, even if they’ve never met; this come one, come all spirit is what makes Big Ash far more than just a store—it’s a style clubhouse.
There’s some (dated) truth to the stereotypes around Delancey’s summer dilettantes—the sullen Rick Owens guy, the highly-accessorized MNZ girl (Maryam Nassir Zadeh attended the sale as a guest of Ash), the eyebrowless Eckhaus Latta devotee. While their only proponents live outside of social-MiBeHo (Microcosm Below Houston), their judgments aren’t wrong; it feels as though the Downtown NPCs are reassembling, this time in favor of a worn-already aesthetic. Brand allegiance has been traded in for a dedication to bespoke second-hand clothing; everything is re-coiffed by a new generation of fashion kids, desperate to establish their relevance. Big Ash breaks through that competition, reminding these new fashion whippersnappers what vintage shopping is about—the excitement of getting dressed in garments that are so much bigger than yourself.
“It’s so broad, honestly. Obviously, I like designer,” Williams remarks on her store’s stock. She gives a Vanna White gesture towards a rack glittering with freshly-tagged grails—two Vivienne Westwood Red Label knits and a ’90s-era nylon Miu Miu shift dress, to name a couple. “The store can have anything from an Edwardian piece to an original GAP jumper to a pair of boxers from Heidi Fleiss.”
Since Big Ash’s opening in April 2022, the store has cemented itself as the foremost destination for approachable archival experimentation. It’s a locale of its own—acting as a mecca for those in the know, and a bazaar for those searching for something special.
“[Almost] everything I did as a stylist revolved around vintage, and I’d built up quite an archive of my own, to the point where a lot of my clients were pulling directly from me. I started Big Ash so people could just come to me, to shop and play dress up—it’s about community as much as it is about clothes,” says Ash, pulling a red-lipsticked blonde to her side and remarking that, sometimes, people think they’re sisters.
“My mom told me growing up, ‘Money grows and goes, clothing is forever.’ This collection of things I’ve [accumulated], I will have forever,” says Nico Jung, aforementioned blonde and Big Ash’s store manager. The New York native joined the team at just 18 years old, already well-versed in the ins and outs of SoHo retail. “Manon—Ash’s good friend—DMed me after I got back from [spending] a month in Europe. She said something like, ‘I remember seeing you post receipts all the time, do you have a job right now? My friend has this new store.’” Jung adjusts her lipstick, sans mirror, before continuing: “At Aritzia, they track your sales—I used to post receipts literally down to the floor and be like, $6K made! I had just quit my job, [and] working in a vintage shop [seemed like] a dream come true. [I’d meet] the coolest people.” Jung isn’t alone in that sentiment: The Big Ash team is a crop of distinctly swagged-out young adults, equal parts kind and quirky.
“I just wanted to run a New York shop, you know?” Williams goes on. “I’m majorly inspired by stores like Liquid Sky, [which was] on Lafayette in the ’90s. I wanted to hire people that weren’t my friends’ [ages], but a generation below—[who can] really speak to what the scene is like Downtown.”
Among those burgeoning indie retail greats is 21-year-old Joseph Lesher-Liao, who’s been at Big Ash since its early days. “It was three, four months of tagging everything, making all the inventories, helping set up the financial system,” he recalls. The Columbia student’s current role at Big Ash is shopkeep and assistant; eventually, he hopes to pursue costume design for film. “I think it naturally overlaps [with my work here],” Lesher-Liao says with a smile. “I’m just figuring it out, and I’m happy to be here.” He grabs an armload of clothes and whisks them to the front of the store; a handful of customers bubble around, ringing the buzzer a prompt 15 minutes before the sale’s listed start time.
“Ash, can we start buzzing people in?” A young man pops into the back office to let everyone know it’s almost showtime. Ash introduces him as Augustus, “a huge genius.” His full name is Augustus Driscoll-Duravcevic—and at just 20 years old, he’s become Ash’s right-hand man when it comes to sourcing. “I got introduced to this store through a friend, who suggested I put some women’s clothes I couldn’t sell on consignment here,” he says. “After a while, Ash asked me to help her find some clothes; she has a really good network of American vintage, and at the time, I mainly shopped overseas. Now, I assist with sourcing and whatnot—just another pair of eyes.”
Those who work in vintage must never reveal their sources—a store’s exclusivity is its lifeblood. Regardless, Driscoll-Duracevic shares a brief take on the current market: “A lot of the brands people want here—stuff from Europe, stuff from Japan—people over there put on eBay for, like, nothing.” He nods his head at a well-folded pile of Hysteric Glamour graphics. “[It’s the] same over here with American brands we don’t blink twice about.”
The sale is in full swing now, Big Ash’s iconic red lacquered floor almost invisible under a sea of chic summer footwear. It’s a store of a million meet-cutes: a pair of model-types sharing a handheld fan with a new friend; two model-type friend groups combining for the first time while waiting in line for the dressing room. In stark opposition to the mean fashion girl trope, Ash, Nico, Joe and Augustus do what they do best: Welcome people into their world of style with a clever wink and a nod.