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