fashion's favorite illustrator draws brooklyn's most beautiful boys

As he opens a new show of personal portraits, Richard Haines tells us how Bushwick is a lot like Versailles.

by Emily Manning
10 September 2015, 3:20pm

Richard Haines shops at my favorite thrift store. It's not Cure, Metropolis, or any of those vintage shops masquerading as thrifts. It's not even in Manhattan. It's on a quiet stretch of Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick, the Brooklyn youth enclave where the 63-year-old illustrator behind a blog you're probably following, What I Saw Today, has lived for the past six years.

"I got a sublet off the Myrtle-Broadway stop -- the first time I've ever moved out of Manhattan," Haines tells me. "For the first week, I was like, "Where the fuck am I?" But then I got a bike and a studio off the Morgan stop. As I explored the area more, I realized it was exactly where I was supposed to be. It's become a really big part of my process."

It certainly has. Scroll through Haines' Instagram and you're just as likely to find analogue illustrations of the blue haired art boys that haunt Bogart Street as you are the work he's more famous for: globs of Grace Coddington's mane, or smudged sketches of standout looks from fashion weeks around the world.

The Prada and Dries Van Noten collaborator's newest solo show, A Room of One's Own -- which opens this evening at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in Chelsea -- is largely inspired by his Bushwick neighbors. Like his dispatches from the #frow, Haines' personal portraiture captures moments of creative energy and youthful vitality as they bubble up. Ahead of tonight's opening, I caught up with Haines about Brooklyn's best people watching block, and why we'll always crave a good mess.

How long have you been making fashion illustrations?
I've been drawing for as long as I can remember. Kids in elementary school would be drawing airplanes on their book covers, and I'd be drawing wedding gowns. It was before I knew what fashion really was, but it seems it was an instinctual thing to want to draw beautiful stuff. When I moved to New York, I thought I'd be a fashion illustrator, but I got really intimidated because I didn't have a formal background in it -- I went to college for graphic and fine arts rather than fashion. So I switched to design, which only a 24-year-old would think to do. But I did, and I designed for most of my career.

In 2008 when everything tanked, I could not get a job designing. So I decided to start a blog because I just love watching people on the street. It gives so much energy and vitality. It's endless, really. For about a day, I thought I'd do a trend report of what I saw -- tanktops or something -- but then I thought, 'Fuck it, I'm just gonna draw what I love to draw.' It was kind of the beginning of that technology; people were just starting to blog, and there was something incredible about putting my image out there not edited, not merchandised, not touched by anyone else. It started to gain interest and followers, which was kind of amazing because it was totally unpremeditated. Everything changed completely.

How did initially working as a fashion designer inform your illustration style and eye?
I think it's been a really big part of it. Because I worked with pattern makers and other designers for such a long time, I kind of know where the pocket goes, the way the seam fits. I'm not a big detail person in my drawings, but I think the indication of a pocket at the right place kind of grounds things for the viewers. 

Tell us about the work in this show.
This is really the culmination of a few years' work -- a lot of portraiture of people in Bushwick that live around me. I've been kind of obsessed with what's happening in Bushwick, but I'm also obsessed with Versailles. There's something about beauty and something about decoration that happens in both spaces, and I've tried to incorporate that in the show.

How have you seen Bushwick change?
Every year Bushwick changes, and I think in the past six months it's changed the most. But there's still something about the energy there. People always ask what my favorite block in New York is: right off the Morgan L on that stretch of Bogart, for sure. It's an endless stream of bad boy art boy lost boy types.

What are some of your favorite shows to illustrate?
I've done collaborations with Prada and Dries, so I have affinities for those collections because I spent so much time with them and really saw the process. I was in awe of both designers before I worked with them and seeing the integrity, execution and pure vision of their shows was just kind of mind boggling.

You've also worked with Siki Im. Do you have a dream collaboration?
I do, but I'm really superstitious so I can't say! But Siki was truly unreal. He asked me to draw on the pieces, so before the show, I'd played around with different mediums on wool fabrics. I got there an hour before it started and they just started handing me the garments and were like 'draw on this,' then they'd hand the garment to the model and he'd walk out. It was insane -- what I think crack would be like. They kept handing me stuff and I just went into a zone.

Despite the fact that technology is advancing rapidly, it seems illustration is having a real resurgence.
Instagram is an incredible platform. It's constantly evolving and will continue to change, but it's created huge opportunities for a lot of people. Ten years ago, everyone said fashion illustration is dead, but I think that today people crave someone's hand. They crave a mess or a smudge or a line or a glob of paint. You can have all the technology in the world but if you don't have an emotion, it falls flat. 



Text Emily Manning 
Images courtesy Daniel Cooney Fine Art

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solange knowles
Daniel Cooney Fine Art
richard haines
what i saw today