Paris Fashion Week FW15 live runway sketching portfolio

fashion shows,live drawing,Paris — Danielle on March 24, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Anrealage FW15 1

Being back in Paris was amazing. I was coming off of three weeks in London, including fashion week and a lot of social adventurism. I was exhausted but still excited. I ‘hit the ground running’, as they say, after arriving on a much-delayed Eurostar (and getting a social media literacy lesson from the BBC), picked up my mail from my Paris bestie Eliza, just a bit too late to catch the first couple shows.

My first show wasn’t my best game, the sketches looked pale and weak. But the second show, Anrealage (below and above), was incredible. Black black clothing on models painted black, wearing weird helmets that looked like alien mega-brains. And spotlights would flash on the fabrics and reveal all these colours and patterns. It was very theatrical, technical and evocative. I was a bit stymied at first to how I would sketch it, but I was inspired so it worked out!

Anrealage FW15 2

I happened to sit beside an editor and an illustrator for DASH magazine. So this was the other illustrator I had heard of at London Fashion Week! Her name is Megan. She has been doing this for one year with a kind of fearless confidence I don’t recall having at year one. Very open and friendly to me too, a sister in live runway sketching. We ended up having nearly similar schedules, attending most of the same shows. Her presence was an interesting aspect of the week. On one hand, when I see her work I see the way I used to draw, and feel amazed at how much I’ve changed. It’s fascinating to see how differently two artists can see the same show. And yet, we’re both at the same level of access. Eight years in and I’m not really that much further inside than I was at year one. And so I felt a bit stymied, too.

sharon wauchob FW15 1 on paper

At Sharon Wauchob I stood beside a mirror. The girls had pressed flat hair and wore lots of lace and fur. I’d decided during that show that my tactic with Paper this week would be to take advantage of changing the background. Imagine having every colour of paper at your disposal, on the iPad it’s possible!

sharon wauchob FW15 2 on paper

Then came a show called Aganovich. This show was incredibly easy to draw, with dramatic white collars and skirts swagged over the hip, over the arm, hands in pockets. Three quick takes:

aganovich FW15 1 on paper aganovich FW15 2 on paper aganovich FW15 3 on paper

Megan showed me how the shuttle bus works and we went over to Alexis Mabille. This was one of those shows in a series of salons, where the models walk very slowly. Somehow that seems more of a challenge than when the models are racing by.

Alexis Mabille FW15 1

I sat behind Megan who was chatting to all of the ladies. I can see her outgoing quality in her drawings, although I never remembered to watch her draw, or maybe it seems rude. Somehow I’m less talkative when I’m in the drawing mindset. I had a conversation with a friend who is a photographer earlier in the week, we were talking about competition, and how we would answer the question “is your field competitive”. They said they would say no, just to be politic, though of course they didn’t believe that, of course photography is competitive. For the drawing game, I would have to say yes, I think it is competitive. It’s good that other artists are there to push me harder. And I do want my portfolio to be the best, I have to try!

The Alexis Mabille girls wore ombre knit toques with eighties shoulder pads and lots of grey.

Alexis Mabille FW15 2

Every day Eliza got more mail for me, so I’d bring over some pastries for her and do my daily Snoopy dance.

A.F. Vandevorst was the most unusual show, an installation of several salons shrouded in plastic. We were given face masks and footwear covers on entering. In one room there was a live band playing, wearing all black, and getting painted with white paint.

af vandevorst FW15 1 on paper

Some of the models seemed to have been touched by the paint too, like this one’s ankles.

af vandevorst FW15 2 on paper

I did a watercolour too. Under the hot lights it dried fast. The beauty was very graphic with the black face masks, dramatic brows and centre parted hair. The clothes were wonderfully twisted versions of classic garments. This was a favourite show this season.

AF Vandevorst FW15

It was my second chance to attend an Issey Miyake show. The invitation was amazing – like a map of Paris, all folded up. I chose a look with a lot of colours… it took me almost the whole show to draw. Woops.

Issey Miyake FW15

By now I think I had reached a saturation point. I had to take a break in the middle of fashion week to work on my column for the Globe Style Advisor. Once I came back it was more difficult to summon the same urgency. I was distracted by a bunch of other things – health, personal, work – and I was getting run down. I lost appetite for everything, becoming skinnier and bitchier by the day. 11 days is a long stretch for attending fashion shows, even with a break. And this portfolio doesn’t even include every show I attended.

Agnes B FW15 1

These sketches are from agnes b. – and actually there is a spareness that the fatigue allows.

Agnes B FW15 2

The last show I was able to summon heat and energy for was Valentin Yudashkin. Rich, rich Russian girls with flat-ironed hair. I just kept chanting under my breath – rich girls, rich girls, rich girls. And it worked, this one excellent sketch came out.

Valentin Yudashkin FW15

There’s this argument I was having inside of myself at this point that made that mantra more meaningful – whether I have to play the rich girl game. Holding out for prestige projects. As an independent artist, I have to make less glamorous choices, because I need to be able to pay my rent and support myself, plus fund my wanderlust and ambition. The game of appearances isn’t so easily played when you’re self-funded. The truth is, that I want to be recognized and have access. And I want it to be on the merit of my work, ideally! So how can I be snobby enough to impress the gatekeepers but accessible enough that I can afford to be that snobby? Is doing good work enough, or is the work not good enough yet? I don’t know, that’s what I’m trying to figure out.

Masha Ma FW15

I have to do everything I do for myself. I don’t have an agent or a boss. I have just a couple of advisors, and sometimes I seek advice. One of the best, who I was lucky to sit next to at the Masha Ma show (sketch above), is Professor Valerie Steele, who assured me that she’s a one woman show and I can be too. And to negotiate for myself and trust my own judgement. One thing I’ve realized about advice – where it comes from matters just as much as what it is.

YDE FW15 1

By the last show, YDE, only a small but determined group of European fashion show attendees were left. Everyone’s face looked a little bit familiar. Megan sat by the door so she could run to the Eurostar right after – I found it admirable that she and I were both seeing this thing through to the very end, although by that point it felt quite #DGAFW. I felt like I was drawing in slow motion. This one redheaded model was especially vivid, I drew her in every outfit she wore. I was thinking, every time I draw an expressionless model mouth, it seems to smile slightly, why is that?

