I still remember the first illustration by Jordi Labanda that stopped me in my tracks and made me want to live in the pages of a magazine. The scene was colourful: a lively fashion party, filled with impossibly chic characters who were sipping martinis — the world captured and re-imagined as a flawless fantasy.
Flip through any international magazine and you’re bound to feel the “Jordi Labanda effect” through his illustrated advertisements for brands like Dior, Louis Vuitton, Adidas, Moncler and Grand Marnier. The Uruguay-born, Spanish-raised illustrator splits his time between New York City and his hometown of Barcelona. Balancing corporate and editorial work for publications such as Vogue Japan, WWD, Vogue USA and Wallpaper, Labanda has garnered a global following since stepping onto the scene to spearhead the resurgence of fashion illustration in the 1990s.
This month, we caught up with him to chat about his love of people-watching, his disdain for fashionistas and how he continues to grow as a commercial artist.
JULIA ESKINS: You’ve achieved international recognition for your work — a rarity for many illustrators. If you could pinpoint the key to your success, what would you say it is?
JORDI LABANDA: I think it’s about the message. At the end of the day, an illustrator is not a gallery artist. An illustrator must communicate a message. I think that people must like the way I interpret reality and give it back to them in the form of an illustration.
How would you describe your style?
I think my signature is to always incorporate some kind of elegance. My use of irony is my second touch. I feel that my work is always refined but has a bit of humour, while also being very colourful and positive.
It’s true — I think many people would love to live in the worlds you create in your illustrations.
[laughs] Maybe. In fact, I’m working on a new book by shoe designer Manolo Blahnik. Inside he writes, “I want to live in Jordi’s work.”
My illustrations are more of a fantasy than a depiction of the real world, but who doesn’t want to enjoy life and be happy?
Speaking of humour and enjoying life, many of your illustrations include funny dialogue or captions. Is this something you come up with yourself?
Yes, it’s a part of my work that I really enjoy. You can work for the most amazing clients, but it’s often someone else’s idea. So I love to put a line of text in my work because it allows me to have a voice, which I think is the most important thing for artists today.
You have both corporate and editorial clients — do you prefer one over the other?
I have to say, I enjoy everything. I enjoy the magazine work because you have more freedom to express yourself. A magazine always wants a fantasy.
I don’t consider myself a fashion illustrator. I consider myself an illustrator that can do whatever the client asks. I always use fashion in my work as a tool to stress an idea.
When you work with corporate clients, you have to follow their guidelines. However, I think it’s very exciting when a corporate client can push you to create something interesting. I love commerciality. Many artists or illustrators have a battle inside, not wanting to be commercial, but I really love it.
Where do you find the inspiration for your characters?
In general, everybody and everything inspires me. Sometimes, it’s a friend, sometimes it’s a character from a film, and sometimes it’s someone that I see on the street or meet at a party.
I’m very curious and love to watch people in general because they are a limitless source of inspiration. I especially love women who are very elegant but not overdressed. I don’t like fashionistas at all.
What has been your favourite project to date?
If I had to pick one, I’d say maybe all the work that I did for Wallpaper magazine back in the late 1990s because that was the beginning of my career. Also, it was the beginning of a whole new aesthetic related to lifestyle, fashion and design in general.
It seems that fashion illustration has recently seen a resurgence in popularity. Do you have some insight as to why this is happening now?
My perception is that illustration has been experiencing a resurrection since the early 1990s, but over the last few years many young people have tried to be fashion illustrators. Today, through the Internet, it’s very easy to share and see other people’s work. It’s a way to generate inspiration for everybody.
I always have a lot on my desk. Right now, I’m doing a wine campaign for Austria, [and] I’m preparing the February issue illustrations for my page in Vogue Japan — I’ve been a contributor to Vogue Japan for four years.
The most exciting thing right now is that I’m working in video. I’m doing some fashion films with a creative partner. We just shot something for I-D Magazine, and we recently did something for Dries Van Noten, which we are still preparing.
How has working in a new medium affected your career?
I love it because it’s helping me grow as a professional. Anything that pushes you to move out of your comfort zone is amazing. I’m developing parts of my taste and imagination that were not as well developed before.
In one word, what emotion would you say your illustrations evoke in people around the world?
I think that happiness is something that people don’t make a priority, especially in fashion. Today, all the images are very serious and depressing.
It’s insane that in fashion you’re forced to think one year in advance. For this reason, I think that everyone who works in the industry is a little bit crazy. [laughs] Everyone should work a bit more on finding happiness.
Illustrations above (clockwise, from top left): AD Magazine and Fiat, 2012; Cossi fan tutte, 2009; Moncler limited edition, 2011; El Magazine de La Vanguardia, 2013.