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.

drake 2
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!

drake 1

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!

New York Fashion Week SS14 – zen and the art of live runway sketching

live drawing — Danielle on September 13, 2013 at 11:30 am

ralph rucci 3

Last season was a high note for my career so far, so I knew it would be tough to follow up. Still, I felt determined to ride the momentum somehow, and decided to come to New York for an extended visit so once fashion week was over I could stick around for a couple weeks and hopefully show off my portfolio.

I spent a month – and what is for me, a lot of money – preparing for this. I needed to create a beautiful portfolio of work, and without a client secured ahead of time this season I was relying on my own modest merits and the kindness of PRs to get access to shows. I re-evaluated and refined everything I could – my appearance, the style of sketching, my request emails. I consciously prepared for this fashion week like it was a performance, and considering the quality of the final portfolio and the adventures I experienced this week, I feel I succeeded, if only by my own standards. I know I need to be patient. It takes many, many seasons to develop the skill, hundreds if not thousands of drawings, and of course the luck of being in the right place at the right time so the right person can recognize the value of the work.

Sometimes, it can feel like everything about fashion is conspiring against me. I get lost in a sea of celebrities and cameras and corporate sponsors and designer bags and fame and money and fame and money and fame and money. Especially in New York. In such an environment, whatever it is that I have to offer – some talent, some ideas – does not seem to belong. And yet, there I am, paintbrush in pocket, trying to score a seat so I can draw, watching and listening to everything and recording nothing because I can’t afford a smartphone.

Every season has a theme. SS14 could be: zen and the art of live runway sketching. Because, it’s about work, skill, technique and process – and not about money, fame, or “making it”.

ralph rucci 2

These first three sketches are from Ralph Rucci. Being in that environment was fascinating – surrounded by society women. In the middle of the room, shining like a supernova, was the ever-effervescent Carmen Dell’Orefice. Everyone in the room was watching her – she looked like she lives in a palace, and yet was incredibly animated and open, adoring the attention. I sketched her and presented her with the sketch, and she thanked me. I was able to thank her for sharing her experiences in the forward she wrote for David Downton’s book, how amazing it was to learn any small piece of information about a time when fashion illustration was a far more elevated art. She took my hand and told me that she didn’t have room for the sketch as she lives in a very tiny apartment, and that she is in pain because she needs both of her knees replaced. She told me that you can choose not to let the pain take you down, that you can rise above it. And so she was, rising above it, beautifully, she is absolutely magnificent. I returned to the last-row seat I had stolen inspired to overcome my own minor struggles, to create beauty in spite of any obstacle, like Carmen.

ralph rucci 1

Ralph Rucci’s models moved at incredible speed, but I’ve discovered this is an advantage not an obstacle – the faster you have to sketch, the less “worked” it looks. Just a few economical lines can express elegance, if they are the right lines.

nicole miller 2

The sketches above and below are Nicole Miller. Last season at her show, I discovered how big is too big when it comes to live runway sketching. After many seasons of trial and error, I have found my ideal size of paper – about 11″ x 15″. Correctly placing the figure in the paper is also a consideration, as I want to leave a good margin around the figure so someday it could be framed. Considering I started sketching at 4″ x 6″ many years ago, and for many seasons crushed multiple figures onto a single page for economic reasons, giving the figures room to breathe takes a real leap of faith that the drawings could be considered worthy of framing. The fact that every sheet of paper costs a few dollars, and the success rate (by my ever-rising standards) hovers around 10%, this means that I burn through a lot of resources to achieve a few moments of transcendence.

If you recognize these moments too, please consider buying a print (9″ x 12″, $75) or an original (11″ x 15″, $300). Supplies are very limited! Email me for details. Your support means more than I can possibly express. Thank you.

nicole miller 1

The following two sketches are from the Nautica menswear show. I love having the opportunity to sketch menswear – I don’t get enough practice at it, it’s a unique skill on it’s own separate from live sketching.

nautica 2

Of course, Richard Haines is the undisputed king of live sketching male models and my own efforts don’t come near to matching the ease and elegance of his work. I admire Richard’s work so much. He’s spent many, many years doing it and deserves everything he’s got – the amazing clients, the fancy car service, all of it. Sometimes I can feel a bit envious of him, of course I do, as I’m standing on sweaty subway platforms, or forced to sit on the floor, and just generally dealing with some awfully difficult conditions to sketch. But he comes from a different era – maturing professionally when money was cheaper – and it’s futile to compare my own experience to his. He provides the proof, that illustration can still be recognized and relevant despite – or maybe because of – its anachronistic nature. And that keeps me going – because I have to keep going, and be persistent, to eventually with years of experience develop my own sense of ease and elegance, to someday have my own car and driver. Maybe in another 20 seasons, or 40. However long it takes.

