How do you condense decades of history and design from the most celebrated Italian fashion houses? For illustrator Megan Hess, it came down to figuring out the essential elements that have made them household names. In her seventh and latest book, Iconic: The Masters of Italian Fashion, she explores 10 designers (Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Valentino, Pucci, Prada, Miu Miu, Missoni, Gucci and Armani) and their signature styles through pages of vibrant illustrations and personal anecdotes.
The Australia-based international illustrator began her career in graphic design and art direction. Her big break came in 2008, when she got the call to create an illustrated cover for Candace Bushnell’s best-selling book, Sex and the City. Since then, Hess has worked with clients like Tiffany & Co. and Bergdorf Goodman (and her dream collaborations are with Vivienne Westwood and Tom Ford). With 365,000 Instagram followers, she’s captured imaginations with her ultra chic and fashionable characters. “Illustration is something that has no boundaries. If you can draw it, anything can be created,” she says.
Iconic: The Masters of Italian Fashion by Megan Hess
In Iconic: The Masters of Italian Fashion, Hess invites readers to step into the world of each designer. Everything from the look of the characters to the borders of the illustrations was selected to embody the DNA of each house. “It was a lot of research into the history of their collections and going through year-by-year to decide what stands out,” she says of the process. “Fun but exhausting.” We caught up with Hess during her book tour stop in Toronto to talk about what she needs to be creative and the ups and downs of social media.
How do you move past creative blocks?
“I only ever feel that way when I’m under time pressure so I try to really build in that initial period when I’m working on a new project of just really thinking before I even start drawing. I’ve learnt over time that starting too quickly is a bad path to go down. If I can’t get inspiration, it’s usually just stepping away from it. Sometimes at the end of the day in the studio, I’ll turn all my pieces over so I can’t see them and then in the morning I’ll turn it back over and you can see it with fresh eyes.”
What are must-have items in your artist toolkit?
“It’s more of being in a space where I can create anything. When I’m travelling, it’s really hard to draw anything because I’m in a hotel room, jet-lagged, tired and I don’t have all my stuff. I work very well in the studio because I have all my things. I have on my desk a little Louis Vuitton trunk that I keep little papers in. I have a bowl of gold buttons and lids from perfumes that I’ve kept. They mean nothing to anybody else but all that gets me creating. Essentially, all I really do need is a pen and paper but it’s my little inspirations that really do help me draw.”
Missoni in Iconic: The Masters of Italian Fashion
You have a lot of followers on Instagram and the platform is such a big part of how we consume fashion now. What are your takes on social media?
“Social media has been extremely helpful to me in terms of my work and my business. I found it a really great way to connect with people and to curate the projects and the different things that I’m working on. But in general, I actually don’t spend that much time on it. I post once a day and I can go weeks without even looking at the feed. It can consume you so I try to keep a healthy medium with it.”
What project are you looking to tackle next?
“My latest project when I get back from this tour is I’m working on the second story for Claris: The Chicest Mouse in Paris. This book is for children but it’s also for adults. If you were to read it, it would be something that you would probably think is funny from an adult perspective as well because there’s that fashion element to it. We’ve got a lot of products that we’ve worked on for Christmas in-between the luxury collaborations. We work on a lot of bespoke, small things in the studio that we do as product whether it’s scarves or table top pieces.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.