Before Ashley-Brooke Sandall began her fashionable career trajectory, she was a mondaine Metro-Detroiter with an affinity for all things Pucci and Prada. Born to two University graduates and brought up in Ann Arbor, Sandall’s choice to attend the University, where she graduated with a Communications degree in 2003, is understandable. Considering her former-model mother usually picked her up from school rocking brazen Missoni jumpsuits, it’s unsurprising Sandall developed a fondness for fashion that continues to punctuate her professional path — one that began with an internship at Prada and extends to her current position as the senior manager of strategic partnerships for the Council of Fashion Designers of America, replete with enviable experiences at high-profile luxury brands in between.
Fashion-focused clubs and publications were virtually non-existent during Sandall’s collegiate years, prompting her to carve out a curriculum through internships and seasonal retail jobs. During the summer months, while her family vacationed in Northern Michigan, Sandall took a retail position at Harbor Springs’ premier menswear retailer, selling Ralph Lauren Black Label to the genteel gentlemen of the city.
“I’ve always been a fan of menswear, true tailoring and how men are much more loyal consumers,” she said. “Women are very fickle.”
That partiality for menswear complemented her first job with John Varvatos, a contemporary men’s designer with an eponymous label. When Varvatos was emerging on the design scene, Sandall learned of his Michigan roots during one of his personal appearances at Barney’s. Though a New-York-based brand, Varvatos integrates his Midwestern sensibility into the line, something that attracted Sandall. She kept in touch with the designer and received a job offer two months prior to her graduation.
“A large part of my job at John Varvatos was to do personal shopping for not only celebrities, but also notable New York financiers,” she said.
When one of Sandall’s clients was planning to invest in Stuart Weitzman and build a reputable team, he suggested she join. Eager to experience the business side of fashion in a new work environment, she accepted the offer.
“I love John Varvatos and it was very hard for me to leave, but I wanted to transition into something that was a bit more business-minded,” she said. “I worked on sales and marketing and expanding the brand into other categories.”
Throughout her two years at Weitzman, Sandall’s primary role was to update the brand and attract a younger demographic in the process. She then transitioned into the publishing world, working within American Express’s fashion and jewelry sectors of the Centurian and Platinum card magazines.
At American Express, she dabbled in event planning and generated marketing programs for some of the most iconic luxury brands — Chanel, Balenciaga, Mikimoto and Harry Winston, to name a few. Sandall also planned client-specific events and private dinners for the most affluent customers, among which included those who fly on NetJets thrice annually, and/or those who spend at least $1,000,000 on ready-to-wear collections.
“It was an incredible experience,” she said.
When Sandall’s boss at American Express eventually resigned, he was planning a career segue to the CFDA, when she was, yet again, highly encouraged to continue on her winning streak in the game of follow the corporate leader. She seemed to be a perfect fit for the organization of America’s leading fashion designers, seeing as she had a past at both John Varvatos and Stuart Weitzman, two CFDA members.
“I followed him over and it was the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me,” she recalled.
According to their website, the CFDA exists as a nonprofit trade association whose membership consists of more than 400 of America’s foremost womenswear, menswear, jewelry and accessory designers. At the intersection of high-fashion and charity, the agency assists nascent designers within their incubator program, along with serving as a benefactor of fashion scholarships for students.
“I think the best part is definitely being part of an organization that makes such a difference in fashion, even if people aren’t familiar with the CFDA or don’t really know us outside of awards,” Sandall said.
The organization hosts their namesake awards annually, often nicknamed “The Oscars of Fashion.” The event recognizes the industry’s talented legacies and evolving designers alike, along with celebrity style-icons (last year, Rihanna snagged the Fashion Icon Award), and, of course, famously showcases fashion. In preparation for the awards, Sandall seeks out sponsorship opportunities, along with creating proposals and activation ideas.
“It’s one of the most glamorous events in fashion, but I’m still on the job when attending,” she said.
As the current senior manager of strategic partnerships for the association, Sandall’s days are packed — often meeting with council members, potential partners and designers. She also routinely attends evening events, namely cocktail parties and store openings, an aspect she admittedly enjoys.
Though an Ann-Arborite-turned-New Yorker, Sandall said she primarily identifies as a self-described steadfast Wolverine.
“Within the first few minutes of meeting me, I’ll probably mention the fact that I went to the University of Michigan.”