nautica 1

Below is a sketch from the Hervé Léger show. This was one of the most insane fashion shows I have ever been to. I took my dear friend, the writer Rachel Rabbit White. Rachel was researching a beauty story, so I had somehow persuaded the PRs to give us backstage access. It was her first fashion show, and it was an overwhelming experience. Every time I took out my paintbox, a cluster of cameras would form around me, and when I put it down they would all just disappear. It was frenetic, and very tricky conditions to draw in as I was constantly being moved around and there was no place to be that wasn’t underfoot of the crowd of models, makeup and hair artists, photographers, media, PR people, security guards, and so on, constantly moving around, everybody trying to do their own tasks on top of one another. Rachel and I still managed to get a sweet selfie though.

herve leger 2

Once we managed to sneak our way into the runway room, we were shunted out of the seats we’d attempted to steal by an officious volunteer and were squished at the back in standing room. I’ve never seen a tent so ridiculously packed with people, and so many of them wrapped in tight bandage dresses. After being crushed up against a beauty queen in a sash (!), I grabbed Rachel’s hand and whisked her to two of the few seats left in the last row. If I can’t sit, I can’t draw, so I did what I had to do. We watched as Nicki Minaj came in with her crew of body guards and everyone went nuts. If you were to contain everything that is excessive about New York Fashion Week in one scene, Hervé Léger was it. It went right past awful to flat-out absurd.

Once the show had started, we were so far from the runway and the house lights weren’t raised, so it was almost too dark to draw. I had to get Rachel to hold her phone over my paper so I could see what I was doing. The fact that I managed to get even one decent sketch out of that whole experience amazes me. I can’t even really tell you what the clothes were like. There were fringes and little leather corselets, I think.

bcbgmaxazria 2

The sketch above is from BCBGMAXAZRIA, the first show I sketched this week. Below is a sketch from Nanette Lepore, the last show I sketched. In between was 100 other sketches, and to me the difference between the two is remarkable. To an outsider, runway sketching might look like an incredibly repetitive practice, and it is. Maybe no less repetitive than any other fashion job. But to me what is most incredible is the journey I’ve been on over the past 6 years, and how every season the sketches get better and better. I’ve thought about doing a gallery show, and I think the most interesting way to do it would be to display every runway sketch I’ve ever done since I started just scribbling tiny figures with pencil, to what I can do now, so the story is really the journey of developing a skill.

nanette lepore 1

After Nanette Lepore, I went to lurk outside the Proenza Schouler show, where something else exciting happened: I was shot by The Sartorialist. This was a satisfying event, because it affirms that the work I did on my appearance was effective. There’s more to this story too, but for various reasons I’ll have to wait to tell you all about it.

The sketches below are from Jeremy Laing‘s show. His show was one of the first ever that I sketched live, so it’s always so gratifying to be able to return. The privilege of watching a designer develop his own style and vision over the seasons is one thing that makes coming back for more punishment every fashion week worth it.

jeremy laing 4

This season Jeremy introduced menswear and a bolder, brighter colour palette. He is a technique-driven designer with a strong sense of gesture, which makes his clothes an absolute pleasure to draw.

One thing he is not is a personality-driven designer. Jeremy in person is very reserved, focused on doing his work rather than performing his role. His sense of restraint and rigour is reflected in his designs and the type of fashion show he puts on – even so, there was a celebrity element in his audience this season.

One of the themes of this week for me was the idea of “making it”, and in the audience at Jeremy Laing was ex-party girl Cory Kennedy. I had already sketched her at another fashion show, as she was sitting alone with big sad eyes and I was right behind her. I showed her the portrait and I had to ask her what her name is – it’s a good thing I didn’t assume because since she’s blonde now, I actually thought she was another internet-famous party girl. Looking at Cory makes you think about what the “it” is in “it girl” and also in “making it”. And whether “it” is something we really want, or if we just accept that we’re expected to want “it”. The conventional wisdom is that we need “it” in fashion – that must be the reason why she’s at Jeremy’s show – but somehow it also seems like she represents the antithesis of the philosophy of Jeremy’s designs.

