Fashion illustrator Richard Haines, has come full circle and couldn’t be happier than where he is now and landed. Arriving in New York to pursue illustration, he was pulled into the vortex of what we call fashion, and rolled around in a successful design career for some time. His sketches have a language of their own. On paper you could be envious of his experience designing for such notable brands as Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, Sean Combs and Bill Blass.
It is no accident that you will find Richard front row at the seasons most prized runways shows, magically whipping out sketches, to be hunted down and praised by blogs, fashion editors, designers and yes, art collectors, you name it. Richard proves, that hand to paper captures the most minute detail, vibe and overall mood that cameras can miss. Paper Magazine, New York Magazine, men.style.com, refinery29.com and getkempt.com, all have Richard Haines on their radar.
In Richard’s über popular and inspiring blog, What I saw Today, he makes a “visual recording of cool stuff, guy’s wear and thing that inspire him.” I wanted to climb a ladder up into the cute head of his and see what makes him tick. What I found was very pleasing to all my senses. Richard’s attitude is candid, playful and he was open to freely chat about all components of his life including, his work, his fashion ‘family,’ reality tv, what makes him cry and gives touching details about his relationship with his 14-year-old daughter.
They say you cannot polish a turd. In this story, the turd being me, I am hoping, by rubbing elbows with fashion royalty, that I will come across as one classy guy. Richard is growing out his beard for our to-be-announced date next time I land in New York. Ok, lets get to it.
Accidental Bear: How did your blog, “What I Saw Today,” begin. To me, it’s the Bill Cunningham illustrated version.
Richard Haines: I started the blog for a few different reasons, some more romantic and compelling than others. the first was, my career as a designer had pretty much stalled, so I figured if I started a blog about menswear, at least I could up my visibility and have something interesting to talk about in my job search. the second was, I was always inspired by the streets of new york-sometimes I think of WIST as a love letter to the city-after 35 plus years here I’m still amazed at how many beautiful people I see on the streets. and third, and in a way the most significant, was I felt with the blog I really had a voice, a platform for myself. after working at places like Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis, I was designing for companies with established looks. the first night I scanned a drawing and posted it was thrilling, and to use an overexposed word, empowering. my point of view was pure and undiluted! I’m still kind of awed by what happened to my life thanks to technology, a laptop and a scanner. Amazing…
A B: As a child, when other kids were trying to pee their names in the snow, were you already creating masterpieces?
Richard: Well actually the pissing in the snow came later (wink). I don’t know if they were masterpieces, but I remember all the boys in my first grade class drawing airplanes battles on their notebooks, and I was drawing wedding dresses. It’s kind of fascinating and I have no idea where it comes from, but at 5 the most compelling thing to draw was a wedding gown, and I remember my father, who was an officer in the navy, saying ‘how about drawing cowboys.’ It was kind of funny, but if he had said ‘those are gorgeous gowns’ I would have saved a lot in therapy 30 years later.
A B: Has your career gone exactly the way you have planned it, in a straight line?
Richard: There’s nothing straight about my life (baddaboom!). I knew I loved fashion, but when I was growing up the idea of a fashion designer was pretty abstract and something that happened in paris, so I ended up going to school for graphic and fine arts. I was always drawing, so I moved to new york after I graduated from college, with the intention of being a fashion illustrator. This was the mid 70’s, and I was so intimidated by artists like Antonio and Kenneth Paul Block, that I switched careers and became a fashion designer. While I had a great career designing, I find it kind of awesome that my life has come full circle and I’m back doing what I originally came here to do, which is to illustrate! I just read steve jobs lovely commencement speech, and it really hit home-do what you love, and I have never been happier doing what I’m doing now!
A B: On the television these days there are a bundle of shows about fashion, like Project Runway. Being an insider to the fashion world, how do you perceive these show?
Richard: I love this question. I have a lot of different feelings about it. For a few seasons there was a show where a person who ‘wanted to be a fashion designer’ and a more technical person would team up and compete with their designs. It was cringe worthy. The message was ‘anyone can be a fashion designer’ which I don’t think is true. I think anyone with a strong concept and taste level and willingness to work their ass off can be a fashion designer. I mean, I never went to school for it, but that idea that anyone who likes pretty colors can do it, kind of dumbs down the art of design. On the other hand, I used to watch Project Runway with my daughter when she was 11 and it was fun. She got a really good idea of what the process was, and it was entertaining. The all nighters and the nuttiness that goes with it is pretty close to the drama that builds before a fashion show, so it’s great to see on tv.
Right now I am loving The Rachel Zoe Project.’ When she sees a dress she loves, I have the same response of ‘OMFG.’ I completely relate to that. I was in Milan last week and was invited by Prada to sketch the new women’s’ collection. When they opened the showroom doors I gasped and teared up because it was so beautiful. It’s a deep, real response.