London Fashion Week FW15 live runway sketching portfolio

fashion shows,live drawing,London — Danielle on February 26, 2015 at 9:39 am

Bora Aksu FW15

One of this London Fashion Week’s first sketches, on Paper, of a Bora Aksu beauty in the colour of the season, the background colour was a happy accident, and it’s just wonderful, one of my favourite drawings I’ve ever done. London, I love you.

To clarify, since I am often asked – all of these sketches are made live, on site at the fashion shows, and I do not touch them after the show.

After Spring 2015 in New York, I was feeling burnt out. My confidence was shaken at the start of that week when I lost a couple of gigs. I was left wondering if it was worth keeping up with this live runway sketching trip I’ve been on for so many seasons now. There are so many young kids bringing brushes to the shows now, some of them very good (shout out to Mara Cespon, who can draw circles around me), and getting access and standing out seemed to be getting more difficult, not easier. After four seasons in New York, I felt uninspired and my last portfolio seemed flat to me, even if it did have a couple highlights. I fantasized about switching it up and going to find a new type of subject in Los Angeles.

All that drama and worry really meant nothing at all. After coming home broke from New York, I had a deluge of deadlines and event sketching gigs, I became a columnist at The Globe and Mail, and my 2014 did a complete 180, turning into the most financially successful year of my career. Suddenly I didn’t have to face going back to New York – it was finally possible to do something I’d been dreaming about ever since I left Europe – go back to Europe.

After all, I’ve promised myself I’d give 10 years of my life to this fashion illustration thing and see how far I could go with it. With only two years left to go, I’m in too deep to quit. So I bought a ticket to London – and a ticket to Paris. And here I am, back at London Fashion Week, golden Pencil in hand like a talisman.

I’m focusing on my own happiness in drawing. I’ve been practicing meditation and am applying that practice to my work – I’m letting go of all my fears and anxieties. Allowing myself to be a conduit of inspiration, and to just BE at fashion week. Even though fashion week is probably the least likely, most distracting of all possible meditation spaces, I’m treating the runway like a shrine, and beauty is my mantra.

Jean-Pierre Braganza FW15 2

At Jean-Pierre Braganza, I was given the real opportunity to show what I can do – a front row seat at the end of the aisle, under the protective view of a sympathetic security guard. Given every advantage, I was able to surprise myself with three beautiful sketches done in succession, even though it was my first show using watercolour, it wasn’t stiff at all. It helps a lot that Braganza has a total vision – the eyeliner, the music, everything emerges from his imagination to create a gorgeous world that is a pleasure to get lost in, even if only for a few precious minutes.

Jean-Pierre Braganza FW15 1

Someone captured me in action at this show, and I’m bopping to the music. I’m totally lost in beauty and have no awareness of how silly I might look. Somehow that’s exactly right – it’s the best way to be when you’re creating.

Jean-Pierre Braganza FW15 3

I lost that feeling a bit at Jasper Conran. I had a coughing fit just before the show – of course it’s never a good time to be sick and fashion week definitely isn’t it. I was in rough shape. And then I saw two godfathers of fashion illustration – David Downton and Colin McDowell – and I felt compelled to approach them while I could, as they’ve both encouraged me on separate occasions in the past. They both said they’d want to see my work after the show, and I felt less relaxed, more nervous – I only got one good sketch, and even then I can sense a loss of belief as my brush headed towards the toe. Needless to say, I didn’t run after them to show off afterwards. It’s not about fairy godfathers, not this week.

Jasper Conran FW15

See that purple? It’s everywhere this season, it really is the colour of the season. Aubergine. There’s a girly gothiness in the air for fall.

Anna Freemantle at Pringle of Scotland

The biggest ticket I got this week was Pringle of Scotland. It was a small, out-of-the-way venue in Hyde Park and there were just a handful of standing tickets, of which I was one. When I have to stand, I sketch on the iPad. Before the show I was across from the faces of the fall campaign, Stella Tennant and Anna Freemantle, the latter I sketched above. Two beautiful, distinctive, mature models. Below, I managed to render a look that epitomizes the new shape of the season – a long, below-the-knee shape, narrow at the shoulder.

Pringle of Scotland fw15

On Tuesday, the last day, I had my first ever access to the Topshop space at Tate Britain – somehow I’ve never scored a ticket to this venue before – for Michael van der Ham. This first sketch of a fur-trimmed gown somehow hints at the collage of textures and colours that are van der Ham’s signature.

Michael van der Ham 2

This last sketch was the winner, once again in the colour of the season – a romantic deep purple dress with white appliques.

Michael van der Ham 1

Also at the very grand Topshop space was Ashish, which I was looking forward to. I had seized a bit of floor at an aisle, but just before the show was scooped up and seated by a PR girl, and the result was I lost the entire lower half of the show. I missed out on the major accessory totally – had no idea that the girls were in over-the-knee red pleather boots which would have resulted in very different sketches.

Ashish 1

Instead I had to focus on hair and beauty which was perfectly imperfect, vari-coloured to like the varicoloured furs they wore, studded with sparkles, red red lips, and hoop earrings. Ashish has a wonderful attitude that is young and smart and bad-in-the-best-way – even though I was stymied by a poor position to view the show, the attitude still comes through.

Ashish 2

The final show of the season was a much anticipated return to the runway by Hakaan Yildirim. Standing in line I met some fellow fashion illustrators – recent graduates who weren’t sketching live – and talked shop a bit. Once inside I found a great place to stand and said hello to my old protector, the same security guard I met at the beginning of the week. He mentioned he’d seen a competitor of mine… I wonder who she is.

H by Hakaan Yildirim fw15 2

In any case, Yildirim’s girls were covered up and tied at the neck, simple chignons offsetting some complex surface details. The final drawing of this week’s portfolio was a big green coat adorned with big black Xs.