jeremy laing 1

The sketch below is what I consider my absolute favourite sketch of the week. There is just enough to carry across the attitude of the model and the silhouette, not too much. Every line looks swift and sure. This is what I’m trying to achieve, every time my brush hits the paper. If only it were as easy as it looks.

jeremy laing 2

The last four sketches are from the J. Crew presentation. I usually prefer to sketch runway than presentations – I find that when models are standing still and are aware that you are sketching them, the process becomes too mannered. However, sketching at a presentation also has some advantages – it means that I am seen at work by many influential members of the media, whereas if I’m stuck in the back row at a show no one really knows I’m there. I was instagrammed by a couple of high-profile fashion people, and saw my follower count get an instant boost as a result.

j crew 6

One development this week that I’m proud of is finally figuring out how to effectively render models of colour. I really made a big effort this week to sketch as many models of colour as I could, but I kept screwing up the sketches every time I tried to add their skin tone. I needed to make all those mistakes. Drawing white models is easy because you can just leave out the skin tone altogether, but it’s a cop-out to keep doing this, especially when the black models are so beautiful and expressive, they deserve to be featured and celebrated and drawn, and the most important part of doing that is emphasizing and not ignoring the colour of their skin!

j crew 5

The other upside of sketching at a presentation is being able to take the time to render prints and patterns, and Jenna Lyons provides so many gorgeous surface details to work with, and combines them in such delightful ways.

j crew 4

The way that the clothing is styled at J. Crew shows a nuanced understanding of attitude and gesture which makes it fun to draw. There was a a sense that the label is combining traditional preppy with more flamboyant hip-hop sensibilities, and the result is a look that is precise and prescient, reflecting the idealized culture of America as it truly wishes to be seen. Getting the opportunity to see this sophisticated fashion work so intimately is truly a great privilege.

j crew 1

Thank you to everyone who made this week possible, all of the PRs who graciously offered me access, everyone who saw and complimented my work, all of the beautiful models and talented designers, everyone I encountered who played a part in this adventure. And thank you for reading my post, viewing my sketches, and supporting my work.

a brief history of live runway sketching

admiration and inspiration,fashion shows,history,live drawing — Danielle on May 24, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Halston by Joe Eula

I was considered the fastest pencil in the field, a mannequin need only do her turn down the catwalk at a fashion show, and voila – an illustration.

- Joe Eula

A famous, venerable fashion writer (who was once an illustrator himself) told me that fashion illustrators “say they sketch at fashion shows, but they don’t really.” At the time I remember thinking, somewhat arrogantly – I’ll show you that they do! Of course, people have been sketching away at runway shows ever since runway shows emerged at the turn of the last century, though this history has yet to be written. This post is just a few scraps of information I’ve managed to collect.

Very few runway sketches ever see the light of day – it’s a challenging task to capture the fleeting moment of a catwalk turn with any kind of elegance, and most runway sketches aren’t much more than scribbles. Scribbling is just fine – sketching at fashion shows is another way to take notes, and it makes sense to capture visual information… well, visually. Occasionally critics and journalists will dash off doodles in between point-form notations – I’ve heard that Suzy Menkes does this – but of course such information is anecdotal, and not much evidence can be found of it as writers aren’t known for being proud of their artistic efforts.

It’s hard to imagine now, but early fashion shows were small affairs intended for wealthy clientele, and there was very little access for either photography or illustration. Photography, as a new medium, wasn’t considered to be classy – and sketching was frowned upon because it was used to steal ideas. In her wonderful book Fashion Is Spinach, Elizabeth Hawes recalls her early years in Paris in the 1920s, surreptitiously sketching at fashion shows so American department stores could knock off Parisian designs:

When I stole designs from the French dressmakers, it was, originally, a game which I developed between me and the mannequin. Her part was to try and get the dress out of the room before I could master the cut of it. My part was to digest its intricacies without missing a seam or a button. I was good. By the time I’d finished my second season of sketching, I could have designed you as pretty a Chanel as the master herself.

But swiping her designs accurately was violent mental exercise. If you made any more moves with your pencil than enough to write the equivalent of a number, someone suddenly leaned over your shoulder and grabbed your paper out of your hand. And these were the sketches the buyers wanted most.

