Richard Haines is one of the fashion world’s most sought after illustrators. After working as a designer for storied American brands including J. Crew, Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, and Bill Blass, Haines took a leap of faith in 2008, returning to his roots as an illustrator with the launch of his now wildly successful blog, “What I Saw Today.” Since then, Haines has worked with everyone from the New York Times, GQ and London Sunday Times Style Magazine, to Unionmade, Mr Porter and Prada.
When did you first start working in fashion?
I’ve loved fashion all my life. As long as I can remember I was fascinated by it – before I ever saw a fashion magazine or fashion show. I grew up drawing models – my first illustration job was for a magazine in Washington, DC when I was 16, then when I moved to New York after college I started designing, which is how I spent most of my career. In 2008 I started my blog and made the switch to fashion illustration.
What led you to leave womenswear design and focus on your art, illustrations and launching the blog?
It wasn’t so much a choice on my part – the economy tanked in 2008 and my job prospects evaporated along with the market. I really started my blog because it didn’t cost anything and I didn’t know what else to do. I figured I would start drawing and see where it went. I had no idea it would become such a wonderful period in my life!
You seem to have really embraced the digital age – was this difficult at first to get people to appreciate the intricacy and time spent on illustrations online?
Not at all. I think people love seeing illustration online. It’s such a great change from all the photography. My work is messy and not precise, so I think in a way it’s a nice contrast to the digital world.
Do you still attend fashion week/s?
Oh yes, completely! I love going to fashion shows – it’s incredibly exciting to see people’s visions on the runway. The last few seasons I’ve been going to the men’s shows in Europe, and Pitti Uomo, and that’s just an incredible experience to see shows in Milan and Paris, as well as New York.
What are your favorite shows to attend these days? How do you choose which looks to draw?
There are amazing shows in every city – too many to mention. I’m not really sure how I chose what to draw – that’s a good question. A lot of it starts with the silhouette, the shape of the head, the movement. If there’s a great shape coat or hat, and something that defines the collection, then I feel that’s what I need to get on paper.
A couple of years ago you began a project with Prada – is this ongoing? How did this relationship change the scope of your career?
Prada was certainly an amazing experience, and gave me a kind of visibility that I don’t think I had before. Because of the international power of the brand, the scope of my career became larger. But that’s not to say that smaller brands have been less important. I’m always grateful for people putting their faith into my work when they commission me for a job. I’m always happy to be working!
As the ultimate in-demand illustrator, how do you decide which projects to take on?
I really look at the integrity of the brand, and the people behind the name. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with amazing people, who happen to be at amazing companies. And it’s also a shared vision – are we getting each other – it’s almost an unspoken communication.
Do you have a dream collaboration or illustration?
This sounds corny, but every collaboration has been pretty fantastic. From large companies like Prada, to US companies like J. Crew, who really gave me my first break – they have all been fantastic. But of course I dream, about animation, a show at a gallery, a new book… always something.
Who are your favorite designers to wear?
I wear pretty simple clothes – I like to get things down to a uniform so that I can put my energy into other things. I just got some pieces from AMI that I love – jeans that are looser and baggier than what I’ve been wearing. It’s nice to feel a new silhouette. I have a few cashmere crew neck sweaters from J. Crew that I wear like t-shirts, then a jean jacket in denim or wool for winter. So I keep it pretty simple, and then I go for a good pair of shoes – from Prada or these great velvet slippers from Stubbs & Wootton.
What do you love most about living in New York?
The mix, the vitality, the energy, the openness. To me, New York represents a great human experiment that works – as if someone said ‘let’s get as many different people as possible and put them into a really small space and see what happens’ – and it all works. That amazes me as much today as it did when I moved here almost 40 years ago. I have a 16-year-old daughter and I see how much she loves it here too, so it’s like seeing the city all over again, with a fresh set of eyes. I feel very fortunate for that.