H by Hakaan Yildirim fw15 1

And that’s it for London Fashion Week… it ended up being one of my favourite-ever live runway portfolios. Thanks to everyone who helped me with access and all the designers and models who inspired me. I’ve never felt more ready to go to Paris… this season has just begun.


in London feb 2015

NYFW SS15 live runway sketching portfolio

fashion shows,illustration,live drawing,New York — Danielle on September 23, 2014 at 1:38 pm

I went into this New York Fashion Week with such certainty that this season was My Season! I had two gigs lined up for Well Known Clients. Knowing that I was going into this fashion week being paid for a change, I was feeling cocky.

Then in a twist that should not have surprised me at all, both jobs fell through. Not because I Suck and No One Wants Me (although that’s what it felt like at the time), but just because flaking out during fashion week is as basic as black. A huge part of my job is processing disappointment when projects don’t work out. And I guess I go into every fashion week with high hopes, it’s all part of psyching myself up for the massive outlay of energy and cash it takes to get me there, so I was crushed. Usually I cry after fashion week – this time I cried before. Which completely skewed the mood of the whole endeavour.

In any case, the shows were happening and I was there anyway, so I threw out a bunch of last minute requests and got on with it.

BCBGmaxazria 1

BCBGMAXAZRIA was the first show and I was watercolour-ready, but the house lights never went up. So I sketched it on the iPad using Paper – really the perfect solution for live-sketching low-light situations. The mood was Lana Del Rey dusty rose, with fluttering ruffles.

BCBGmaxazria 2

The first show I watercoloured was Meden. Very clean lines of a blue-lined white coat presented an ideal sketch opportunity.

Meden 1 lo
I decided that this season was going to be a bit more about selecting subjects based on the composition they provided – not every look is equal when it comes to illustration.

costello tagliapietra 1
The other thing I wanted to attempt was to recapture some of the accident and awkwardness of my earlier portfolios. I also tried to play with the scale, doing more “beauty” illustrations focusing on the models faces. This one at Costello Tagliapietra pleases me even though it’s overworked. That show was an oasis on a brutally hot day. I had never successfully gotten into a show at MADE before, and the angels at People’s Revolution made it happen. The inside of Milk Studios was cool and the air was scented with something sweet and comforting. It gave me some hope back.

Son Jung Wan 3 lo
There was a kimono effect to the sleeves at TOME, and bright pinks.

Carmen Marc Valvo 2 lo

The hair at Carmen Marc Valvo was captivating for me – a low, braided side bun with a sweeping bang across the other side – it looked great from both sides.

carmen marc valvo

The gorgeous feminine dresses at Carmen Marc Valvo just cried out for a Rene Gruau style flourish. I feel like this was the single most successful sketch of the season.

misha nonoo beauty

I did a bit of backstage sketching at Misha Nonoo who very kindly offered me access – though grabbing drawings backstage is not easy. This model had a piquant, distinctive profile. I met my friend Odessa at that show and she very kindly shared her seat assignment (lucky BB1!) with me. However, it was bench seating and someone squeezed in on my right which meant I couldn’t quite achieve the freedom of movement required for successful runway sketches. It’s too bad because I liked the collection and they had been so sweet about access.

william okpo 1

My luck changed that afternoon at William Okpo – it took place in a gymnasium, and there was more than enough elbow room in a pit party that consisted of one photographer, one videographer, and me. The clothes were also brilliantly brief and styled with amazing hair.

william okpo 2

Most of the models had darker skintones with white eye makeup which allowed me the opportunity to try a new way of rendering skin tone that worked out GREAT. This show was such a delight to sketch, it was the highlight of my fashion week.

william okpo 3

I had a fan in the crowd of Nicole Miller who helped me get a place to sketch, little acts of kindness mean so much. I could only see the top half of the outfits so that’s what I drew.

Nicole Miller 1

These two sketches both captured Nicole Miller show very well. At this point in the week I felt I had found my groove.

Nicole Miller 2 lo
Son Jung Wan had a lot of sparkles – and I had a sparkly pen – unfortunately sparkles don’t scan well.

Son Jung Wan 1

I had started to look at the negative space around the models more, especially when the models and their clothes are white.

Son Jung Wan 2 lo
Luis Antonio I had no seat, so I sketched with Paper again. The prints looked like pen scribbles, so it was the better choice of media.

luis antonio 1

Figuring out how to use the smudge feature judiciously… it’s something that requires a lighter touch.

luis antonio 2

I had been invited by Brandon Graham of Would You Rock This? to attend an unusual event. CZAR by Cesar Galindo was doing a presentation where about a dozen fashion illustrators would be stationed around the models, sketching.

Cesar Galindo 1 lo

At first, I was unsure I wanted to be in a situation where I was surrounded by others doing the same thing. I’m not a joiner by nature, and the trendiness of live runway sketching gives me mixed feelings. But of course I was curious to see what it was like and see the other illustrators – a mix of young guns I’ve seen at shows before and some older pros. One of the older illustrators told me it was her first fashion show.

Cesar Galindo 2 lo

I had much more time to play around and this negative space sketch I think turned out pretty well.

Cesar Galindo 3 lo

I also did a much bigger beauty sketch for a change.

Cesar Galindo 4 lo
It was an interesting experience to be among so many other artists. They were all great, inspiring with different visions of the same show. But I don’t think I’ll ever do a scene like that again.

Nanette Lepore SS15
I did this one at Nanette Lepore. By this time I had lost my groove somewhat and struggled to keep my spirits in the game. I was beginning to lose faith. I still managed to pull out a few decent sketches, but I can see the loss of urgency cast a shadow over the second half of the portfolio.

Taoray Wang 1 lo
Another negative space sketch at Taoray Wang captured the feathery outline of the skirt.

karen walker 1

Standing at Karen Walker I got my best Paper sketches of the season. Even though I was feeling distracted and antsy – I was dealing with an unexpected personal issue unrelated to fashion – maybe the distraction helped in that situation. Certainly the high quality of the show helped. I liked the swoopy height of the hair and the seventies shapes and colours.

karen walker 2

The only bigger show I got a ticket for was the Diesel Black Gold show. It was at a huge venue and the street style scene outside the show was the best and craziest one I had seen all season. I like crazy street style scenes, they really separate the snobs from the lovers. I met a fellow outside the show who knew Kenneth Paul Block and Joe Eula so I asked him a million questions.

