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Leo Greenfield

Studio Visit

29th November, 2013
Lucy Feagins
Friday 29th November 2013

Fashion illustrations by illustrator Leo Greenfield at his temporary workspace whilst in residence at the Paris atelier of Australian fashion designer Martin Grant.   Photo - Claire Pathe.

Leo crossed paths with legendary photographer Bill Cunningham at Paris Fashion week this year!  This photo taken at Leo's temporary workspace whilst in residence at the Paris atelier of Australian fashion designer Martin Grant.   Photo - Claire Pathe.

Leo at work. Photo - Claire Pathe.

Leo Greenfield at his temporary workspace whilst in residence at the Paris atelier of Australian fashion designer Martin Grant.   Photo - Claire Pathe.

Around 18 months ago it was my trusty offsider Lisa Marie Corso (aka TDF's intrepid editorial coordinator) who tipped me off about the amazing Leo Greenfield. Lisa ALWAYS has her finger firmly on the pulse of all interesting creating happenings across Melbourne and beyond, and she was adamant that Mr Greenfield was one Australian creative worth keeping a close eye on. BOY was she onto something!

The result of this fortuitous tip off, at the time, was a short 'n sweet little post which ran in June 2012, in which we introduced Leo's unique fashion illustrations, drawn from memory, and his wonderful self titled blog. Since then, as predicted by our very own Oracle Corso, Leo's star has been well and truly on the rise!

After scoring tickets to Paris Fashion Week in 2012, Leo's whimsical take on 'street style' blogging began to gather serious momentum.  Earlier this year, he connected with the team at Australian Vogue, and was invited in August to travel to Sydney to illustrate the women of Vogue at work!  'It was a honour to be artist in residence at the office of Vogue, and meet all the wonderful women that make the magazine such an iconic publication' he says of this incredible experience.  The resulting illustrations featured recently in the October 2013 edition of Australian Vogue.

AND THEN Leo moved to Paris!  He attended Paris Fashion Week just last month, documenting the adventure in his own unique way by creating a special illustrated Fashion Week diary for Vogue.com.  Along the way, Leo has had more than his fair share of starstruck moments, placed amongst fashion royalty for some of the season's most anticipated runway shows, and meeting his ultimate icon - Bill Cunningham!

Day to day, Leo's practice is intense and very disciplined.  'I treat my practice as a day job' he explains below, favouring early starts and prolific, long days at his drawing desk. At present he is happily ensconced in the incredible Paris atelier of Australian fashion designer Martin Grant, acting as illustrator in residence. 'I am fascinated by the old fashioned idea of fashion houses using illustrators in their process' explains Leo about this brilliant opportunity. 'The project has been going very well.  I am looking forward to approaching more brands based in Paris, such as Dior and Chanel'.

I'm guessing there probably isn't a huge number of Paris-based readers tuning in today, but it would be negligent of me NOT to mention that Leo has a very special little exhibition opening in Paris next week!  Drawing Paris is an exhibition of drawings made by Leo during Paris Fashion Week this year, as seen in VOGUE!  It promises to be a gorgeous little show and I must say, you'd be crazy not to snap up one of Leo's original paintings before he gets too famous!

Huge thanks to Leo for sharing his story with us today, and for basically co-ordinating his own photo shoot!  (Bit tricky to do from here, you know).  Also massive thanks to Claire Pathe for stepping in at the eleventh hour to photograph Leo's workspace for us, and to Martin Grant Paris for graciously allowing us to photograph Leo whilst in residence at Martin Grant's Atelier.

Drawing Paris - Leo Greenfield
An exhibition of drawings made during Paris Fashion Week, as seen in VOGUE

TUCK SHOP
13 rue Lucien Sampaix
Paris, France
December 4th 2013 - January 24th 2014

Tell us a little about your background – how did you first get started with your fashion illustrations? Have you always loved fashion?

I have always loved drawing, and especially painting with water colours. I lived on a farm as a little kid, and dreaming away the day was pretty wonderful with paints at hand. This is where is all started for me.

As a teenager I also drew a lot, working on imaginary designer collections or noting looks from the street. I wanted to be a designer at this time, and later at university I would write about fashion and art for the weekly Uni rag, On Dit (Adelaide University).

I shot local designer collections, always storyboarding the shoot before hand. It was through this process that I realised my instincts were pushing me back towards drawing. I was fascinated by fashion, but I wanted to develop an art practice. So I enrolled to study drawing at the Victorian College of the Arts (after studying and completing a Bachelor of International Studies and a Post Graduate Diploma of Art History at Adelaide University). At the VCA I was able to experiment with a wide range of art practices, but drawing stayed in my system.

I started blogging my drawings of impressions from street style in 2008. Only later did I start to think of them a fashion illustrations. I became very interested in borrowing the language of the fashion atelier, and apply it to contemporary culture.

Blogging reminded me of university journalism, which I had greatly enjoyed, and over the years I worked to develop an art practice that takes a journalistic approach.

