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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.