ASHLEY DUPRÉ SETS UP SHOP AND MOVES ON

Ashley DuPré embarked on a new life Monday with the opening of Femme by Ashley, her Red Bank swimwear and lingerie boutique, below. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Can a Jersey Girl whose work as a 22-year-old prostitute helped derail a political career in spectacular fashion return home and remake herself as a small-town retailer?

Four years after her high-priced hotel romps with Eliot Spitzer dynamited his tenure as governor of New York and made her infamous, Ashley Dupré says she turned a page Monday with the opening of Femme by Ashley, a lingerie and swimwear boutique on the choicest block in downtown Red Bank.

The shop, Dupré told redbankgreen in an exclusive interview, “is almost like the beginning of the rest of my life.

“I made a bunch of mistakes when I was younger, and I feel like, for the first time in my life, I’m growing into an adult, and I’m really excited about that,” she said.

The Broad Street boutique features lingerie, swimsuits and Victoria  Beckham sunglasses. (Click to enlarge)

Petite and wearing eyeglasses that made her appear somewhat more studious than she did in Girls Gone Wild videos made a decade ago, 27-year-old Dupré said she agreed to redbankgreen‘s request for a sit-down only at the urging of her boyfriend, TJ Earle, who thought it was important in establishing community roots. She said it would likely be her only interview on the topic.

Off-limits were questions about the events that made her a household name. Dupré also refused to allow redbankgreen to videotape the interview or even take her photo, saying she’d been “burned” in the past by the unauthorized release of images. Instead, she supplied a commissioned portrait.

“I’m just done with it,” Dupré said of her scandal-based persona. “I’m very private. People don’t believe that, but I’m a very private person. I don’t want that life. I’m not looking to be in the press. I’m just looking to get on with my life.”

Her focus, she said, is on becoming a business owner and “me doing what I enjoy for the first time, and not caring what anyone else has to say about it.”

Dupré’s image rehab effort might be traced to her hire two years ago as a sex -and-relationship advice columnist for the New York Post, which had previously reveled in labeling her a “ho” and “trollop” at every opportunity. In bringing her on board, the newspaper wrote:

She didn’t ask for fame, but, “Now that I have it, it’s up to me to take advantage,” she said.

Under the tag “Ask Ashley,” Dupré fielded questions that at first overtly traded on her notoriety. “How do I know if my daughter may be getting into trouble?” asked “Meredith, 40, Queens,” in the debut.

But the column later morphed into questions about keeping relationships fresh and exciting, Dupré said. “I think I have moved away from how I’m viewed to ‘how do I save my relationship?’ and ‘how do I make this work?’” she said.

The Broad Street store represents a continuation of that evolution, she said – and the likely end of the column, which she said has “run it’s course.”

Other than a confessional interview with Diane Sawyer on 20/20, a raunchy one with Howard Stern and a nude spread in Playboy, what else has Dupré been up to since the Spitzer scandal broke in March, 2008?

“I’ve been in a relationship,” she said. “I’ve just started my life over.” She and Earle, a paving industry exec, have lived in the Navesink section of Middletown for the past two months. She said she considers him her best friend, and his young daughters her family.

Growing up in Wall Township, Dupré said she was a frequent visitor to Red Bank. Moving back to the Shore after seven years in Manhattan and again visiting the town, “I just fell in love with the community as a whole,” she said. “It is like a little mini SoHo, and the people here are great.”

In creating Femme by Ashley, Dupré hired Amy Manor of West Front Street to design the space. Borough-based Frame to Please supplied oversized mirror frames and Solari Creative, also of Red Bank, did the website.

“We really kept it in the community. It’s like our own little networking circle here,” Dupré said. “It’s very important to me to have that.”

The resulting shop features white walls, ceilings and flooring. Long, silver velvet drapes form a pair of dressing rooms, each equipped with a plush purple chair so shoppers and their significant others can have some intimate time during a bikini or teddy try-on.

Dupré said the boutique’s merchandise, including labels Agua Bandita, Pily Q and Jenna Leigh, reflects her own evolving fashion sense.

“I’m  a girl, and I think every girl likes to shop and explore their tastes,” she said. “Getting into this business, I kind of explored all of these designers and fell in love with them.”

The shop offers swimsuits in the $180 to $200 range as well as some “special” underthings, Dupré said.

“I really wanted this to be a place where anybody could come in and get something and be able to afford it, but also to have the luxurious items, too,” she said.

Dupré said she plans to be in the store daily, and is braced for curiosity seekers.

“Well, I’m sure I’m going to see everybody,” she says with a laugh. “I’m sure a lot of interesting people are going to walk through those doors.”

Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna met recently with Dupré and Earle at their request, and said he came away impressed by their vision for the store and their enthusiasm about the town. Only one person, the wife of a retailer, had complained to him about Dupré’s arrival, he said. “I reminded her that none of us are exemplary in every aspect of our lives.” he said.

“We are a very diverse town,” Menna said. “We welcome everyone.”

Dupré, though, doesn’t expect everyone to be welcoming. She says she’s learned to shrug off whispers, which she finds prevalent “whether you’ve been involved in a scandal or not. People always talk about other people. And it’s sad that you don’t have anything more important to talk about in your life, but that’s just the way of life. Not everybody can like you, and it’s OK. I’m OK with that.

“What am I going to do, live in the past, regretting every mistake I’ve ever made?” she said. “That’s the sign of a weak person. You need to get over it and move on.”