My first point of call therefore is fashion journalism. Often considered decadent and therefore overlooked, fashion to me is an integral part of who we are. As a craft and a social phenomenon, it reflects our attitudes and politics. I believe, if you document and comment on fashion, you are really creating social commentary. I want my drawings to talk about people, real people and how they live.

 'Chanel on the Streets' - one of the stunning illustrations from Leo's recent diary from Paris Fashion Week for Vogue.com!
How and when did you score tickets to your first Paris fashion week to begin with? Do you have plans to travel to other major fashion events in other capital cities to expand your practice?

Never underestimate the power of cold calling. I crossed my fingers and emailed as many international fashion houses my folio as possible. I did this prior to the Spring/Summer 2012 collections presentation in Paris. I booked my flights to Europe and a few days before I left invites started to come in.

I saw attending Paris Fashion Weeks as a way to extend my practise and my reporting. I wanted to go to the source of all this fashion dreaming. It didn't fail to impress, and still doesn't today. I have since attended fashion weeks in Melbourne and in Sydney, but I would love to hit the road again and see fashion week in places the likes of Singapore, Moscow, Istanbul, Tokyo or New York.

Leo at work. Photo - Claire Pathe.
You’ve recently completed a wonderful series on this year’s Paris Fashion Week for Vogue.com – how did this collab come about, and can you tell us how it has been going? What have been some of the highlights?

Working for Vogue was dream come true.  I have been in touch with Australian Vogue since my first visit to Paris. Although they didn't commission me at the time, an editor sent me a very encouraging email. It really fuelled me! I thought, right, I have a chance to prove myself. I kept in touch and after attending Australian Fashion Week in Sydney this year, I was invited to the office for a meeting.

There I meet with Picture Editor Muffie Sproat and we started brain storming ideas. In August 2013 I packed up my studio and life in Melbourne, and headed to Sydney to illustrate the women of Vogue at work. It was a honour to be artist in residence at the office of Vogue, and meet all the wonderful women that make the magazine such an iconic publication.  My illustrations featured in the October 2013 edition of Australian Vogue.

Following this, I travelled to Paris to attend Fashion Week. I took to the shows of the international designers and the streets of Paris in search of striking moments to illustrate for an online fashion diary for Vogue.com.

Paris Fashion Week is an intense time! So many beautiful moments, so much imagery to consider. But I had three major highlights; attending the opening night of the breathtaking Azzedine Alaïa Retrospective a the Galliera Palace Fashion Museum, sitting in the crowd as fashion royalty looked on in fascination at the Junya Watanabe runway show for Comme des Garçons, and meeting the ultimate fashion super star; Bill Cunningham.

Can you give us a little insight into your process? What materials do you use? Do you sketch totally on site, or do you work on the illustrations after you’re back in your studio? Do you take photos or commit your subjects to memory? Do your subjects know you’re drawing them?

My drawings intend to document people from daily life. For me this process begins with illustrating real fashion from memory. A look or a character may catch my attention at any time, such as in the supermarket or on the bus or train. These drawings are based on how we see and pass each other in the public sphere. I am interested in my process not relying on a camera, the drawings are not exact replicas, but impressions. Therefore the works are created later in my studio and not on site. However at fashion shows I do take notes and sketch details. Fashion shows just go too fast to memorise them!

Good quality paper is one of the essential elements to my process. I am mad about fine papers, and experimenting with the best paper possible. The right paper takes a drawing and gives it weight and makes it more of an art object rather than just an image. Then comes inks and watercolours. My palette of watercolours is one of my favourite objects, whenever I travel it is the first thing I pack. From this tiny collection of colours I create all of my drawings.

To me drawing is like sport, you need to warm up first. So when I start my day in the studio, I start drawing right away. I practice ideas from the street, images and thoughts that seem important. Letter writing is also key to how I start my day, as I draw in my letters and recount events. Again the idea of memory and communicating this memory is central to my work.

The people I draw are most often strangers. Someone who has passed me by chance. Whether a complete original, or someone that adheres to a fashion tribe.  I've committed them to memory and they may never know I drew them.

Other times I conduct interviews or draw my friends and family, so they see the works or sit for the portrait. This has led to me to doing commissioned portraits of couples or families, I love this type of project.

I just interviewed Diane Pernet today over lunch at Tuck Shop in Paris. We talked about the fashion world, why she moved from New York City to Paris over 20 years ago, and at the same time I tried to capture something about her through drawing.

But as the works are impressions, often people see themselves in them, whether it is of them or not. I really like the idea that people find the drawings familiar. I get emails sometimes, saying: 'This is me!' I want my work to create a social portrait of communities and culture. Though they document individuals, collectively the drawings become something broader. A wider social document.

Junya Watanabe / COMME des GARCONS Printemps / Été 2014 - one of the stunning illustrations from Leo's recent diary from Paris Fashion Week for Vogue.com!
What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I treat my practice as a day job. I like to be in the studio early in the morning and work till 6 or a bit later. I really like to make the most of the time I have in the studio. I love walking to the studio, often I get my inspiration while walking in the mornings. People rushing to work can be the most fashionable people in the world.

