There’s something very romantic about illustration. In a world of hi-tech digital design and mass-produced products, the craftsmanship and traditional techniques of putting pen to paper to create a hand-drawn image seems a little ‘ye olde world’. Turning that art into a successful profession even more so.
That’s why fashion illustrator Kerrie Hess’ remarkable international success is something to behold – she’s worked alongside iconic brands like CHANEL and Louis Vuitton. Her latest collaboration? To create a capsule shoe collection for artisanal shoe brand Ballettonet.
“It’s a crazy career choice, when you think about it! I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I guess I’ve figured out along the way how to make it a career, because I never wanted it to be a hobby. I think it’s all about understanding as an artist what your value is – it’s so important to have faith in that. I’ve made lots of mistakes along the way, but that has been my biggest lesson: to value my skills and my art,” says Kerrie. “And collaborating with projects like this has been an amazing way of using a skill such as illustration to branch out and do something different.”
The Ballettonet capsule collection consists of eight flat-shoe designs, including a classic ballet flat, a point toe flat, and a quirky little French Bulldog, made by Italian artisans in the Civitanova La Marche region.
“This was two years in the making. I was really fastidious in every step of this process in terms of hardware, going through thousands of samples, choosing fabrics, everything. I never understood how much was involved in footwear before the process,” says Kerrie.
When I mention the over-used quote espoused by celebrities that they have been “involved in every step of the creative process”, Kerrie laughs with me.
“I always doubt that when I hear that too!” But she’s quick to rebut any sarcasm. She was, in fact, involved in everything from the selection of the ribbon to the design of the shoe’s packaging.
“I think I’ve driven the Italians crazy by making a lot of changes! But if I’m putting my name on it, it has to be right. We’re only producing 50 to 150 of each style of these shoes, so everyone who buys one will receive a handwritten little note along with them.”
Kerrie, who once lived in Paris, says ballet flats are a classic staple for any woman who lives in the City of Light and says she always thinks of Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face whenever she reminisces about the French capital.
“I don’t really follow the trends – I pretty much never illustrate what’s current. I’m all about what’s classic and tend to be more attracted to a vintage aesthetic,” she says. “I tend to just illustrate in my own world.”
It’s easy to be inspired when you’re living in a Parisian apartment, with the stereotypical French woman with her French Bulldog living next door (which, by the way, is the muse for the bulldog on the inner sole of each of the shoes, as well as on the toes of the black suede Frenchie Flats).
Kerrie feels she has walked the tightrope of diversifying while still staying completely authentic and committed to her art, a tough call in today’s entrepreneurial world, in which many have had to compromise to stay afloat.
“I think I’ve always had a long-term view of my career, even when I started out. And in the end, it’s probably more the jobs that you turn down that define your path than the ones that you say yes to.”
Say yes to the first brand that comes along
As an artist, if you can hold out for the few or even the one brand in any sector that you truly want to work with, this is the best long-term view. I don’t believe in saying yes to the first brand that asks to collaborate.
Trust your gut
I had quite a few companies ask me about collaborating on phone cases. They were all to be mass-produced offshore and it was always easy to say no to that. I always ask myself, is this truly right for myself and my community?
Find an excerpt of this article in Issue 23 of The Collective, coming out Monday 6th July