New York Fashion Week SS17 Live Sketching Portfolio

My greatest ever live sketching portfolio was SS16 in New York. Coming back to the city a year later, I brought great expectations. So did I match those high hopes? Let’s take a look at what I came up with.

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The week started off with a remarkable stroke of luck. Entering the first show, Nicholas K, I immediately spotted a live musician – a cellist – and grabbed a seat as close to him as possible. The longer I’ve been live sketching the more important channeling the music has become for me. Great music is a conduit for energy – similar to the magic a supermodel emits – which I can use to bring the sketches to life. Being near someone else who was also actively creating during the runway show was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.

The cellist shook out his arm, holding his bow; I shook out my arm, holding my brush. We nodded and smiled at each other, like, let’s do this! The sketches I came up with, above and below, were incredibly fluid – and I produced six sketches instead of my usual three. The first show is rarely so productive – usually it’s a bit stiff. I was excited!

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After the show I introduced myself to the musician and thanked him. His name is Jeffrey Zeigler, based in Brooklyn, and his music is terrific.

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The second show was Noon by Noor, which featured some excellent models and shapes, but there was no way that the music could top Jeffrey’s. I only got one good sketch there.

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The third show was Marissa Webb, sketches above and below. She’s got a girly rocker chick vibe going on. I sat right beside a woman with a newborn baby… lucky baby. I told the baby that the first fashion show is always the best one.

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After Marissa Webb, I did my first ever author interview for Draw Fashion Now. It was on Facebook Live with the DIY lovelies at Brit + Co. Check it out here.

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The next day I went to see Chromat and was really enjoying the energy of the audience. It’s obvious that the people who attend Chromat’s show actually wear Chromat’s clothing. Sketches above and below.

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There was an empty seat beside me but no one around me wanted to sit down on it which I think is awesome. It was like when I saw Kanye West’s Pablo show at Madison Square Garden just before NYFW. (By the way, I think that concert contributed positively to my own attitude at the start of the week.) People stand to show their enthusiasm. The music was excellent techno and the models were diverse, walked fast and deliver mad sexy attitude.

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After that I went to see Degen‘s presentation which featured a large crocheted installation, with the models seated around it on high chairs, so I could show the models their sketches which they seemed to enjoy. Sketches above and below. It was right beside the “Tommy Pier”, Tommy Hilfiger’s big show which was supposedly open to the public. A huge crowd had gathered. I didn’t feel up for battling for access, though.

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Instead I went to Tadashi Shoji. The show started with a beautiful and eerie animated short of animals clinging to a tree-like thing. I wasn’t previously familiar with this designer’s work, but I really enjoyed the sweet delicacy of the collection, and produced one of my two favourite sketches of the season.

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I really love the sketch below too. I was seated quite far back from the runway and found drawing in the dark to be a bit challenging and it slowed me down a bit. Yet somehow this limitation seemed to help me, instead of hindering me, as you’d think it would.

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The next day I attended Son Jung Wan. The soundtrack was old school disco produced by my Parisian friends at Labtonic, and I was seated in the front row for the first and only time that week. Really appreciate that!

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Sketches from Son Jung Wan are above and below. The saturated colours and graphic patterns posed a challenge to render quickly, and the red lips and wild hair was a delight to draw. Legendary supermodel Pat Cleveland closed the show which was a treat to see, she totally lived up to her reputation for theatrical flourishes, but I didn’t manage to draw her.

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Afterwards I attended another designer I wasn’t familiar with, Jonathan Simkhai. This was the first time I ever saw a Jenner in the flesh – Kylie was seated front row directly across from me. She looked amazing, there really is something about that family – they seem to reflect a lot more light than regular people do. Again I was quite far back in the dark and this made drawing a bit slower, but I think the sketch below is my favourite of the season. The flyaway straps are super fun to draw.

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The next day I went to TOME, below. Last year I sketched Yasmin Warsame there and it was THE sketch of SS16. This time, I saw no supermodels, but the models were diverse and beautiful, dressed in graphic black and white checker prints. My view was partially blocked by standing people and so I struggled a bit at this show.

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Next up was what I thought at the time was my final show of the season, and a very special one. After my warm welcome at Tracy Reese last September, they asked me to be a model in the show this season. The show was a presentation at the New York Marble Cemetary. The weather was perfect and everything was so picturesque. I was spread out on a pretty carpet like so.