Diesel Black Gold SS15
I managed one good sketch at Diesel Black Gold, and luckily that was the moment when someone at WGSN snapped a picture of me looking very exhausted, doing the drawing. It was a perfect little red and gold dress, I used a gold pen on it, and it made a mess of my hand luckily not the artwork.

skingraft 1

My last show worth mentioning was Skingraft, which I had nailed last season. I was feeling good about it, I got my lucky seat assignment BB1. I asked the girl sitting at the end of the bench if I could sit where she was so I could place my sketches on the floor when I was done. She gave me the most evil cut-eye I’ve ever gotten at fashion week, but she moved anyway. Later I peeked at her phone and she was texting that she was going to punch someone (me??) so I was a bit worried and tried to give her as much space as possible by positioning myself at the very edge of the bench. At the last second before the show the PR wedged a very skinny girl in the toxic space between me and my arch-enemy and I popped off the bench on to the floor with some relief.

Skingraft 2 lo

In my floorbound condition, I felt a bit safer and the sketches turned out well, although some got ruined by sticking to each other, these three survived.

Skingraft 4 lo

And that was it, although there was one more show it was so dreadfully boring and I was so poorly located I didn’t even bother drawing it. It was a discouraging season with an uneven portfolio, which I’ve had before, but this one really left me hungry for something else. It seems like runway sketching is a useful skill I’ve acquired, but the opportunities to do something amazing with it appear to be declining as the competition increases. The best drawings that I did in New York were not part of my runway portfolio – they were of friends who inspire me with their style and personality. I believe that indicates what’s next for me.

in the words of live runway sketchers

interviews,live drawing — Danielle on March 30, 2014 at 11:04 am

Before I went to New York in January, I was writing an article about live runway sketching prompted by Jazmin Welch, a fashion student who was commissioning articles for her graduate magazine project, CONTOUR. I chose to do an adaptation of this post, a collection of notes I discovered while searching for any information on live fashion sketching. To add to the archival material, I decided to email working artists who live sketch at fashion shows and ask them questions. This research not only supported the article I wrote, but also the talk I gave at the Apple Store in Soho.

I couldn’t include all of the great responses in the article and talk, but Final Fashion knows no limitations. What follows is the work and words of the practicing live runway sketchers from Toronto, Montreal and New York that I corresponded with. If you also have experience and sketches too, I’d love it if you would share in the comments. I’m very curious to hear more European perspectives.

NOLCHA Fashion Week FW13 by Mara Cespon


silhouettes and signals

history,illustration,live drawing,thinking — Danielle on March 20, 2014 at 1:26 pm

This post is the result of my live sketching lecture, Silhouettes and Signals, performed using Paper by FiftyThree at The Drake Hotel in Toronto on March 16, 2014.

1 eight head ideal

The most essential fashion silhouette is a very specific version of the human body. The Classical ideal is about 8 heads high, and remains resilient in the face of ever-changing fashions, recurring over many millennia since ancient times. It is incredible how the eye instantly recognizes these forms as beautiful, and is drawn to them. To many, the classical ideal represents healthy, natural man, unspoiled by civilization and modern culture, a symbol of rationality. For that reason, this shape can have a sinister quality. That competitive physicality reeks of eugenics and conformity. Human beings naturally come in an incredible variety of shapes, so this rugged or graceful physical ideal excludes almost everyone. For most of us, achieving this shape would require as much effort and artifice as any dandified exaggeration.

2a beauty

Beauty is a peculiar phenomenon. We have an instant, irrational, positive reaction to symmetry and average proportions. Objectively we understand that just because a person happens to have pleasing features by accident of birth, it doesn’t mean that they are a better person, and yet we can’t help but ascribe positive characteristics to beautiful people and pay more attention to them.

3 modifications

Considering this biological instinct to favour “natural” beauty, it’s fascinating how human beings have used fashion throughout the centuries to subvert our own proportions. We will use any technological means at our disposal, whether it’s padding, scaffolding, compression, surgery, propping, binding or prosthetics. We are hungry for novelty and constantly trying to transcend beyond our physical selves, which is why the fashionable ideal often diverges so dramatically from the more conventional “natural” beauty ideal.

4 contemporary silhouettes

The current silhouette for both women and men is top-heavy – oversized jackets, muppet furs, statement sweatshirt and tunic-length shirts for men. Fashion-forward men – even hyper-masculine rappers –  are beginning to adopt skirts. When men and women’s lives are similar, so are their fashionable silhouettes. The male and female silhouette has evolved in tandem ever since the 1970s.

5 class based silhouettes

This was not the case before the masculine renunciation of fashion. In the 1500s, both male and female fashionable silhouettes diverged wildly from the natural human form and from each other, with big ruffs, tall hats, bombastic sleeves and abstract torso shapes. Back then, if you didn’t have an exaggerated silhouette it was a class-based distinction – the poor simply couldn’t afford fancy collars and lots of fabric and accessories to achieve a fashionable silhouette.

When the revolutions of Europe shifted towards democracy, men renounced fashion as a way to demonstrate the ideals of equality and the value of work, and the weight of wearing wealth literally fell upon women. This is when fashion became “feminized” as we recognize it now.

6 domestication and upholstery

The feminization of fashion led to the upholstering of women. Women’s lives became so dramatically different from men’s that their silhouette became exactly opposite. Their clothing was literally constructed as heavily as furniture, and in the 1860s skirts became so wide women couldn’t wear coats – complete domestication.

The bottom-heavy, big-skirted silhouette still exists today in the context of prom dresses and bridal gowns. Women wear this as a very formal, ultra-feminine sexual display. Covering your legs this way is coyly enticing, a “look at me, don’t look at me” game – it totally covers the lower half of your body and yet also makes the lower half of your body the biggest thing in the room.

7 abstinence and bifurcation

Of course long skirts, negating the split between the legs, is traditionally a symbol of chastity. That’s why you only ever see men wearing them in the context of religions that uphold the idea of abstinence.

