London Fashion Week FW15 live runway sketching portfolio

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

location independent limbo

Toronto welcomed me back with warm hugs, a sweet solo sublet, and a polished new surface. Being back in Toronto is like seeing an ex years later and they’ve had a makeover and look better than you ever remembered, and guess what, they’re sweet and steady and still like you too. London is like the more recent, exciting, high-maintenance ex who looked so sophisticated on your arm and made all your friends jealous of you while emptying your wallet and playing football with your heart.

Perhaps it’s obvious that I’ve been reading Great Expectations.

When you’re going through a transition is everyone wants to know what your plans are. I’m not great at planning so I was reluctant to announce them, but initially my intention was to apply for a French visa so I could spend 2013 in Paris. This plan was not conceived with any real idea of how I would accomplish it. As I took the first steps to assemble the paperwork required it became clear that the combination of two national bureaucracies was creating tangled logjam of arbitrary requirements that would take almost a year to sort out.

This discovery was somewhat discouraging, and yet overall I felt nonplussed. I’ve noticed something in myself as I get older, that I don’t understand how I really feel about anything while it’s happening. Realizations that explain my own behaviour tend to unfold in my consciousness a few weeks later at the earliest. This also reveals why I can’t write about topical things in a timely manner.

So I’ve been slow to sum up this change in my life. I’m still not sure yet how I feel about where I am, and where I want to be. I’m in the rather wonderful position of having created a ‘location independent’ career. I have zero familial, social, financial, or professional obligations to be at any particular place at any particular time. I am reluctant to squander this unprecedented level of freedom that has been granted to me by circumstance and technology.

I do still want to go back to Paris, whether for an extended vacation or for a bit longer if possible. I also want to spend more time in New York. I don’t have the intention to settle in either of these places, but I feel that the experience of London was an expansive one, and a necessary part of my continuing education. Spending a longer period of time in a fashion capital genuinely changes the way that you think about the subject. Being in a international, culturally dominant city makes you up your game as a creator and a careerist. I feel that I escaped a certain provincial ignorance and developed greater humility by abandoning my local identity. My work is more sophisticated and confident now than ever, and now I have a much more realistic sense of what level I am at relative to my contemporaries, my craft, and the total arc of my life and career.

Continuing to pursue the unknown, to throw myself into the milieu of fashion capitals will always be a necessary part of defining my career. I will do this; I just need to figure out logistically, how.

Another upside of being location independent is that there is no need to sacrifice all the comforts of life to location either, especially as I enter my thirties. Fashion capitals are exciting, and also expensive, snobby, exhausting places to live. I don’t want to live life trapped in a platinum champagne bucket full of pretty perfect popular people. All I need is a modest yet gracious space to work and sleep, and a variegated social life full of many types of friendly people who don’t take fashion too seriously. All of these things can be found in places much less competitive and demanding than London, Paris or New York.

The downside, if it could be called that, of location independence is the overwhelming array of options available. Having so many choices open to me doesn’t make figuring out what I want to do any easier. I’m following my own advice now – embracing the void, and letting the answer reveal itself in the absence of anything else. How profound, to be in the powerful position of designing my physical life to accommodate a career that has become utterly intangible.

goodbye, London

My time in London is ending. Right now I’m a bit sick, and have spent days dealing with moving stuff. I can’t think clearly enough right now to write anything eloquent yet about the city of many skylines. It’s been good to me. I’m glad I lived in London.

invitation – 30 on 30 – a fond farewell to London and my 20s

This is it. My last month in London. In a week, I’ll be turning 30. To celebrate these losses, I will be spending a long Sunday afternoon at my local pub, eating burgers and drinking pop & pints. If you are in London, please consider yourself invited – come and say hello before I go!

Sunday September 30 2012 from 2pm until whenever

Sebright Arms in Bethnal Green


so far, so london – redux for Ryerson Folio

Ryerson Folio is a student-run magazine published by the university I attended in Toronto. The founder and Editor-in-Chief Trung Ho invited me to revise and update a post I wrote about adapting to life in London. Seeing a blog post make it to print is a special treat. Also, I’m glad to have the opportunity to share an honest take on freelance life with students who are in the same position I once was, considering their next steps after graduation. Read the full text at Ryerson Folio.

drawing – Fashion Futures 2012 entries

This was a serendipitous opportunity – I happened to run into a flatmate of an acquaintance in Rome while I was on vacation, and a classmate of theirs referred me to an organization in London called Fashion Awareness Direct. FAD is a bit like the Passion For Fashion in Toronto (where I taught an illustration session in 2009/10) – offering free fashion education and career-building opportunities to young people. If you’re a fashion professional interested in mentoring, or a young person curious about pursuing a career in fashion, you should check out FAD.

