Features / Illustration

A lesson in authenticity: the work of fashion illustrator Richard Haines


Richard Haines

As J.W. Anderson showed his AW17 collection at London Fashion Week, the front row snaked with eager fashion documenters hastily snapping at the clothes sent down the runway. Among them, esteemed American fashion illustrator Richard Haines was capturing the movement, shapes and details of the collection with nothing but a sketch pad and ink pen. “JW was fantastic,” Richard tells me. “I think to draw runway is very challenging but I think it’s a really valid means of documenting, or recording,” he adds thoughtfully. “You can convey so much information in just a few lines.”

Richard’s illustrations, with their energetic lines and accented shading, are a metaphorical blank page for the viewer – there’s just enough information to capture the movement and key details of a look. Yet in and among those lines there is space for your own unique interpretation of the moment. Illustration is something quite unique and treasurable, I venture, now that everyone can document fashion with their iPhone camera. “It’s a really interesting way of presenting information which has a vibrant history…” says Haines. “It’s really a representation of a time, I think it’s important to counter-balance all the photography – to have people drawing, too.”

Despite his prowess as a revered fashion illustrator now, Haines struggled with gaining success in the medium initially when he moved to New York after studying graphics at art school in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. “I headed for New York thinking I could begin a career as an illustrator,” Richard explains. "I didn’t have the formal training, and as I was pursuing illustration because I thought it was ‘glamorous,’ my work was stiff and unauthentic. So my career as an illustrator fell flat… After a career as a fashion designer, and some 35 years later, I got real about my work and finally had the courage to do what I felt I was meant to do.”


Richard Haines: Bushwick Avenue


Richard Haines: Dior Runway

Succeeding lengthy design stints at brands such as Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis, in 2008 Haines launched his blog “What I Saw Today": The concept: to illustrate the fascinating people he came across at fashion events and, more pertinently, around Bushwick in Brooklyn near his appartment-cum-studio. “Illustration feels so natural to me,” he explains of the shift. “It’s the most organic way of being I’ve ever experienced in my life, but it took me a long time and a lot of career choices and doing different things to arrive at this point.” He credits his success to his change of attitude first and foremost: “People can really feel your passion and authenticity, people are drawn to it because it really cuts through all the nonsense that’s out there. Like a good movie, a good book, people want an authentic story they can connect to.”

Naturally, Instagram is now the ideal platform for Richard who has amassed over 50,000 followers with up to five million views of his live-action illustration videos. How does he not fall into the trap of chasing likes, I ask? “If you’re in a swimming race just keep the focus on your lane!” he exclaims with conviction. “I think if I was posting work just for likes it would come off as being really fake and I think that pushes people away. So I stay true to myself and keep focused on what works for me and what I think is right for me. It’s a slippery slope though!”

“People can really feel your passion and authenticity, people are drawn to it because it really cuts through all the nonsense that’s out there."

– Richard Haines

Interestingly, Richard has stuck with analogue techniques regardless of the development in creative technology. “I got given an iPad Pro which is incredible… but, I mean, I love drawing on Instagram stories because it’s such an easy platform, so it’s not like I don’t use technology. But to me there is nothing more compelling and satisfying than putting an ink pen or charcoal on paper. The sound of it and the way the line appears is amazing to me – it’s magic! I’ve never experienced anything to replace that.”

Perhaps it’s this capacity for something “magic” that has contributed to the resurgence of fashion illustration in recent years, like Unskilled Worker’s continual collaboration with Alessandro Michele at Gucci or Nick Knight of ShowStudio’s current Moving Kate exhibition dedicated to fashion illustrations of the supermodel. In the same way that print publishing offers something more collectable and tangible than digital, so too does illustration for the world of fashion documenting I put to him, who makes an “mmm” noise in agreement. It’s unsurprising then that he has recently worked with fashion powerhouses like Prada and Dries Van Noten. “They are two companies that I am in awe of really,” he explains. “Years and years ago I would try to get their attention, especially Prada. I tried to get a design job there but they just wouldn’t pay attention to me! So it was interesting to come back as an illustrator and then the collaboration worked! It kind of to me was the way of the universe saying this is what you are supposed to be doing because it wasn’t happening to me as a designer.”


Richard Haines: I <3 Japanese Films


Richard Haines: Italian Vogue Cover

Collaborations, for Richard, are about balance: “It’s finding that fine line between what’s Richard Haines and what’s Prada? What’s Dries? I think both times we just hit it. It was never like, ‘I’m Richard Haines so it’s going to be this and that’s it!’ I really got into the mind of what these collections were, what they were about and what they are as companies. I spent time in Italy with the people at Prada and at Dries’ design studio, I think that’s a big reason why they were successful.”

When not engaged in more typical fashion industry ventures, you can find Haines out and about in Brooklyn, sketchpad in hand. “There’s a lot that’s around me. Sometimes it’s just random, I’ll be at a coffee shop or at a party or a club. I usually don’t look for it but it just shows up. I’ll be taking the train and I’ll just see someone amazing looking! I love the randomness of it!” His advice to young illustrators is much the same: “Always go to shows, go sit in the park, go to events.” Richard effervesces. “Make yourself available and visible… it’s really important. Be honest with your work, is it what you love doing? At the end of the day it is the passion that comes through that will make everything fall in place around it, that’s the core, it has to be there.”


Richard Haines: Lady Fag


Richard Haines: NYFWM


Richard Haines: Orlando


Richard Haines: THAKOON


Richard Haines: The photographer


Richard Haines: Best Jeans


Richard Haines: Today’s Mood


Richard Haines: YSL