- Elizabeth Hawes, Fashion is Spinach

YSL by Kenneth Paul Block

[Kenneth Paul] Block travelled regularly to Paris to report on the couture shows from the early 1960s onwards. He never knew what kind of reception he might receive, since WWD was often feuding with designers. Sometimes he found himself ‘off the list’ and had to work ‘from dictation’. At other times there was special treatment and access. It is a tribute to Block’s skill that it is impossible to tell his real and imagined images apart.

- David Downton, Masters of Fashion Illustration, pp. 151

By the 1960s, fashion houses were photographing their runway shows using in-house photographers, but the shows still weren’t constructed around the photography pit as they are now. By that time, illustrators were made welcome as part of the press. John Fairchild, the EIC at Women’s Wear Daily wanted his paper to appear distinctive and artistic, and so WWD had a whole department of illustrators, most notably Kenneth Paul Block, whose runway work is incredibly prolific and admirable. His drawings aren’t fanciful or abstract, they are essentially reportage, showing the clothing with both accuracy and flair.

Lacroix by Gladys Perint Palmer


It is important to learn the phrase “La Premiere Rang Surélevé”, the first raised row, usually the third or fourth, where the view is better. Yves Saint Laurent used to seat his mother in the first raised row.

When the rows are not raised, it is another matter. From the second row, you can find a sliver of a view. From the third row you see only the heads in the first row. The fourth row is death. I have perfected the spot-and-sprint approach. Wait for the right moment, crouching, just before those with the standing tickets are let in, then leap—vault, if you will—into the front row. Timing is everything. If you leap too soon, the rightful occupant of the seat may turn up (generally Marie-José Susskind of L’Official who is always late) and you have lost both your new seat and your old seat.

- Gladys Perint Palmer, Fashion People

Block’s successor is undoubtedly Gladys Perint Palmer, whose book Fashion People is the only exclusive collection of live runway sketching I’ve ever seen, and contains a few comments on the challenges of runway sketching itself. I would categorize Perint Palmer as a “society sketcher” as well as a runway sketcher – she is able to recognize and record the fashion show attendees along with snippy little over-heards and humorous gossip. She’s not just interested in the clothing and the fantasy, but in the absurd scene as a whole, and she records the fashion show phenomenon as it reached it’s apex in the 1990s, when runways became theatrical and the scene was beginning to explode into the media spectacle it has now become.

menswear by Richard Haines


It happens very quickly! It’s really difficult to get details, so I focus on the shapes and the silhouettes–the shoulder, the length of the jacket, the shape of the head/hair. It’s challenging but so much fun–like a quiz show where you have to answer 20 questions in a minute!

- Richard Haines

The most successful live runway sketcher working now is Richard Haines. He’s the master of capturing menswear – his experience as a designer, and interest in a specific, sophisticated-casual aesthetic has served him very well. The rumour I’ve heard is that is his sketches sell for $1000 each, and considering there’s no one else who can do what he does, I’m inclined to believe it.

Pink Tartan by Danielle Meder

… and then there’s me. I’ve been live-sketching at runway shows for over five years now, so compared to the masters of the craft, I am still just a baby, though I’ve had the remarkable opportunity this past season to adapt the form to the touchscreen and bring live runway sketching into the 21st century.

Most live runway sketchers do their greatest work towards the end of their career. Elegance only comes with experience. It’s a skill that takes a lot of practice, and getting access to get that practice isn’t easy to do, either. But the rewards are many – it’s a rush of adrenaline as your eyes and hands race to render an immersive experience in a bizarre, overwhelming environment. When a great sketch appears out of nowhere in seconds, it feels like fashion is an electric current coursing through your body. I believe my runway work has given me a more profound understanding of fashion at an instinctive level. It brings fashion illustration into the physical moment.


in photos – sketching on the iPad

fashion shows,live drawing — Danielle on March 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Danielle Meder by Raymund Galsim

I’m not the type of fashion blogger who enjoys for posing for photos. Most of the photos of me at fashion week show my head down, back hunched over a pad of paper, oblivious to the camera. Lucky for me, there are professionals out there who insist on capturing me at work using more attractive angles.

Above, at the VAWK show in Toronto I was shot by Raymund Galsim. It’s a good thing I insisted on an iPad cover with a high visual hierarchy, I love how it’s picked up in the model’s lips. Below, I’m shown deep in the audience at the DVF show in New York working Paper, by Georg Petschnigg of FiftyThree.

If you’re curious to see the results of my first fashion season of iPad sketching, check out the complete portfolio here, and my own top selections from the WWD on Paper portfolio here.

Danielle Meder by Georg Petschnigg

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