A B: Do you see a gap in the fashion industry right now that you think needs more focus?
Richard: Hmmm. I think I’m returning to a kind of post hippie phase of my youth, but basically I think there’s just too much shit being produced and thrown away and it kind of grosses me out. There’s too much stuff, too many seasons, too many deliveries, too much that taxes the resources of the world. That’s not to say I don’t love the fashion industry. I do, but like everything right now, there need to be changes. I wish more things were made locally. I used to love having garments produced on west 37th street. I loved that process of working with tailors and sewers. So maybe, like organic farming, I think everything needs to be closer to home and indigenous. I’m rambling now so I’ll stop.
A B: We are all ears Richard! To my delight, it seems like almost every menswear designer is using bearded models. Have you noticed it and long do you think it will last?
Richard: It’s been on the streets for a while, but in some ways just making it to the runway. Right now, I am ALL ABOUT a guy with a super crisp haircut and a super sharp part, pomade etc, and then a big, full on beard. I see some guys in Brooklyn working that, and it’s hot as hell. It’s the juxtaposition that kills it. Yesterday I was on the L train, and there was a guy with that look and a shirt and tie and he looked amazing. Turns out, he was asking for donations for ‘Occupy Wall Street.’ It’s interesting to see the social shifts.
A B: What more do you get out of illustrating fashion that you might get out of snapping a shot with a camera?
Richard: They do such different things, I don’t think one cancels out the other. I think in drawing, there is an editing process. I’m not a photographer so I don’t know if that exists for them too. When I draw, I’m thinking on a subconscious level; what can I get away with here? How much do I want to reveal? How much do I want to leave up to the viewer’s imagination? The first time I saw fashion illustrations, I was about 11 and it was the New York Times Couture Collection report. I couldn’t believe so much information was given with a few lines. I’ll never forget that I had such an intense response to it. I’d be curious to talk with a photographer and their take on it. I actually teach part-time at AAU and I’m always saying, “take away those lines. You don’t need to spell out the whole thing, leave something to the viewer!”
A B: What is the most recent fashion statement that you are seeing on the street of NYC that just makes you say,
“NO- NO- NO!”?
Richard: Well, overall I don’t like ‘look at me’ fashion. I think that’s why I like Brooklyn; there’s a look, or looks. It’s created with limited resources and a lot of imagination and style, so that just works for me. One thing I never took to, which some people love, are studs all over shoes, jackets etc. I mean, I love a good studded leather cuff, but all over shoes? Not my thing.
A B: What is something personal about yourself that might surprise everyone?
Richard: Umm, lets see. I went to junior high school in Iceland, and Tina Weymouth of the talking heads was my 8th grade prom date.
If anyone wants to see me burst into tears mention the scene in ‘the kids are all right’ where the girl goes to college. The idea of my daughter going off as a young adult and maybe living in a different city reduces me to a mess in under 10 seconds (she’s 14).
I’m turning 60 on october 21 (maybe that’s not surprising to everyone, but it’s shocking as hell to me!) I find dating perplexing and almost impossible (please, someone disprove this!)
A B: Throughout your years knee-deep in fashion, has the fashion world become an extension of your family?
Richard: First of all, there’s no ‘knee deep’ in fashion. You’re either up to your eyeballs in it, about to choke to death, or you’re not in it. It’s consuming, and yes, totally, it is an extended family. Like any dysfunctional family it’s the unconditional love that gets me through. When I’m at fashion week I must say, I have a real sense of closeness and pride with the people I’m sitting with. We all talk the same language, and it feels like I’m home. Since I’ve been illustrating I feel welcomed and appreciated in a new way, it’s really lovely and wonderful. Not to say, there aren’t some crazy bitches out there, but even they have something endearing about them. It’s like a big extended Thanksgiving dinner, you laugh, you cringe, you switch seats…
When it comes to my immediate family, my daughter, I alway made a point of not enforcing my fashion point of view on her, you know, the ‘pick your battles’ kind of thing. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Last time we were in Uniqo she said ‘the plaids suck this season, where’s the Jil Sander stuff.’
A B: What can we look forward to you doing next? I can totally see your illustrations turned into animations. Wow, I just blew my own mind.
Richard: It blew my mind that, that blew your mind. I’m actually doing a line of separates at J C PENNY. Joking!
But yeah, animation, I’d love to see my guys in motion, and books are kind of in the air, and secretly I want to have my own TV show, but that’s another interview! I mean, people are always coming up and saying, “Where’s the book? When is it happening?” The fact that there’s this interest, that people respond to what I do, and want more, well, that’s just heaven.
A B: And finally, when I am in New York next, will you go on a coffee date with me?
Richard: Duh? Why do you think I’m doing this? I’m growing a beard in preparation for your arrival 😉
A B: Thanks for playing!
Richard: Any time handsome!
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