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Here I was surrounded by amazing, diverse women also performing their art, including dancers and musicians, including Amanda Lo, below. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events and I’m so grateful to the team at Tracy Reese for including me. I had my makeup done and wore a beautiful metallic dress and I felt so pretty.

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That night I came back to Brooklyn where I received a last minute email from the PR man at Yeohlee, telling me I had a seat for the show the next day. It was at the same time as another show, and at first I wasn’t sure which one I should go to. The next day while riding the train from Brooklyn, I knew that I had to attend Yeohlee’s show, she’s a designer dear to my fashion nerd heart. She hosts her shows in her tiny shop, and there’s only like a dozen seats, and they start right at the stroke of the hour. I was the last to arrive just half a minute before the show started, and I quickly threw myself into a seat between two elder fashion journalists. The one on my right asked me about what I was doing while I attempted to sort my kit out, keep my knees out of the photographer’s shot, and draw Yeohlee’s tightly edited work.

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The elegant woman on my right insisted I sign my sketch. She introduced herself as Bobbi Queen (which being silly, I misheard as Bunny Queen) and mentioned that her publication was known for using fashion illustrations. “Really?” I said doubtfully, having pitched half a dozen publications just before fashion week only to be roundly ignored and rejected by all of them. “Why yes,” she said, pulling out her magazine, “we’re Women’s Wear Daily,” accepting the several business cards I gave to her with shaking hands.

As always after the Yeohlee show we were all quickly directed out of the store. I bumped into my friend Truc Nguyen, who is a stylist with Plutino Group. We shared a cab to the next show, Truc to attend the show and me, ticketless, to hang outside and observe the street style scene. That’s where I noticed my friend Jose Martinez, who I consider to be the best New York based street style photographer and videographer.

I watched Jose and his shooting partner Aldo weave through the insanely busy intersection in that ever-more-complicated dance that is fashion week street style. Afterwards I told Jose that I didn’t have any more tickets, even though there was still three days left. “Follow me,” he said, and I spent the remaining three days shadowing Jose, and getting an intimate view of the world of professional street style photography in 2016. But that’s another story.

It’s my 19th season, and I’ve never felt more ready to completely own a fashion week – and yet it seems like my inability to score decent access is still holding me back. My work is confident and fluid; I’ve a been regular contributor to a prestigious national newspaper since 2014; and yet somehow obtaining tickets to fashion shows seems to get more difficult every season instead of easier. While it’s probably not visible to anyone else, I see that frustration coming through the work. I know I’m ready to sketch the best, most newsworthy designers and deliver a portfolio that stands a chance of being perceived as an important historical document – shows like Marc Jacobs, Thom Browne, Proenza Schouler. I keep chipping away every season, sending out my requests, but somehow I’ve never been able to break through. And of course I’d like to obtain my access legitimately, if possible. I believe I’m good enough now.

Of course I’m not the only one moaning about access – when you read the editors at Vogue complaining about it, you know it’s not personal, it’s systemic. It’s as if my work is invisible to the gatekeepers, who are measuring the worth of fashion show attendees by ‘influence’ now. This is at the expense of the artistic contributions of writers and photographers and even the traditional hierarchy of mastheads. Instead, it values celebrity, either in traditional or social media form. Even the only other illustrator I heard was at NYFW this season, Meagan Morrison, seems to be lauded more for being an Instagram influencer than she is for the merits of her excellent work.

This insecurity is reflected in the ability of editors to recognize the value my work as well. When publications are struggling to get traffic to their websites, they are forced to prize hits over artistic merit. This is why in our day and age we no longer see works of artists like Truman Capote and Man Ray in the pages of magazines. Instead we get the Kardashian-Wests as photographed by Annie Leibovitz. And this isn’t meant to be critical of that family, whose own particular method of artistry I admire a lot. I’m just saying that as far as historical moments to be a fashion illustrator go, the present climate is not as hospitable as some people say. It makes sense that the only establishment eye that recognized some worth in what I was doing this season was an elder who remembers the days of John Fairchild.

Just after fashion week, experiencing the inevitable adrenaline crash, I was feeling quite discouraged with the state of my career. I declared that I was rather glad that next season, my 20th, will be my last, in an impromptu podcast I produced with my roommate.

Since then, however, I have received several significant messages from the universe that have made me much more optimistic for FW17. So please, stay tuned…

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