8 bondage and bieber

The current youthful silhouette, embodied most recognizably by Justin Bieber, has a very long torso and short little legs. It’s a look that evokes bondage and prison culture, which is interesting to consider in terms of the attitude of contemporary youth. It’s also very sexual – the pants come pre-dropped – but the sexuality is deviant, indulgent, and nihilistic. The way the legs are bound limits the gait of young men – the essence is “why bother? Might as well get our rocks off now, there’s no future worth running towards.”

9 twiggy helter skelter

Contrast that with the youth of the 1960s exemplified by the model Twiggy. The broad gait and short skirts are also extremely sexual but the sexuality is more promiscuous and conventional by 21st century standards. The attitude is, as the Beatles sang, helter-skelter. It’s youth on uppers, youth on speed. The essence is essentially optimistic – kids are striding forward into a space-age future. A far cry from Bieber-style bondage, this silhouette says “go for it, we are free and the possibilities are unlimited.”

10 I V A

Ever since the 1970s, the standard silhouette has been pretty close to the most minimal simplification of the human form – as upright animals, our most essential symbol is the letter I. Sure, it varies a bit – getting a bit bottom-heavy in the 1970s and 1990s, and more top-heavy in the 1980s. This is a very broad generalization, but I think it holds up: top heavy silhouettes are more conservative, bottom heavy silhouettes are more liberal. Think about it – if you’re dressing for a job interview you’re more likely to go top-heavy – it’s more structured, authoritative, formal. A bottom heavy silhouette allows itself to be pulled by gravity – it’s more laissez-faire, permissive, and relaxed – better for a house party.

11 trapeze to tuxedo

Up until the 1970s, female silhouettes diverged dramatically from menswear – but Yves Saint Laurent changed all of that. His first collection for Dior after the death of Christian Dior was an abstract shape – the Trapeze silhouette. But now we remember YSL for the Tuxedo, most iconically in that Helmut Newton photograph. It’s an androgynous silhouette about sexual liberation – but it’s also about liberation from the old fashion system, liberation from the idea of designer as dictator.

12 1800s skirt shapes

In the 1800s, silhouettes shifted each decade – skirts were like domes in the 1860s, like trumpets in the 1870s, and had bustles so big in the 1880s that there was a popular joke about balancing a tea service on them. This constantly shape-shifting kept women constantly updating their wardrobes – wearing an 1860s crinoline in the 1870s was simply not done if you wanted to belong in fashionable society.

When Christian Dior launched his business in 1947, he wanted to bring back the glory days of French fashion authority after the setbacks of World War Two. He did this by creating new, exciting shapes each season, just as Worth had done in his glory days. It was a very nationalistic, authoritarian and capitalist business model that worked like fossil fuel for re-establishing French fashion industry in the 1950s.

13 H line Y line A line

In 1954 and 1955, Dior did three lines inspired by letter forms. In 1954, the H-line was straight up and down. In 1955 the Y line was top-heavy, and the A line was bottom-heavy. Dior was a publicity-savvy designer and perhaps it’s no coincidence that these letters matched the weapons of mass destruction at the time – this resulted in some very topical fashion headlines.

“Alphabetizing” women’s bodies is no longer seen as a positive thing. The young people of YSL’s generation didn’t buy it, and Saint Laurent responded by flipping the designer model on it’s head, and instead of dictating “lines” to his clientele, he was inspired by the lives of the fashionable women he knew and the way they dressed.

14 S line V line

If alphabetization was introduced by a Western designer today, it would certainly be heavily criticized as a patriarchal, oppressive categorization of women’s bodies. But in South Korea, alphabetization is currently a popular sales tool – hyper-feminine S-lines and V-lines are used to sell body products and health food. This kind of rigid classification of the female form according to abstract shapes only flies in conservative societies with rigid definitions of beauty ideals. In Europe and North America, where we are seeing increasing social and sexual fluidity and softer definitions of beauty ideals, grading people by letter seems anachronistic.

15 raf vs hedi

Considering the reversal of design philosophies, it’s interesting to consider that the houses of Dior and Saint Laurent continue to uphold opposing silhouettes to this day. Raf Simon’s Dior features a recurring X-shape, a modernist simplification of Dior’s hyper-feminine silhouettes. Meanwhile, Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent Paris continues the tradition a minimalist, long androgynous line.

16 hyperfertile figure

The hyper-fertile feminine silhouette is a lot like the Classical beauty ideal – it provokes an automatic reaction in almost everyone. When the hyper-fertile silhouette is in fashion, as it was in the 1860s and the 1950s, women’s lives tend to be dictated by their biological functions. This hourglass shape is a boon to those who have it and want it, and a bane to everyone else. Celebrities who have this figure have to deal with a much higher level of scrutiny and criticism than famous people with more fashionably slim figures. Perfectly intelligent, seemingly rational people – myself included – are somehow transfixed by Kim Kardashian’s ass. I think it’s a misplaced biological instinct to ensure the survival of the species. Once upon a time, our next generation depended on the sexual functionality of a few hyper-fertile females, and therefore their sexual status was of the highest concern for all members of society. In a world populated by 7 billion, this attitude is ludicrous, and yet we can’t help ourselves. That’s why having a body of this type is a mixed blessing.

17 futurist jumpsuit

Speaking of 7 billion, another anti-fashion silhouette that is fun to consider is the idea of Normcore. Nothing illustrates the breakdown of silhouette-based symbolism better. All silhouettes now are layered with contradictory meanings, and the media environment is so dispersed, there’s no way a single look could ever have the impact of Dior’s 1947 “Bar” ensemble. The subversion of the idea of “normal” is very timely in the light of questioning the value of beauty ideals.

Still, it is a manifesto-based trend and as such is reactionary against the fundamental precept of fashion – that we wear clothing in order to appear better than other people. It reminds me of the Italian Futurist movement, which also proposed an anti-fashion silhouette – T-shaped jumpsuits – as a way of liberating humanity from the tyranny of trends. This kind of attitude can only be taken seriously by the very young and idealistic – everyone else has acquiesced to the inevitability of our animal instincts over-riding our intellectual ability to reject fashion. Ultimately, no academic manifesto has ever successfully launched a lasting trend.

