Unmasking the up and coming fashion designer from Norfolk who has designs on a future of haute couture

His theatrical masks caused a stir at BridalNEXT! last month but behind the facade is a story of bullying, fear and the determination to astound. Emma Harrowing talks to up and coming Norfolk headwear designer Ashley Pearce.

He's a man with many masks and as 18 year old Ashley Pearce graciously accepts the accolade as the 'Most Curious One To Watch' at the Norwich heat of BridalNEXT, a competition to find the next generation of wedding designer from the organisers of A Most Curious Wedding Fair, you cannot help but to be intrigued by what makes this up and coming designer tick.

'It's true that my gas mask inspired creations can raise a few eyebrows but I love experimenting and trying to create new trends,' says Ashley.

'For BridalNEXT I just couldn't resist having a go at making a wedding range of masks to sell here in the UK. But why stop there.

'Winning the title at BridalNEXT! proved that I was doing something right. I work with my friend Jess Andrews who is an amazing designer and winning the award has given us a confidence boost.'

The young designer says that most of his designs are inspired by different phases in his life and for someone so young his experience of life so far has been quite traumatic.

'I was mentally bullied from many different groups at high school and on one occasion I had a whole class of students turn against me leaving me broken,' says Ashley. 'I was treated as an outcast and I was a joke to many of the other kids. There was a lack of understanding from the teachers and I bottled up my emotions which led me to have a series of mental breakdowns.

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'Panic attacks, anxiety and problems with my voice still continue to wreck havoc on my life. I got through it thanks to the support of my mum and after years of ongoing counselling I think I am stronger from this experience. However it shouldn't have been allowed to happen.'

Ashley's bad experiences at school made him focus on designing and making, a past time he has always been interested in ever since he was a child and he designed his own Halloween costume.

'The bullies made me focus on the important things in my life like building up my own fashion design business,' says Ashley. 'I went to watch the musical Phantom of the Opera in London and I was transfixed by the colourful masquerade masks dancing around on the stage. It was then that I decided that I wanted to design and make masks and it wasn't long before I began to make couture headwear too and Mystic Magic Masquerade was born.

'At the moment Jess and I are working on many exciting projects including an Alice in Wonderland music video photo shoot and we are working on a collection of masks, costumes, shoes and accessories. It's a great and very creative period of my life at the moment.'

You can find out more about Ashley's story and how he plans to become a 'wacky couture fashion designer' in today's Evening News.

You can also see some of Ashley's designs in our photo gallery at the top right of this page.