Terms such as ‘world class’ have always irked this writer, used more for promotional stories. However, in the case of fashion illustrator and author, Megan Hess, the term certainly applies. When I met Megan for the first time, many years ago, she was already picking up commissions, including illustrating covers for New York-based author, Candice Bushnell’s Sex & The City books. I recently caught up with Megan Hess after nearly seven years. Then, Hess was working on her own. Today, she employs agents in the US and Europe, as well as having her online store selling everything from her limited edition prints, to fine tableware.

Hess has just notched up her seventh book, including her latest and most popular Claris The Chicest Mouse in Paris. Her others include Fashion House, The Dress-100 Iconic Moments in Fashion, and fashion guides to New York and Paris. In October, Hess’s book Iconic: Masters of Italian Fashion will grace bookstore shelves, featuring the work of Valentino, Prada, Fendi, Gucci, Missoni, Pucci and also Versace. “The illustrations are my interpretation of 10 key looks from each of the fashion houses over the last few decades,” says Hess, who was keen to capture the ‘DNA’ of each designer’s approach.

Hess, who is well known for her unique fashion illustrations, was keen to write, as well as illustrate a children’s book, having two children -one a daughter, who loves fashion. Claris isn’t the typical fashion character one would find in any book (one that has sold in six figures around the world and has also been translated into half a dozen different languages. When it was released in June this year, it was the best selling picture book in Australia). Claris loves fashion and lives on the outskirts of Paris before she takes the leap into the world of couture. The other mice living with her have no interest in fashion. They much prefer nibbling on éclair crumbs rather than looking at the looking at the latest Vanity Fair. “I wanted the lines to rhyme, as well as tell a story. You know what it’s like at the end of a busy day and getting your children interested in a book,” says Hess, who always loved to draw as a child, but thought a fashion book for children could be slightly left of centre. “Fashion isn’t something that appeals to most children, unless it has a story that captures their imagination,” she adds.

With Claris, she used scraps of plastic bin liners to create her outfits rather than the fine and sumptuous fabrics Hess captures with her fashion illustrations. “It takes me a considerable time to create the right words, unlike drawing which comes as second nature,” says Hess, who is currently working on her second book about Claris, hoping for this to become a series.

Hess now has an enviable lifestyle, although an extremely busy one. In the last two years, she has been working on a large project with Fendi, starting with the fashion house’s Spring/Summer collection last year. Her commission was initially to create a limited number of fashion illustrations based on the 2017 Spring/Summer collection, needing to have this ready to put up on social media literally moments after the show. “I took a taxi back to my hotel and refined the sketches (having to sit in the front row in semi-darkness),” she says.

The second brief from Fendi was to create an illustration that Fendi could use for print through to digital and for animations that captured the essence of designers Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Fendi’s vision. The result, through Hess’s illustrations, was a slightly tarnished baroque palace with a touch of the film Clockwork Orange. “You could say that it was like a fairytale turned upside down,” says Hess, who presented her vision via Skype once she had returned to her Melbourne studio.

Hess’s client list reads as a ‘who’s who’ of the fashion and design world: Tiffany & Co., Georg Jensen and other luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton. She is about to embark on a creating illustrations for a new campaign for one of the world’s leading cosmetic companies, allowing her to pull together all her skills from illustration work to animations. “When I started, I was quite involved with so many smaller projects, all requiring attention at the same time. The larger projects allow you time to focus more on the one project and immerse yourself in it completely,” says Hess.

However, research is paramount before any illustrations emerge. In the case of Louis Vuitton, for example, Megan was fascinated when she discovered that the Louis Vuitton luggage was the only luggage that didn’t sink with the Titanic. “In the back of my mind, that image stays with me, as well as the idea of the craftsmanship on which the brand prides itself,” says Hess.

Hess is also the artist in residence for the German company Oetker, which operates a string of luxury hotels in Europe. Her only task while staying at one of these hotels, including the well-known Le Bristol in Paris, is to capture in her sketchbook some of the characters staying there (while still respecting their privacy). If there’s a garden party during fashion week, Hess captures the atmosphere, whether it’s a waiter carrying an ornate cake stand laden with delicacies, or some of the most adventurous dressed guests. “It’s about creating the feeling of the event rather than documenting individuals, many who insist on privacy,” says Hess. “I still fondly remember the lady wearing the large fur coat and struggling to get through a doorway with all of her shopping bags,” she adds.

The days of taking on tiresome work is certainly a distant memory for Hess. She still recalls a time when one brief required her to produce 375 different positions of horses for one project, from leaping over fences to galloping. “In the end the book was cancelled and I had to stay away from horses for some time,” says Hess. Her first major exhibition will soon open in Korea, followed by Japan and then onto China. On the gallery walls will be hundreds of illustrations by Hess, along with 3D installations that will allow people to feel fully immersed in a scene.

In the meantime, she is busy organising illustrations and her products to be shipped overseas (80 per cent of which end up in the US, the UK, Europe and throughout Asia). Limited edition prints, scarves, stationery, and table wear continually evolve according to both time and inspiration. “Every day now is quite different. I could be working on a new collections of cards or scarves, or heading off to Europe to sketch,” says Hess, who moves likes the horses she once had to sketch: at an impressive speed, yet with grace and finesse. “It’s a continually moving feast,” adds Hess.    

www.meganhess.com                                        Text by Stephen Crafti

Lifestyle & Design

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