Emails and diary notes are the first point of call, usually with a good cup tea, to keep me going. Then its into the drawings, posting new blog entries and pretty much just getting lost in the paints, the paper and the materials.

Leo Greenfield at his temporary workspace in the Paris atelier of Australian fashion designer Martin Grant.   Photo - Claire Pathe.
Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?

1. This American Life is my ultimate source of studio inspiration and fuel. It feeds my work and keeps me company while I draw.

2. Ted Talks are wonderful too. I like the feeling of being able to virtually go to 'University' and work away in my studio at the same time.

3. VOGUE! It's always close at hand.

4. The New Yorker, is my favourite read. To contribute to this magazine would be my ultimate dream.

5. Museum archives! To understand the fashion of the street, I turn to the fashion of the past. Working with curators and spending time in fashion archives from days gone by is a vital resource for my work.

Which other artists, designers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?

I am currently artist in residence at the Atelier of the Australian designer Martin Grant, and his process fascinates me. The atmosphere of his studio and being around the talented crafts people in this house is greatly inspiring.

The work of French curator Olivier Saillard is always astounding. He blurs the lines between artist and arts organiser.  His recent performance with the iconic Tilda Swinton will stay with me for years.

Film is important to me in terms of investigating how others tell stories. For this Sofia Coppola is always an obsession of mine.

Diana Vreeland is always in my mind too. Reading about fashion greats is my favourite past time. The fantasy of fashion is vital to telling its story, so reading about her or designers such as Cristóbal Balenciaga always interests me, and greatly influences how I look at contemporary fashion.

I am currently researching the works of Post-Impressionist Jean-Édouard Vuillard, I am interested in the way he captures figures through the texture of their clothing and their environment.

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Working for Vogue is something that I have wanted to do since I was a teenager. So I was pretty proud walking off to work at the office each day during this commission. Seeing the drawings printed in the magazine was the icing on the cake!

What would be your dream project?

It's a bit of a fantasy, but I want to evolve my work and develop animations and narrative projects in motion. In this new era of Fashion Films, I'd love to propose an animated project to the likes of Comme des Garçons.

Another look from Junya Watanabe / COMME des GARCONS Printemps / Été 2014 - one of the illustrations from Leo's recent diary from Paris Fashion Week for Vogue.com!
What are you working on right now?

I am currently working from the studio of Martin Grant Paris, acting as illustrator in residence. I am fascinated by the old fashioned idea of fashion houses using illustrators in their process. The project has been going very well with this high end house. I am looking forward to approaching more brands based in Paris, such as Dior and Chanel.

My art practice is concerned with the language of fashion illustration and applies it to the documentation of contemporary culture. Fascinated by the lost world of the fashion illustrator I have taken to investigating the art form in the grand fashion houses of Paris.

To do so I have approached these ateliers and asked them to take me in as an artist in residence. The project has began with the house of Martin Grant Paris. And here alongside the designer and superbly skilled crafts people I have been drawing, in hope of using illustration to capture the process of high end fashion today.

The world of Martin Grant is rich in elegant imagery. From the atelier to the salon, this brand upholds the fantasy of real Parisian couture. In a world of fast fashion and plastic labelling, this house exudes real luxury and a mystic sense of discretion. There is an endless array of beauty to draw upon, from the architecture of the salon to the meticulous manner in which garments are constructed. Celebrities or royalty may pass through these doors, but they will do so quietly. This house is 'real fashion', and it feels every bit like the fantasy.

Fashion illustrations by illustrator Leo Greenfield at his temporary workspace whilst in residence at the Paris atelier of Australian fashion designer Martin Grant.   Photo - Claire Pathe.

Paris Questions

Your favourite Paris neighbourhood and why?

My favourite quarter in Paris is still Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The city is full to the brim with fascinating places, but the Left Bank is pretty magical to me.

Where do you shop in Paris for the tools of your trade?

When shopping for the tools of my trade I head to Magasin Sennelier found at 3 Quia Voltaire. Karl Lagerfeld also shops here according to the owner, which I am sure is true as he does have a house down the road!

Where / what was the last great meal you ate in Paris?

My last great meal in Paris was the famous burger at Bar 228 in the Hotel de Luxe Le Meurice. Paris has so many great restaurants that having a burger seems a little lazy, but the atmosphere of this hotel is fascinating. It's full of grand tourists on the move and American celebrities like Nicole Richie. Perfect for drawing inspiration.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

On a Saturday morning in Paris you will find me at Cafe de Flore. It has the best hot chocolate in town and if you are lucky you just might catch a glimpse of Karl!

Paris’ best kept secret?

The best kept secret in Paris is, despite all the cliches, that the French are actually some of the sweetest and kindest people you will ever meet!

Leo Greenfield on the streets of Paris.  Photo - Claire Pathe.

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