18 tall hats big hair

The most straightforward way to use fashion to appear better than other people is to use fashion to look taller. Even in modern society, tall people enjoy all sorts of economic and sexual advantages – CEOs are statistically taller (and still referred to as “chiefs”) which shows that we really haven’t progressed much from more tribal societies where the largest man was often chief by default. Historically, people have increased their height with tall hats. Pointed hats indicate a direct connection with the divine – sort of an “I’m With Stupid” shirt for Godliness – like a steeple on a church. Abraham Lincoln, already a tall man, wore a very tall top hat. This made him stand out very visibly as a an obvious leader in the early days of photography.

Tall hair is also an option – think of the towering hairstyles of the Rococo or the hairspray-held bangs of the 1980s. Big hair, pretty obviously, is about big head and big egos – think “let them eat cake”, or “the me decade”.

19 heels and trainers

Now that people don’t wear tall hats or big hair as much, they get their extra status from tall shoes, which over the past decade have been getting ever taller. However, even the most fashionable people have a limit to the angle they can endure. High heels offer status at the price of mobility, and we’ve just entered a reactionary period. Designers like Marc Jacobs and Karl Lagerfeld have been offering couture trainers and flat-footed creepers, and suddenly short – and the ability to walk – seems far more elegant than tall.

20 bauhaus ballet

It can seem like every silhouette ever has already been tried, but the avant-garde have pushed the boundaries of possibility, simplifying and abstracting the human form until it is barely recognizable. The Bauhaus ballet in the 1920s had geometric, playful costumes that made the dancers seem more like toys, and modern artists like David Bowie and Leigh Bowery have built fabulous costumes that push the human form to extremes.

21 dress meets body

In 1996, Rei Kawakubo designed a collection for Comme des Garcons called “Dress Meets Body; Body Meets Dress”. She padded her models in unexpected, asymmetrical areas – like the side of the neck, or the thigh. The fashion media was horrified. We’re not used to seeing non-symmetrical silhouettes and our instinctual reaction to them is to read them as disease. It’s still a very provocative collection to look at because you can feel inside yourself the friction between your animalistic revulsion and your intellectual ability to recognize a novel form of beauty.

22 untried silhouettes

There is really so much that hasn’t been tried in terms of altering our shapes, so many letters of the alphabet yet to be drawn. Asymmetry especially hasn’t been deeply explored – appearing inhuman is in some situations an advantage – such as when you want to avoid being recognized by surveillance technology. With access to ever-lighter materials and rapidly evolving visual technology, future silhouettes could diverge wildly from what we’ve tried so far. What is so incredible about fashion is how it liberates us from our biological fate to be born in the shape of a human – in fact, we can be anything we can imagine.

invitation – performative lecture “Silhouettes and Signals” at The Drake Hotel on March 16

drawing,events,fashion in canada,illustration,live drawing,performance art,toronto — Danielle on February 26, 2014 at 12:54 pm


After flying back from live sketching the runways of New York fashion week, I hit the ground sketching in Toronto with a series inspired by the Queen Street West style, currently installed at The Drake Hotel. It was an interesting challenge to draw three times larger than I usually do, inverting the usual value scheme by drawing on black paper, and focusing more closely on the silhouettes by reducing my palette to a single colour.

Now that live sketching fashion shows isn’t as unique as it once was, I want to stretch the skills I’ve acquired practicing this technique, combined with my speaking experiences, to create something new. In that spirit, I’m doing something different at The Drake Hotel on March 16th to kick off fashion week in Toronto.

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Images Courtesy: Bryan Da Silva/The Drake Hotel

“Silhouettes and Signals” will be a performative lecture combining live sketching on the iPad (using the Paper app) with a trend-theory lecture – sort of a Final Fashion post “in real life”. We’ll be examining various historical silhouettes and discuss identifying social attitudes through style. Sketching my way from the distant past to the 21st century, I’ll discuss how the shapes we make with our clothing are visual manifestations of ideas about sex, politics, money, youth, class, taste and other fun stuff, and even put my skin in the game with a few predictions.

drake header

What: “Silhouettes and Signals” live sketching lecture

Where: The Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen Street West, Toronto

When: March 16th, 2014 at 2pm

Admission: $10

This is the first time I’ve ever done such a thing (although my talk at Apple Soho was definitely moving in this direction), so it will be a novel opportunity for the style-curious citizens in Toronto to see an experimental performance and kick off Toronto Fashion Week in a weirder way than usual. Please come!

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Images Courtesy: Bryan Da Silva/The Drake Hotel


NYFW FW14 live runway sketching portfolio

live drawing,New York,portfolio — Danielle on February 18, 2014 at 8:32 pm

Danielle Meder - BCBGMAXAZRIA


This season was bookended by two speaking gigs. Before the shows began, I did a talk at the Apple Store in Soho, about sketching runway shows using Paper and Pencil by FiftyThree. It was my first ever proper speaking gig, and I was excited to share everything I have learned about artists at fashion shows, and doing quick sketches on a touchscreen. I also got to talk about live sketching as an emerging trend.

Georg and me at Apple Soho

2013 was the year the tide of live sketchers out there rose noticeably. Not just in fashion either; in 2014 I see people live sketching TV shows and press conferences and sporting events too. It’s a very interesting time to be an illustrator. So naturally, when I approached live sketching this season, the aim was to draw as true to myself as possible – trying to discover in myself what I can bring to fashion week sketches that no one else can bring. Also, I’m preoccupied with thinking about what’s next. Because I like being in on things from the beginning.

Danielle Meder - Carmen Marc Valvo

Carmen Marc Valvo

To me, the sketches from the first few shows I attended seem a bit more hesitant as I’m searching for this season’s vibe. I was aiming towards being wetter and more valiant with paint application, while also simplifying. I used only one brush pen per show this time – last season I sometimes used 3 pens per sketch. I did a bit less sketches per show – around 4 or 5. I also tried to give more generous margin. The result is a portfolio I’m pleased with. Danielle Meder - TOME


TOME I attended with Rachel, and it was a pleasure to bring her to a much cleaner, more tasteful production than the Herve Leger show we attended last year.

