Richard Haines, a New York fashion illustrator, has an uncanny ability to capture the form, fabric and personality of clothes with an economy of line and often on the fly. He spends his days documenting the fashionable man-on-the-street for his hugely popular blog, “What I Saw Today.” (He stops groovy-looking gents and asks if he can sketch them.) He also creates designs for clients such as Prada, J-Crew and Calvin Klein. In 2012, Prada commissioned Haines to create drawings for a book, app and T-shirt collection, which are in stores now. During Fashion Week, you’ll see him seated front row, sketching for magazines and blogs that hire him to record the nuances of the collections that cannot be captured on film.
Victoria: What do you normally do? And what’s your role during Fashion Week?
Richard: My role? An observer, a flaneur, a recorder of moments...sometimes for myself, sometimes for The New York Times.
Q: What makes you want to stop someone on the street and sketch him?
A: It’s usually guys who have put themselves together in an interesting way, and that happens a lot in Brooklyn, which is why I love living here. I saw a guy on the train yesterday who must have been 6 feet 4 inches tall, in a tiny Barbour jacket, red knit cap, chinos...he looked like a drawing come to life. Alas, he was moving too quickly, so I didn't get a chance to approach him.
Q: How long have you lived in NYC?
A: I’ve been here since Christmas of 1975, so that’s like, what, 38 years! Most of it was in Manhattan, and I moved to Bushwick about four years ago, and I have to say it revitalized me, gave me a new perspective on the city that I didn’t think was possible. I just read that Bushwick has the highest rat complaints in the city, but I’m so grateful to live here, at this moment. Me, the artists and the rats!
Q: What’s your favorite store in Bushwick?
A: That's a good question. There really are no stores here aside from dollar stores and bodegas, which is a great relief from the hyper-consumerism of the rest of the city. I think Bushwick is more about restaurants and coffee bars — Roberta’s, Little Skips, Swallow Cafe — more about meeting places than shopping. If I’m looking for clothes I go right to Acne and Saturdays Surf. They're my go-tos at the moment.
Q: What do you find most compelling about the neighborhood you live in?
A: I guess it’s the old “SoHo” — cheap, abundant space attracts artists, then the restaurants and shops follow. When I moved here, I just loved being in a space that was filled with artists, musicians; so many ideas. There’s an element of experimentation and freedom here that I love. As I was changing my life from one of a designer to an artist, this was the perfect spot for me.
Q: What do you wear for Fashion Week?
A: I like to get it down to a uniform — keep it as comfortable and no-fuss as possible. I can't imagine having to plan out a wardrobe. But of course I'm grateful to the people who do that — they're the ones to draw!
Q: What do you like best about the style you see on the street in NYC?
A: I think there’s a certain swagger and edge here that other cities don’t have. I have this theory that the democratic grid of the city encourages the flow of ideas — like a huge circuit board. Other cities are chic but more static. There’s a vitality here that I’m hooked on.
Q: As a teenager, who did you think was the most glamorous person in the world?
A: I always wanted to wake up one day as Mick Jagger. English, louche, sexy...still waiting.
Q: Who do you think is most glamorous now?
A: Hmm. I don't know if I think in terms of glamorous any longer. I've seen too much behind the scenes to take that on. I do think that Kate Moss still makes me want to move to London, smoke cigarettes, stay out all night, so I guess it's her.
Q: What was it like doing a book with Miuccia Prada?
A: In a word, heaven. It became a real collaboration of ideas, of context, which for an artist is amazing. And Prada’s vision to push boundaries and try the unexpected is just extraordinary.
Q: Describe a good day at work.
A: The coffee’s just right, Pandora is streaming perfectly, I'm doing some really good drawings, seeing some amazing-looking people on the street and drawing them, having a lovely meal with friends, maybe at Smile on Bond Street, then maybe going to a club or party and seeing more gorgeous, inspiring people. Some job, huh?
Q: Describe your look in two words.
A: Maybe “American artist” or “classic artist.” I think I have a look, but I'm very understated, low key.
Q: What are three things you want right now?
A: A boyfriend. The coins to buy a space in the city or a shack in the country where I can paint. For my daughter to get into a good college. And some Acne jeans.
Q: What’s a look that you used to love that you don’t anymore?
A: I'm pretty consistent on what I love. I grew up on images of the Stones, Jane Birkin, Marisa Berenson — that period of louche, thrown-together chic, so I never loved a look that's matchy or all one designer. After seeing people on the streets for New Year’s Eve, I don't want to see another woman in a pair of ginormous platform shoes. That got played out in a not cool way.
Q: Who are illustrators you admire?
A: There are so many, from Christian Bérard and Eric in the ‘30s, to Antonio in the ‘60s and ‘70s, to Jean-Philippe Delhomme. I just saw a show of drawing at the Morgan, and I have to say a good drawing — a pure, honest line, makes me weak in the knees.
Q: What is your definition of cool? Or how do you define chic?
A: I guess I'll go back to louche or scruffy. There's a kind of guy I see around the Morgan stop of the L train — the bad boy/artist/musician that pretty much sums up what's happening for me now.
Q: What do you think of dandyism these days?
A: I think the world can never have enough art, beauty, creativity and love. If dandyism comes along with that, that's great. I do think there is a huge shift in men being much more in touch with their sexuality, and a comfort with playing with style. I know it because I draw it, and I love seeing that happening.
Q: Describe the perfect suit. And do you prefer English or Italian?
A: I love that the Italians are Anglophiles, the do such amazing things with an English look, but add the Italian sensuality, and I would have to say Italian. I just got a charcoal grey cashmere jacket from Public School that I'm really loving.
Q: Who’s your tailor?
A: My tailor days are behind me. I ordered a custom suit and blazer at Brooks Brothers, but that was about 100 years ago.
Q: What’s something that men should never wear?
Q: What do you notice first about someone?
A: The way they stand, their innate style, the mix of pieces that's unexpected.
Q: What get’s you out of bed in the morning?
A: Fresh ground coffee, and knowing that I'll see someone on the street who will make me want to make a new drawing!