A Charmed Life

Ashley Dodgen-McCormick, glowing from an early SoulCycle session, turns heads as she walks into Méli-Mélo. Her streaked blonde hair falls just below her shoulders in a modern layered cut, and her cornflower blue eyes sparkle beneath dark full brows. She smiles easily. Depending on the generation of the observer, she gets Kathy Ireland, Denise Richards or Kate Upton as look-alikes.

Her dress, by young New York designer Timo Weiland, is sophisticated with an edge—the white square cut-out design highlights her tan décolleté. Alaia gladiator sandals and an Asha cuff bracelet and Roman nail ring bring the dress down to earth—Mad Men meets Spartacus.

That right there is enough to create It Girl buzz. A stunning woman with flair. Add that Ashley started her first fashion business in eighth grade, and that she speaks five languages. Then the story gets interesting.

English, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese—these are the languages Ashley speaks with ease, picked up during childhood travels, foreign summer camps, studying abroad, and relatives. Surprisingly, considering her all-American looks, Ashley’s mother is Cuban. “I was born in New York City and spent part of my childhood in Miami,” says Ashley. Her mother, Mayling, who left Cuba at age eight with her family, just after Castro came into power, grew up in the States, went to Duke, and ran Latin America for Ogilvy Mather when Ashley was a child. “A lot of my inspiration comes from those early years, traveling a lot with my mom, seeing different cultures, speaking different languages—that’s always been a passion of mine.”

The family moved to Greenwich when Ashley was twelve, and she thrived at Greenwich Academy. “I got an incredible education and was able to indulge all of my interests and passions: field hockey, lacrosse, dancing, singing.” Ashley was a varsity athlete, a varsity dancer (she even danced in college), a strong student, stylish (she went to her first New York fashion show at age twelve). The type of perfect teen who peers might resent…if she weren’t so nice.

Says Ashley’s sister, Katy, ten years her junior, “Ashley was such a great role model and always very supportive and encouraging.” Katy names “compassion and generosity” as her big sister’s best traits.

Her mother, Mayling McCormick, noted an unusual mix of characteristics in Ashley as a young girl. “She was always creative,” says Mayling. “She did her letters better than anyone else; she drew prettier flowers. She has a gentle and soulful side, but she is also competitive.” Mayling recalls Ashley as a child as “ the sweetest little girl. She was divine.” As a teen, her daughter was “a beautiful dancer, a wonderful athlete, independent.” And there was something more.

“I used to make little paintings when I was five and sell them to neighbors,” recounts Ashley. “I played office too. My mom was an advertising executive. I admired her as a kind of glamorous power woman.” Ashley launched her first little cottage industry as a teenager. “I made ribbon belts and sold them in math class and on the beach in Nantucket.”

Mayling recalls, “Ashley always loved cash registers and receipts. I’d take her to New York when she was little and she’d ask, ‘Can we go to the bank and get more deposit slips?’ But at the same time she has this huge creativity.” Mayling continues, “When Ashley was in seventh grade, she said, ‘We have to go to Macy’s and get a sewing machine.’ She’d looked up where we could buy a sewing machine and had collected all kinds of ribbon in New York. She wanted to sew them more professionally into belts. She got rings and tortoiseshell and went online and got vintage buckles. She taught herself to sew. That summer, she set out three towels on the beach in Nantucket and engaged Katy to help her sell. They came home with $300! Ashley can be quiet and a bit demure but is also very enterprising. Tommy Hilfiger ordered her ribbon belts.”

It was around the same time that Ashley went to summer camp in Switzerland. “That was a pivotal summer for me,” says Ashley. “I was surrounded by Spaniards, Arabs, people from all different cultures.” When it came time for college, she chose Georgetown— “It’s quite international,” she notes—and studied abroad in Florence and Paris. She majored in art history and had her own personal minor back in her dorm room: jewelry design.

“Ashley had a roommate in college who she really didn’t fit with,” says Mayling. “We encouraged her to hang in there, as that’s all part of the college experience. And she did. This girl taught her how to bead and how to put together necklaces. Over time the beads became finer and more expensive—rock crystal, turquoise. Out of this funny relationship came this wonderful gift.”

Fate would continue to be on Ashley’s side, when she was seated next to Lorenz Bäumer, the head designer of Chanel Fine Jewelry, at a dinner party. “I mentioned I was studying art history at La Sorbonne and making jewelry. He offered to introduce me to a goldsmith. In between classes I would run to the atelier and work with this craftsman. That’s where I made my first pieces.”

Her proud mom is the one who notes it was a necklace Ashley was wearing—one of her designs—that caught the attention of Bäumer. Ashley is humble. That’s a trait that one with feet not nailed to the ground may have lost, considering what happened next.