I was invited to sit in and sketch on a jury day for their Fashion Futures 2012 competition. The entrants were presenting their creative process, their sketches and muslin toiles of their designs. To sketch their ideas, I took a look at the toiles and guessed how they would look on models, so these drawings are from imagination except for the linear details of the garments.

From top left to bottom right, the designer’s names are Jakita, Randa, Robin, Sophia and Hazar.


LFW sketches and confessions

Tuesday was the last sunny day in the courtyard, and my last day street style sketching. As far as fashion weeks go, this one in London has been a bit adverse. I got food poisoning on the weekend and lost two days, missed a couple of the few shows I did get invitations for. Since then I’ve been operating on an empty stomach and Fear Of Missing Out.

Once I was sketching in the yard, I forgot how bad I felt. Tuesday was much busier – a lot more action. More people to draw, more people who came and said hey. It was non-stop until the sun disappeared around 3:30pm and I felt shivery.

At that point I was kindly handed an invitation to Aminaka Wilmont and got to go inside the big tent for the first and only time this season. As I sat down in my fourth row seat, I felt a veil of negative emotion settle over me. I don’t like to think of myself as much of a downer, but I think the effort I had asked of my shattered constitution had broken me down too far.

In that moment I understood that love is not the only intention you can channel into creativity. You can also use the negative. As I absorbed the show (it wasn’t like watching) I let my arm go like a limp automaton, not even trying to avoid spraying paint on my unlucky seat mates. The music and the beauty was appropriately dark, though I don’t remember much about the clothing.

The resulting sketches were wet and sticky, and without a doubt the best I had done all week. I put them on one of the big speakers at the end of the runway to dry as the audience was filing out. It was in this very conspicuous position, where the catwalk meets the doors backstage, where I felt as if all my years of hopes and dreams were dripping off of me like so much wet paint, and I burst into tears. I had been working all week, trying so hard to do good work, to get attention and appreciation, so I was both devastated and relieved to be completely alone and ignored in the blind eye of the hurricane.

I stuffed the sketches into my Sainsbury’s shopping bag, smudging and ruining most of them, and got on the bus to go home, disappearing into the crowd of London’s uncaring commuters.

On reflection, that must be how so many designers must feel in that very same physical position. Except they must feel it exponentially, because the stakes are so much higher. Imagine working so hard, season after season, long after your status as the hot new thing has cooled off. Any recognition you get stops feeling good, because no matter who says you’re great, you’re still struggling and any progress is so incremental. And no matter how much effort and money you spend, you could still experience a career-ending reversal of fortune on the fulcrum of fickle fashion.

An emotional hangover after fashion week isn’t uncommon, this one felt deeper and darker than usual.


sketching street style at LFW

When my invitation count ended up being, in spite of my utter lack of importance, pitiful, I decided to do something a bit different this season. I went to the art store and bought a travel easel so weather willing, I can set up studio in the courtyard of Somerset House and make my marks alongside the photobloggers as the beautiful people enter or exit or go blithely wherever they’re invited. This setup allows me to sketch bigger than I ever can on my knee at a fashion show, and unlike my fellow courtyard rats, I’m not chained to reality.

The sun has blessed me with a couple beautiful days and I’ve been burning through more ££s of paper than I care to contemplate. Here’s a selection of what looks good enough to post so far. Show sketches are on their way too – and I’m getting ready for another courtyard session this afternoon.

twenty eleven redemption

This has been an incredible year, full of adversity and transcendence.

What follows is a redux, final fashion‘s finest for the year. Thanks so much to everyone who visits, reads, comments, emails and reaches out. Friends and colleagues, you inspire me. You are all wonderful. Thank you.


My favourite blog posts

Paper dolls

  • Vionnet – both back and front views. Braless, just the way Vionnet liked it.
  • Agyness Deyn – the first of a model series, I have a wishlist.
  • Anna Dello Russo – for the Hudson’s Bay Company. She is such a perfect fashion phoenix, delightful to draw.
  • Pink Martini Collection – my first completely hand-rendered, watercolour paper doll.

Incredible encounters

Fashion weeks and events

Extraordinary projects

Print appearances


London life

This was a year that started hard for me and then turned around in the second half. While I didn’t tick every box, I feel like I got the gist if not the gamut of my 2011 goals.

I’m looking forward to 2012. How about you?