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Fashion illustrators now expanding their creativity into non-fashion spaces

By Jackie Mallon


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Artwork created by Meagan Morrison in partnership with Anthropologie for their Art of Womanhood project Credits: @TravelWriteDraw

The contemporary fashion illustration community is a vast group of mostly independent artists working within the global fashion industry, bringing their creative energy to sales events and brand activations, ad campaigns and editorials. It’s currently a good time to be a fashion illustrator. Exhibits of fashion art occur regularly in major capitals, and illustrators are to be seen livesketching everywhere from Texworld trade fair to Paris Haute Couture Week while organizations such as FIDA (Fashion Illustration and Drawing Awards) broker exciting partnerships between their member artists and international design houses. After existing in the shadow of other disciplines for decades, fashion art is coming into its own as a respected and lucrative field for creatives.

Artwork by Connie Lim created on the set of Daphne Guinness music video Credits: Connie Lim

Indeed we seem to have reached a point where illustrators who have been trained in the fashion industry are now finding demand for their services in non-fashion environments. The just-released music video by Daphne Guinness, the iconic Alexander McQueen muse-turned-musician, for her single "Hip Neck Spine" directed by Nick Knight, is an atmospheric homage to silver screen sirens that showcases Guinness's extensive couture archive. It also features a dozen fashion artists at their easels and throughout the video images of their artwork floating across the screen. An exhibition of these works entitled "Drawing Daphne" is on view until September 7 at SHOWStudio’s art space in London. Artist Connie Lim, one of the creatives on set, tells FashionUnited, “It was a great experience because we always work alone in our studios but it was so nice to see the production team, all the behind-the-scenes considerations, like lighting and props, stage set-up. There was a lot of waiting around but it was fascinating to be involved in such a big project.”

The 3-day shoot emerged from a concept by Nick Knight who is a supporter of contemporary fashion art, often showcasing illustrators' work on the SHOWStudio website and socials. For Lim the experience was very different from sketching in the chaotic environments of fashion shows and she noted that the artists were treated with the utmost care and respect. “The vibe was a little more curated on set," says Lim. "Daphne had about 100 looks so there were a lot of changes, and filming the same scene with different looks, but it was a great chance to see the wonderful clothes.”

Working at an easel, while not unusual for Lim, encouraged larger scale artwork than illustrators usually produce for the fashion industry. She worked with color pencils, ink, and experimented with soft pastels. “It was a nice playground to dabble with materials,” she says.

Fashion illustrator Nicole Jarecz illustrates at FAO Schwarz 160th anniversary Credits: Nicole Jarecz

Fashion illustrators branch out to work across diverse industries

Detroit-based Nicole Jarecz, who spent the early part of her career in Paris, works extensively with local and international brands as well as live sketching at weddings and private functions. Last fall she flew to NYC to sketch in venerated toy emporium FAO Schwarz. “At the time I was working with a PR firm that represented both Faber-Castell and Steiff teddy bears and had developed a long standing relationship with Faber-Castell making how-to videos for their social media,” says Jarecz of how the opportunity came about. “The head of the PR firm was really my number one fan for many years and they pitched the idea of having me sketch at FAO Schwarz’s 160th anniversary for Steiff teddy bears.”

Drawing babies, children and teddy bears differed from her illustration work for brands like Louis Vuitton, Tiffany or Gucci but, says Jarecz, “I loved changing it up and realized that at the end of the day I can make anything I want fashion and it really opened other doors for me. Now I’m asked all the time to sketch at events with children or to create custom illustrations for families, something I truly enjoy.”

Meagan Morrison founded her blog TravelWriteDraw.com in 2010 after graduating with an AS degree in fashion illustration from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, manifesting her career hopes in her brand's three word title. She went full-time in 2014 when she quite her corporate fashion job.

“I made the very deliberate choice in 2010 to put travel in the name of my blog because I knew it was going to be a harder leap to get into the travel hospitality space versus getting those fashion clients,” says Morrison. “I was really always interested in the intersection of where fashion met travel and lifestyle, where the the jet set hang when the wanderlust hits.”

Meagan Morrison in partnership with Mastercard sketches guests at Cannes Lions Festival, June 2023 Credits: TravelWriteDraw

Travel clients, rather than fashion brands, have led to two of Morrison’s high-profile jobs this summer. Having previously sketched guests at a Mastercard sponsored wellness festival and being on the radar of an event planning team who had enlisted her for the opening of a Dubai hotel, Morrison was deemed a natural fit for the multi-sensory experience Mastercard had planned for Cannes. Guests completed a survey which resulted in a custom song selection that played while Morrison sketched their portrait. Her art contributed to an immersive Riviera experience touching all of the senses, capturing guests among the colors of the glamorous summer leisure spot in her signature expressive inks and washes. Similar to Jarecz's experience, new opportunities tend to emerge for Morrison through a mixture of past connections and serendipity. An event planner at Chase Travel who was previously attached to Ritz Carlton, a brand Morrison has worked extensively with over the years, brought Morrison behind the scenes at this summer's Wimbledon Tennis Championships to customize Adidas Stan Smith sneakers.

While she makes it seem effortless, Morrison says, “It's very demanding, having distance between me and the business. It's really hard to separate. That’s probably one of the greatest hurdles. But the the benefits far outweigh any of the challenges.” She gets 99.9 percent of her clients through Instagram where she appears to be a natural content creator with an open demeanor that symbiotically works for her, her 174K followers and the brands she represents. “Instagram is a platform that lends itself so beautifully to showcasing what artists are capable of. I know that TikTok is really hot, but I find it much more challenging to show my style of work on that platform,” she says. “It really lends itself to grandiose gestures on big canvases, but if you work in tinier spaces it's a bit more challenging.”

Morrison’s most thrilling gig to date was sketching at the Formula One Grand Prix which was followed by a conversation on spirituality with world champion Lewis Hamilton. Not previously a Formula One fan, she says she became one through the experience. “I think that just shows how you can cross so many different lanes, I guess, as an artist and how you connect with people,” she says. “In illustrating the final race I could tap into that fashion lifestyle flair even though it was different subject matter.” Her most offbeat experience so far has been illustrating on basketballs for Marriott Bonvoy: “The application of my art to a spherical surface really had me outside my comfort zone,” says Morrison. “Funny, because you go from a flat plane to suddenly having to think about your work from all sides, but it was an awesome project.”

Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Cap d'Antibes by Meagan Morrison, 2019 Credits: @TravelWriteDraw

Whether in fashion or non-fashion spaces, whether receiving a custom live portrait or a monogrammed leather pouch, guests really appreciate the personal touch of the artist at work, according to the illustrators we interviewed. And in this era of the personal brand, such take-home keepsakes when shared on social media help individuals cultivate their own online identity as well as building the profile of the brand. So it’s a win all round, a tidy loop of self-expression.

Morrison’s very first foray outside fashion already constituted her dream job: Conde Nast Traveller asked her to illustrate her way through Bermuda capturing everything from fish and local food to artisanal jewelry and architecture. Yet she continues to live her dream. As we speak she is preparing for a trip through Peru, commissioned by Marriott International to create a tourism-focused series of artworks. She is looking forward to spending some time on the ground in the fall to create a body of personal work based on the many months of inspiration she has stockpiled.

“I live with a very optimistic outlook and I am just so grateful to do what I do. I love it so much,” says Morrison of the secret to her success. “I consider myself lucky to be so passionate about what I do for a living.”

Fashion illustration