She was only twenty-one and still in school, but Ashley had the talent, passion and business sense that made launching her own brand a logical next step. She also had experience—three summers interning with her ribbon-belt fan, Tommy Hilfiger. Ashley named her jewelry line Asha, the nickname her Cuban grandparents had given her. Despite have to balance designing and holding trunk shows with her college workload, she maintained good grades and had major clients by the time she graduated.

Mayling elaborates, “She called during her senior year and said, ‘Mom, you aren’t going to believe this: Calypso just placed a $10,000 order!’ She was panicking about whether she could fill it. I said, ‘Go for it. You can do it. I’ll help you make them.’”

Now Asha has a sunny showroom in a penthouse overlooking Greenwich Avenue and the Sound, just a hop and a skip from Méli-Mélo. The stairway walls are dotted with alluring shots of Ashley’s inspirational journeys to exotic spots. A bright painting in Valentine-heart colors hangs above her desk. “It’s by local artist Suzie Jellinek,” notes Ashley. “It was a birthday present to myself.” Her sophisticated yet edgy designs—bridging costume and fine jewelry—are showcased beneath photos of the locales that inspired them. Along one windowsill sits a new line of tote bags, which might bridge St. Tropez’s beach and Rue St. Honoré.

Asha has evolved to include “a mix of top-quality metals and exquisite gemstones,” but “democratizes fine jewelry,” with most pieces in the $300 to $400 range. “The beachy jetset aesthetic I started with still remains in pieces like the island pendants,” says Ashley. Her pendants—from mother-of-pearl island and zodiac pendants to the vermeil collar Byzantine Bib or onyx Muse—are no question works of art, by a designer who knows how to delight a clientele that spans from “fifteen to forever.” She is currently in the process of designing a “bespoke fine jewelry line—personalized heirloom jewelry.”

Ashley explains, “I’m committed to creating jewelry that is meaningful, whether inspired by art, architecture, travel, culture or personal story.” That is her design recipe. Her business recipe started brewing decades ago. “Taking on so much in high school taught me how to juggle. As an entrepreneur, I need to juggle the creative, production, marketing, sales. Also, the competitive nature of Greenwich Academy prepared me to take on challenges and embrace them.”

Her role models—a mom with a stellar career at Ogilvy Mather, Estee Lauder and Citibank; a dad who was president of Amex—weren’t too shabby either. “My dad advises me on the financial side. My mom helps with branding and marketing,” says Ashley, who also cites her mom’s style—“timeless, classic, sophisticated”—as having a huge influence.

A mentor who believed in her since the ribbon belt days, Tommy Hilfiger, says, “Ashley is very talented and creative. I always knew she would be a star.”

Entrepreneurial juggling is not the only type Ashley excels in. She also has a three-year-old daughter and tries to be there for nursery school drop-off and pick-up. She takes Annabel along on “work” trips, as her mom used to do. The quotation marks are there, as Ashley’s trips—to Morocco, Rome, Croatia, St. Barths—are not the briefcase-toting strict business affairs of the past. Her mom often tags along, sometimes her sister, and Asha team and family meld in trips that combine photo shoots, beach jaunts, architectural explorations, and numerous opportunities for sharing on Instagram. “Social media provides a great opportunity to engage directly with our customers and show them places I might go, where I’d eat out, and how I wear the jewelry,” says Ashley.

Ashley is a prominent fixture on the social scene, but her motives aren’t only to have fun: “I think it’s important to socialize, network, be out with other young creative types and connect with other entrepreneurs.” She may stop at Saks to pick an outfit for an evening out (Saks has been selling Asha for ten years) or she turns to online sites, like Greenwich native Lauren Santo Domingo’s Moda Operandi. “She is someone I look to for style,” says Ashley. Lauren now wears Asha, as do a trio of big time newscasters: Katie Couric, Martha MacCallum and Natalie Morales.

On days off, if they aren’t hopping on a plane, Ashley loves to spend time with Annabel at Bruce Park, the Field Club or Greenwich Library. Or they might indulge their creative passions. “Annabel is very artistic,” says Ashley. “She’s already started making jewelry, but she’ll only use hot pink beads!” Inspired by a recent talk she gave at Greenwich Academy, Ashley is contemplating partnering with museums to further arts education for children. Some proceeds from Asha sales already go to the Bruce Museum, as well as the Breast Cancer Alliance.

Ashley and Annabel live in midcountry Greenwich in a home that melds with the Asha brand. “My aesthetic translates the same way—classic, modern, clean and fresh,” says Ashley. “My lifestyle and my brand are one and the same.”

Ashley adds, “I love beautiful things, but I’m not a materialistic person. I could easily get up and go and not miss anything.” What can’t she live without? “Just Annabel and my passport.”






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