Once I’d warmed into the week, the first show I really grooved on was Son Jung Wan. This designer gave me gold lips and leather when I happened to have a gold pen on me. Plus, shaggy pastel furs. So much fun. Danielle Meder - Son Jung Wan

Son Jung Wan

This was an annoying fashion week for access. There was a sense they were trying to keep out the riff raff, and being somewhat raffish I sometimes felt among that number. There’s this new form of humiliation that certain PR companies commit on the unassuming would-be fashion week attendee. This has happened to me at least once every season at every major fashion week I’ve ever been to, but was executed particularly cruelly this season in New York, and THREE times.

Here’s how it works: you receive a confirmed invitation to a fashion show. It’s a standing ticket. You go to the venue 20 minutes before the show like a reasonable human being. They put you in a corral. Then they proceed to march everyone else past you and your fellow corral-mates. Just as the show begins, at 40 minutes after the hour, a security guard approaches the corral and says that they are at capacity and the show is started already and go home.

You can sense this villainy is about to committed upon you when even the volunteer interns look at you with pity. Some of these companies even make their corral outside in the cold, so you have the option of freezing while they waste an hour of your life, trying to shame you out of wanting to come to fashion week with these bogus invitations.

The weird thing is that I’ve spoken to friends who were on the inside of these shows and they say that the spaces weren’t even packed – that there were even unused seats.


Danielle Meder - Yigal Azrouel 2

Yigal Azrouel

Then, the exact opposite happened at Yigal Azrouel. New York Fashion Week embraces as just well as it snubs. Even though they were a bit mystified by me at the media desk (“who are you shooting for?” “No I’m sketching.” “For who?” “For you?”), one of the gatekeepers at the the show recognized me from attending my Apple talk. The venue was great, and even though I was corralled in standing, I had a perfect vantage point – head-to-toe view of the models. Sat on the floor in front of a security guard. No one stepped on me. The sketches were as ideal as the conditions, although they were slightly damaged as I attempted to get them home through a snowstorm.

Danielle Meder - Yigal Azrouel 1

Yigal Azrouel

Another show where everything came together was SKINGRAFT. Seated by People’s Revolution, (and did I detect a nod of approval from fashion hero Kelly Cutrone?) gothic streetwear attitudes on high speed. With just one colour – black – and a touch of gold, plus absolutely no time to think, the sketches were hot.

Danielle Meder - Skingraft 4Danielle Meder - Skingraft 3Danielle Meder - Skingraft 2Danielle Meder - Skingraft 1


Jenny Packham was all sparkly princesses to a 1960s counterculture soundtrack, which I enjoyed on a slightly melancholy level because I had just finished reading the oral history of EDIE. However, I was seated next to a wall of lightbulbs which was sweaty, and I was experimenting with a white pen for sparkly highlights which misbehaved on me and marked my dear innocent seatmate, Andrew Sardone of The Globe and Mail. You know what’s embarrassing? Accidentally painting your fashion editor neighbour.

Danielle Meder - Jenny Packham 1

Jenny Packham

The final two shows I sketched were Concept Korea and J. Mendel. At that point, I was already satisfied with my portfolio so I relaxed a bit. I enjoyed the shows more and allowed myself some more consideration than usual. The results are a touch more deliberately drafted.

Danielle Meder - Concept Korea 2Danielle Meder - Concept Korea 1

Concept Korea

Danielle Meder - J Mendel 2 

J. Mendel

At the end of the week, I did a talk at Parsons for a small but influential audience, thanks to Timo. The subject was my own odd career path. New York as a city often feels like you’re being shouted at: “WHO ARE YOU!? WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!” So for 45 minutes I attempted to answer that booming voice. I tried to be honest.

At the Ruffian show, where I did some iPad sketches for Would You Rock This. I had the rare opportunity to sketch alongside another fashion illustrator, Lily Qian. Lily is very talented – check out what she produced after the Ruffian show here. We were talking shop a bit because I hardly ever find another fashion illustrator to talk shop with – it can be very solitary when you have an unusual job and I always have questions. When the subject of establishing a reputation and seeking recognition came up, Lily said that she felt that just doing good work was enough.

The idealistic side of me gets where she’s coming from. Then again, after seven years of doing this, I don’t think doing good work is enough. I want recognition for the good work I do. And I need to be paid. There I see many amazing fashion illustrators, going without recognition and without being compensated for their efforts , in spite of their good work. I don’t think that’s enough for them. It’s definitely not enough for me. Nothing in fashion is a straight-up meritocracy, and illustration is no exception – you also need determination and dedication, invention and hustle. In a word, you need burning ambition, and you better work.

So if success by my own measure is good work, recognition and payment, and two out of three don’t cut it, how do I achieve that trifecta? Sometimes it feels like picking this career is like picking a lock.

Videocast – Live Runway Sketching on the iPad

history,live drawing,New York,podcast — Danielle on February 13, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Screen shot 2014-02-13 at 5.32.44 PM

If you missed my talk about live runway sketching on the iPad at Apple Soho in New York, you can still attend virtually! It’s available for FREE from the iTunes store. I describe the history of artists at fashion shows, demonstrate how to use Paper and Pencil by FiftyThree to sketch runway looks fast, and discuss why live sketching is having a bonafide fashion moment now.

Heartfelt thanks to Georg Petschnigg, FiftyThree and Apple Soho for inviting me to share my love of drawing and fashion with a wider audience.

beauty sketch made with paper

getting shot by The Sartorialist

live drawing,media,what I wear — Danielle on November 15, 2013 at 5:59 pm

The Sartorialist 14-11-13

It was New York Fashion Week, and I was writing an essay for The New Inquiry. I don’t usually sketch street style, but my editor Sarah Nicole thought it would be a good idea to sketch some of the characters outside the shows to complement the piece.

The must-attend, offsite shows have the most hectic street style scenes so I decided to hit up the Proenza Schouler show. It was a hot day. I only had a few outfits, and that morning I went with two plaids of similar scale – a little boy’s button-down shirt, tied at the waist, over a striped American Apparel tank, with a skirt I had made myself. And of course my plain old flat sandals. My only accessory was my purpose-built sketching bag.

When I got to the venue, it was crazy. A busy, narrow midtown street in between a thicket of high-rise buildings. They had blocked off a large section outside the venue – at first it looked like for construction, but then you realized the barriers were just so people would have room to photograph and be photographed safely. All around, security guards and police had to survey the wacky urban scene just to keep people from having accidents as they exited cars, clustered and mobbed about, teetering absurdly in impossible shoes.

