By Sujata Assomull
Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Like most people, the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is pick up my phone. But before I can check in on those numerous emails and messages, I always find myself logging onto Instagram. One particular Instagram account, if I’m being completely honest, and that’s Australian fashion illustrator Megan Hess’s. Her feminine yet quirky illustrations based on the fashion industry always make life seem like a bed of roses and ensure I get out of bed with a smile on my face.
Megan Hess became a favourite with the world of fashion in 2008 when she illustrated the cover of Sex and The City, the semi autobiographical novel by Candace Bushnell. Today, her stylish sketches are regular features in magazines such as Vanity Fair, and with clients like Chanel, Dior and Cartier, Hess has become a brand herself. She now retails a line of tableware, books, scarves and kaftans online and, with women around the world following her illustrations (she has over 230,000 followers on Instagram alone), she is just as important a fashion influencer as anyone else in the industry.
She’s not alone. Today, fashion illustrating is a budding art, with its own fan following and upcoming artists. Take, for example, Bil Donovan, whose colourful water sketches were recently part of a New Yorker’s fashion editorial, or Russia’s Lena Ker who has worked with international editions of Harper’s Bazaar and ELLE. Paper Fashion’s Katie Rodgers has also made waves in the field with her multi media approach to sketches — sometimes even using lipstick and sequins to add a fantastical feel to her work.
It may be in vogue right now, but using illustrations for brands is hardly a new technique. In fact, it was actually the fashion industry’s original visual medium. Andy Warhol started his career with Harper’s Bazaar and in the Roaring Twenties, Vogue’s fashion illustrations set the style agenda. Vogue did not print its first colour photograph till 1932, and a few decades later, the concept of fashion illustration suddenly seemed outdated. Illustrations were no longer relevant, with colour photography stealing all the limelight.
Technology may have ousted illustrations as being fashion’s main form of communication, but, in recent years, technology has also revived fashion’s interest in illustrators. After all, social media has given illustrators a new platform, and a sketch is a welcome relief from the constant stream of photographs the fashion industry throws at consumers. It reminds of you a gentler time, when women wanted to emulate Audrey Hepburn and not become the next Kim Kardashian.
And from the pages of magazines, the fashion illustration revival has even influenced the work of fashion houses — Dolce and Gabbana Fall/Winter 2015 used illustration as a print in their collection and it’s a trend that you can even see in their Spring/Summer 2016 collections. Moreover, at the recent Paris Couture Week, Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli’s collection had a surrealistic take on fashion illustrations.
Even Dubai is picking up on this revival. Megan Hess has been to the region quite a few times to promote her work, and has always received a warm welcome. She has even been commissioned to illustrate the bottom of a pool in one exclusive residence in the city. But now, Dubai may have its very own celebrity illustrator in the making; graphic designer Samar Sadik, who worked with the Lifestyle section of publishing company ITP for several years, is starting her own outfit.
Having grown up in the region, she is someone who truly understands local tastes, and draws inspiration from international artists such as René Gruau, Erté, Christian Lacroix, Jason Brooks as well as Hess.
Samar’s illustrative style is chic with a touch of whimsy; Strong black ink, elegant lines and splashes of colour all characterise her work, and she admits that she loves to integrate water colour to create designs that capture the imagination. The influence of Hess is very apparent at the moment, but she is still developing her own style and will surely have perfected her signature style in the years to come.
As a child, Samar was an avid cartoon-watcher and loved all comic books, be it Asterix or Archie. And like most little girls, she was intrigued by fashion — and by beautiful dresses. “For me, it’s all about the imaginary world which I am transported to when I illustrate,” explains Samar. “I capture a specific moment in time and create it in a new environment using splashes of colour. The sky’s the limit when it comes to illustrating.”
Other than working for private commissions and with clients such as L’Officiel, Samar recently started her own stationery line.
Last month, she test-drove the line at the Dubai Shopping Festival’s Market OTB at Burj Park. It has just been a week since she took part at the DSF market, but a few people have already expressed an interest in private commissions.
Her day job may be that of an art director, but Samar admits that illustration is her passion and hopes to develop it into a full-time business soon. She is pushing her content on her Instagram handle (@samar_illustrates), has a website coming up soon, and acknowledges that social media is what revived the art form she so loves. For women in business, she in someone who is gaining speed.
“Fashion illustration has always been around. I think people just didn’t pay enough attention to it because of the rise of photography. And with today’s technology, almost everyone is able to take great pictures with their phones and cameras. Although I love photography, I feel like it has become over-saturated and perhaps some of its magic has been lost. Handmade work is suddenly a lot more appealing and offers a different perspective to consumers,” she says. Well it looks like this young diva certainly has what it takes to be Dubai’s very own Megan Hess.