Earlier this year, I came across a wonderful book entitled Iconic – The Masters of Italian Fashion by Megan Hess. With my little store in Bowral specialising in women’s clothing all made in Italy, I’ve long been a fan of Italian fashion, due to its craftsmanship and creativity. Through Megan’s book however, I formed an even greater appreciation for Italian designers as she explores the work of ten iconic designers including Giorgio Armani, Fendi, Prada, and Versace. Being a fashion artist, Megan brings alive the work of these designers through her spectacular illustrations of some of their most dramatic outfits including power suits, psychedelic kaftans and haute couture gowns! And then to my great delight, I discovered that Megan is an Aussie, so I recently interviewed her about her extraordinary creative life.
Question: Tell us about your childhood… did you have a creative upbringing?
I had a very happy childhood growing up in Queensland, Australia. Most days were like many other kids, playing with my sister and brother and all the kids in our neighbourhood. Drawing was always my true love. I would draw all of my friends and it was always the one thing I loved to do more than anything else.
My parents were also unbelievably supportive. Even though they both worked in a pharmacy, and more medical fields, they always encouraged me to follow my heart and do what I loved. I also had very inspiring art teachers growing up. As a child I attended art class every Saturday and it was literally my favourite time of the week. Then in high school I had an amazing teacher who really pushed me to explore the possibilities of making art my career. I’m so glad she did!
Question: You began your creative career as a graphic designer. Were you interested in drawing fashion from the start of your career and how did you end up illustrating the New York Times number one best selling book Sex And The City by Candace Bushnell?
I studied graphic design because it felt like a ‘real’ job in the art world, but really always wanted to be an illustrator – I just never knew back then that it was a possible career choice! After working as an art director in advertising agencies for several years, I packed everything up and moved to London. It was in London that I worked in a million different creative jobs and in my final job there realised that I had a burning desire to be an artist. At this time, I’d became the art director for Liberty (department store, in London). Whist I loved art-directing fashion I loved illustrating it more. I started to do very small illustrations for Liberty and from this, art directors saw my work, and little commissions began to follow. After about a year I found myself with non-stop work. I wasn’t earning a fortune, but I’d never been happier, and I knew I was going to do this forever.
As my clients got bigger and better, I was able to be a little more selective and just work on briefs that I knew had a great creative opportunity. Then in 2006 I got a call in the middle of the night from Candace Bushnell’s publisher asking if I would illustrate her next novel One Fifth Avenue. This was when things took off at rapid speed for me. Her book became a New York Times bestseller and I met with Candace and she asked me to illustrate all her previous books including the cover of Sex and The City… it’s funny, I always tell people that I haven’t really slept since 2006!
Question: You’ve since illustrated portraits for Vanity Fair and Time, and illustrated the windows of Bergdorf Goodman in New York; how difficult, or easy, is it to work for such well known brands… do they leave you up to your own devices?
Working with renowned brands is always a collaborative experience. It’s about knowing the history and DNA of the brand and what makes it unique and special. That is always the starting point and then it’s a process of creating something fresh and new in my style, but still very much recognisable of the brand. I love that with each brand there is a different creative team and always a new experience to be gained.
Question: Your latest book is entitled Elegance – The Beauty of French Fashion. When and how did you become interested in French fashion designers, and what is it about their work that interests you the most?
I’ve always found French fashion just so incredible. It’s the attention to detail, the rich history, the craftsmanship and the theatre of the shows. There is something about the way French designers create, that separates them from any other country. It’s just in their culture and way of life. Even a single macaron can be packaged in a tiny beautiful box with a silk ribbon. They make everything feel special.
Question: I believe you illustrate all of your work using a bespoke Montblanc pen, who you affectionately call Monty! What it is that you love about working in this style?
He is my most prized possession! The pen was created especially for me by Montblanc. I hand draw all my line work with Monty (and ink), then I either leave it black and white or add colour with gouache, watercolour and digital.
Question: You are the global Artist in Residence for the Oetker Collection of Hotels. Tell us about this role.
This is probably the most exciting collaboration that I have ever worked on as it brings together all my favourite elements. It involves sketching architectural and interiors scenes and sprinkling them with the sorts of people you would expect to find there. I get to travel around and experience all these different hotels too, which is exciting, not least because they’re some of the most luxurious in the world.
Question: Your signature style can also be found on her bespoke range of silk scarves and cushions… where to now for you, career wise?
There are so many BIG exciting projects coming up. Sometimes I get so excited about what’s to come that I literally can’t sleep! Right now, I’m focused on the release of Elegance – The Beauty of French Fashion. I’m about to go on a world book tour and it’s just so incredible to meet so many wonderful people all around the world and feel that connection. Creating is such a joy and it’s even more amazing when you can actually share it with others.
You can expect to see more from my children’s book character, “Claris” (the Chicest Mouse in Paris). I have so many ideas for stories for her that I can barely wait to draw them. I really want her to captivate both little children and big kids like me who are never too old for an adventure!
Question: When you’re not working, do you pursue any other creative pursuits?
I do love other forms of art such as painting and designing. I love working with our animation team to create moving images of my work; that’s enormous fun. I love interior design and all things interior related. If I could learn more about a new area it would be fragrance, I’ve always dreamt of becoming a ‘nose’!
You can find out more about Megan and what she’s up to by clicking here.
Megan Hess’s books include:
Iconic – The Masters of Italian Fashion
Published: Oct 2018
Publisher: Hardie Grant Books
Elegance – The Beauty of French Fashion
Published: Oct 2019
Publisher: Hardie Grant Books
Claris The Chicest Mouse in Paris
Published: June 2018
Publisher: Hardie Grant Books