Illustrating dreams with Megan Hess

December 16, 2019

Toronto was the final stop on Megan Hess’ tour to promote her latest book, Elegance: The Beauty of French Fashion. Following Dubai, London, Paris and New York, world-renowned illustrator arrived on the coldest day in November to autograph books for her devoted fans.

Despite the chilly weather, Hess was utterly elegant, wearing a pink Zimmermann dress accessorized with white Valentino Rockstud heels and a matching purse, as if she had just stepped out of one of her illustrations. While sipping tea, she spoke to FAJO about her projects, style and love for the holiday season in this exclusive Canadian magazine interview.

Megan Hess and her fashion illustrations are the cover story of The Holiday Issue this year.

DARINA GRANIK: How did you come up with the name for Elegance?

MEGAN HESS: The book is about French fashion, so I thought about a word that would sum it up. Elegance to me is what separates French fashion from the rest of the world. There is just something about it that is so chic and elegant. And then the subject matter is something that I am very passionate about, being a fashion illustrator, loving fashion. The 10 French designers in the book are the 10 designers that over the decades kept the incredible DNA of each brand, even when it was a different designer within each fashion house. I really wanted to illustrate and showcase this.

What was your favourite part about writing and illustrating your latest book?

The drawing process itself is my favourite bit. A lot of preparation and planning goes into a book and [into] deciding what’s going to be [included]. But the stage where I know what exactly to draw—and the creative process of just sitting, enjoying and physically drawing it—that’s what I love the most.

The cover of Elegance.

Who are your favourite designers or people to illustrate?

If I had to pick two, I would say Chanel and Dior, just because I think both have really kept what was originally so wonderful about their brands. And I just love their aesthetic.

In terms of the actual characters that I draw, they are imaginary, so they are never based on a model or a person; they are characters in my mind.

Your career slingshot, if I may say, after you illustrated the iconic book cover for Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell in 2008. Would you call her your fairy godmother?

Yes! (smiles)

And speaking of Sex and the City, who have you identified with in the show the most?

I loved the show like so many other women. What was great is that everybody felt that there was a little bit of every character in them. Probably the main character, Carrie Bradshaw, was my favourite, but I think Miranda was the funniest. I loved Charlotte’s style the most, and I think Samantha was the bravest. So, I loved all of them. In terms of fashion, I think it’s the last season where Carrie is going to Paris, and she has the last drink in Manhattan with the girls and has that fluffy pink dress. I don’t know who the designer was, but that was my favourite outfit.

Fashion illustration has become very popular lately. Do you consider yourself to be a pioneer in the field?

I never see myself from the outside, so I don’t know whether I’m a pioneer. But I know that it’s something that I’ve been doing for quite a long time. I don’t necessarily follow a lot of other fashion illustrators because I like to keep my mind fresh towards what I’m working on, and I get a lot of inspiration from other areas. But I meet a lot of really talented young artists who draw. On this book tour, I met nine-year-old girls who have drawn pictures for me, and their work is incredible. My advice to them is to keep drawing what you love; your style and your way of working will find you.

Personally, which methods and tools do you prefer to use? Do you draw by hand on paper or use digital illustration software? Pencil, ink or watercolour?

I actually hand-draw, and I draw with ink. There’s nothing wrong with drawing on an iPad or something like that, but I still hand-draw, and that is the bit that I enjoy. Since my work is often animated, I draw everything separately and then merge it together in layers on a computer. So, when we get to the stage of animating something, all the different elements can move.

You illustrate and write your books. What is your favourite part about the publishing process? What is the most challenging part?

The most challenging part is the deadline of getting it done (laughs) because I work on so many projects at the same time. So, as it gets closer and closer to the deadline, it gets more and more: ‘Oh my God! It’s due in a month, and I still have 50 things to draw!’ That’s the worst and the most stressful bit.

And the best part is seeing it printed. When you look at it as a finished [product], after a thousand drawings on the floor in the studio, rewriting it, and working on all the elements everywhere. It comes together in a beautiful book with golden foil. That’s the reward in the end, when it’s all printed and sitting on a shelf in a bookstore.

Yes, your books are exquisite with their gold-foiled pages.

I am obsessed with details, and I love gold foil, so I make my publisher do the gold foil on everything. (laughs)

You’ve mentioned that you were working on several different projects at the same time. What are you currently working on? What is your next adventure?

Well, the project that we have just launched is a candle collection. I work on books, private commissions and collaborations with luxury brands, but I also develop a lot of products myself, the ones that I am very passionate about. I’m obsessed with candles and scents, so this is something that I’ve been working on for [a long time]. A couple of years ago, I went to Grasse in France and worked with a great parfumerie to come up with the first five fragrances in my candle collection. So, that’s a big project that we have just launched, along with my new book.

And I have just done a project with Estée Lauder. So, that’s a really big project that has just come out. Two years ago, I also created everything for Christmas in terms of packaging for their collection globally.

Next year, I have a new Claris book coming out. That’s my children’s book, [Claris] the Mouse. This time, she goes on an adventure on the French Riviera.

One of the books from the Claris series.

You have collaborated with many high-end fashion houses and brands. What do you consider your biggest career highlight so far?

Last year, I collaborated with Chopard for the Cannes Film Festival, and that was an amazing experience. We worked on a special book that showcased their incredible jewelry. Their pieces are real works of art.

Can you describe your own style in a couple of words?

I have a couple of different speeds for how I dress. When I’m at events, I love to wear a polished, almost lady-like look. I love lace. I love, I guess, a French look. When I travel to somewhere warm, I love to be in complete big-pattern Palazzo trousers and [wear] colour and print. And when I’m working in the studio, I’m actually mostly in head-to-toe black, layered pieces that are really comfortable to draw in but also chic enough that if one of our clients pops by, I still look good and not sloppy.

In Elegance, you mention that your first designer bag was a pink Chanel 2.55. Do you still have and treasure it? What is your go-to bag today?

Yes, I do still have it, and I will always have it. I really treasure any designer piece that I have, and I hope to keep them forever and one day pass them to my daughter. My favourite bag is a limited-edition Chanel bag from the Ritz Collection: it’s a little clutch, based on Coco Chanel’s actual suite at the Ritz. It’s cream leather and gold, like a pillow-box clutch bag that they made, and it’s my most unusual bag and the one I probably love the most.

I also have a cream Boy Chanel bag, which I do wear a lot. I have a little Lady Dior patent leather bag, which is tiny, but it is the perfect dinner bag when I’m wearing something black. So, I have a couple of them on rotation. And it’s always enormous fun to mix them up depending on what I’m wearing.

We are interviewing you for The Holiday Issue, which is about the holiday season. What do you think makes a perfect holiday outfit?

I’m big on holidays! I love it all: I love decorating, love the food. I get really excited about the whole thing! When you are a kid, holidays are such a magical time, and I think it’s fun for adults too, even though you know that certain things are not real.

I love dressing up too! I never wear red in [my everyday] life, but at Christmas I love wearing red or gold with sequins. And, you know, in Australia it’s quite warm, but it does not deter me: I still wear a red dress almost every Christmas. I’m that person, in a red dress with a giant bow. (laughs)

Copy editor: Peter Christensen.

Cover illustration by Megan Hess, extracted from Elegance: The Beauty of French Fashion (C) 2019 by Megan Hess. Reproduced by permission of Hardie Grant Books. 

Photo credit and other illustration credits: Extracted from Elegance: The Beauty of French Fashion (C) 2019 by Megan Hess. Reproduced by permission of Hardie Grant Books.


Story by Darina Granik

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