Richard Haines on Prada and Pictures

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Il Palazzo, Prada
Il Palazzo, PradaIllustration by Richard Haines

The esteemed fashion designer-turned-illustrator sheds light on his upcoming solo exhibition

Artist Richard Haines didn't start out as an illustrator—in fact, instead of following his childhood dream, he entered the world of fashion design. "When I moved to New York, illustration was really kind of dropping off," he explains. "When I was growing up, things like newspaper ads were all illustration, and then in the 70s, with the beginning of a big, big period of photography, that just came to a halt."

Perhaps this was a strangely fortuitous decision, for it is Haines' understanding of the nuances of fashion, having spent decades working at renowned American brands like Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis, which has resulted in such resounding success later in his life. It wasn't until 2008 that he started publishing his fashion illustrations online – and his graceful communication of the spirit of collections, often captured through his front row illustrations, has since resulted in long-term collaborations with brands like Prada and Dries Van Noten. Here, in advance of Haines' solo show at New York gallery Daniel Cooney Fine Art, we spoke to him about his first visit to the Prada showrooms and the changing pace of fashion.

On the eureka moment... 
"When I was a kid, my grandfather would get The New York Times every day and I would always look through it. I remember that in the early 60s, there was a report on a couture collection—this was before photography was really coming into play—and there was an illustrator who had just captured the essence of this model on the runway. This flash went off in my brain! How is that possible? How can someone give so much information in such an edited, concise, beautiful piece, in just like three lines? Ever since then it’s been an internal game of trying to convey with as little as I need; how do I bring the viewer into the image and still have them interpret it in their own way?"

On sketching in the front row...
"Drawing at the shows is incredible—there is something about the intimacy of that moment. I find that, if someone asks me to do something after a show from photos, it’s never going to be the same, its never going to have that aliveness. There’s something about the energy of the model on a runway, what that designer is presenting, the kind of the vibe of the audience and that’s all in that drawing—or at least, I want it to be, that's the goal!"

On social media...
"It's funny... if it wasn’t for social media, then we probably wouldn’t be talking. I mean, I started my career as an illustrator with a blog! These days, I think that people's attention spans are very short— for better or for worse —and they have a different expectation of image and stimulation. People expect a lot more. Before, after seeing a fashion show, you’d leave, you’d go and have a drink and you’d talk about it. You would process it differently. Everything felt more intimate and more secret because either you went, or you didn’t—and if you didn’t, you’d have to wait a month for a trend service that would have all the photos. It wasn’t like, 'I need these photos now!' or 'I’m going to my phone”, because it just wasn't possible. If you wanted to use your phone, then you’d have to go back to your office and like, dial it."

On collaborating with Prada...
"I was going to Milan for another project and missed the women’s show, but Prada told me that I was welcome to come in to the showrooms the day after, just to draw. It was the [Spring/Summer 2012] collection with the flames and the cars and I walked into the showroom and almost burst into tears; like, 'oh my God, I am in the Prada show room!' I could really see those pieces up close; I mean someone else could really take those kinds of details and make them look average, it was such a fine line, but they took them and obviously made everything look incredible. Trying pieces on, seeing those intricate details that you wouldn't necessarily see on the runway—the way a cuff would sit above the wrist just so, things like that—was amazing."

"Then they called me a few months later and said, 'we’re doing our men’s show—would you like to come and sketch it?' I nearly had a heart attack! It was that amazing collection with Gary Oldman [Autumn/Winter 2012], this cast of plastic all about the role of masculinity— they gave me a lot to work with! And then they told me they'd like to do a book... and then t-shirts, an iPad app... it just kept going and going!"

On Mrs. Prada's maternal side...
"One time, I went backstage at one of the shows just to show my face and say hello. Mrs. Prada was standing there, and there was a women ahead of me who had her 14 year old son by her side, and I just watched Mrs. Prada engaging with him and making him feel really comfortable. She was really very lovely with him and understood how awkward he must have felt; it was really touching. I got to see another side to her, this deeply maternal side, and this graciousness."

Richard Haines: A Room of One's Own is at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York from September 10 to October 24.