I need a place with a good view to sit down to sketch at and the only decent looking thing was the traffic barrier. So I hiked myself up onto it. Cars went by within a foot of the other side. People would lean out of taxis in traffic and ask what the hell was going on. “Fashion” I replied.

This actually happened. There was a nice reflected beam of sunlight that bounced off a building on to me. I set my paper on my lap and picked up my brush. Before any of the other photographers noticed me, I glanced out of the corner of my eye and saw Scott Schuman shooting me. So quick! After that I was photographed by many others.

Once all the invitees had entered the venue, a lovely young photographer – I think her name was Elise? I’ve lost it – came up to me. She explained she was Schuman’s assistant and would I like to be in a documentary? She handed me a waiver – which hopefully I’m not violating now, I didn’t get a copy. She asked if I knew who Steve McCurry was, and I didn’t. Did I know the famous “Afghan girl” image? Of course I did! I had that issue of National Geographic when I was a kid, and looked at it often.

Well of course I said yes! I felt this wonderful uptick of validation… I had very carefully considered my appearance this season so I could “walk among” the fashion crowd and this was the ultimate indication that it had worked! I had seen The Sartorialist outside many shows for several seasons, sometimes while I was sketching, but he had never clocked me before.

After the show Schuman and McCurry came out and we all walked around the block, followed by a documentary crew. McCurry was polite and reserved. Scott has that really confident, assertive New York manner, firm handshake. Schuman introduced himself and I awkwardly mentioned I had met him before but when I had a much more ridiculous haircut (this is true), he said he didn’t recall. (It was at his book launch in Toronto which some remember better than others.)

He asked me what I was up to and I described The New Inquiry piece. “Kind of a refutation of the fashion-is-doomed narrative the elite critics like to go on about.”

“Good, we need more of that!” The Sartorialist replied.

Schuman and McCurry were scouting around for a place to position me, chatting with each other as they do in the mini-documentary for AOL. (You can see me at 4:30.) I was about to get art-directed.

A block away from the scrum outside Proenza, Schuman pointed to a scooter. “Go and sit on that for me, and sketch like you were before.”

I balked. “This is New York and that’s not my scooter – I’ll get beat up!” I protested.

Scott laughed “I’ll take care of it… or if the guy’s bigger than me, he will” – pointing to the tall, handsome documentary filmmaker, who nodded.

I approached the scooter and turned around and said “but it’s so sartorialisty!”

Scott just did a big old shrug, arms wide.

So I shrugged too and perched, ever so lightly, on the edge of the scooter.

Since I couldn’t set my paper on my lap, sketching was a bit difficult, but I managed to produce this sketch of Elise as she hovered around, while Schuman and McCurry shot me.

After a few minutes, it seemed like they were done so I went over and showed them the result:


sartorialists assistant

McCurry praised my speed and spontaneity which was unbelievably gratifying coming from the master of so many iconic moments. Scott said something about how his girlfriend Garance Doré had developed her style to be quick because drawing slowly wasn’t profitable.

We all shook hands, and the whole crew hopped in a car and disappeared, and I was standing alone on the sidewalk with my paintbox in my hands as if nothing had happened.

I wondered if the pictures ever turned out as they didn’t appear right away. I don’t have a lot of photogenic confidence, so I thought maybe I had blinked or was too scruffy to be Sartorialized. Then, yesterday it appeared, and it’s stunning. Schuman has the skills to back up his business. Such a great shot, thank you Scott. I am not at all consciously posing here – the feet, the hands, everything is a natural gesture. You can even see my manicure. I’m delighted he selected the one where I am totally unaware of what is about to happen to me.

live runway sketching – the shOws SS14

live drawing — Danielle on October 17, 2013 at 11:15 am

the shOws calla 4 web

At the end of the season, it was such a pleasure to come back to Toronto. I felt honoured to be commissioned for the first time as the official sketch artist at the shOws, which showcases work by a very exclusive set of Canadian fashion designers. Not only are the clothes fascinating, the production is tip-top and I had an optimal view of the show from the front row. After many seasons of hustling to get access, dealing with awkward sketching conditions, and working to find clients for this style, everything finally was as it should be – good! I had no excuse but to deliver my best work yet, and I am proud of the finished portfolio.

the shOws backstage 1 web

All-access meant I had time to warm-up by sketching the models backstage getting their hair and makeup done by P&G beauty.

the shOws backstage paola web


The producer of the shOws is Paola Fullerton – I managed to catch her in her Jeremy Laing bondage jacket as she circuited around the venue.

the shOws calla 1 web

This was the first time I had a chance to see Calla‘s work in person (the illustration at the top is also her design) – I loved the challenge of rendering her cool prints on her delightfully disheveled surfer girls. This plaid hooded A-line dress is a knockout.

the shOws jeremy laing 3 web

This was my second pass at sketching Jeremy Laing‘s SS14 collection and this time I tried to do a better job of catching the 1990s throwback colour palette. His boys with their tousled hair draped in filmy fabrics are an indulgent teen dream.

danielle_illustrator by U-Jin

Photographer U-Jin surprised me by capturing me at work, perfectly positioned at the end of the runway.

the shOws jeremy laing 4 web

Another highlighter ensemble from Jeremy Laing.

A small technical thing affected these images – the paper I used was a bit more yellow than my usual paper, which had to be corrected in scanning and editing – but it’s a shame, because some of my more successful use of colour this year really doesn’t come across as well as it could. As I come to the end of the season, even though this is my most mature work yet, I find I’m creating a mental list of adjustments I want to make for next season – reviewing the images and trying to figure out how I can do this even better.

the shOws steven tai 3 web

This last illustration is of a design by Steven Tai – his clothes are so incredibly detailed, the art of live sketching really doesn’t do them justice, but I felt I captured some of the freshness of the effect. His clothing is elaborately technological, computer-crafted versions of mass-manufactured classics, a really unique vision of what fashionable street wear could be.

Thank you so much to Paola at the shOws and Desia at brill communications for a wonderful assignment!

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