Richard Haines was so close.
He recalls the moment vividly in this episode of Design Matters: He was around the age of 10, and he was looking through a copy of his grandfather’s New York Times. It was the early ’60s. Combing the issue, he was speechless at what he discovered: a series of simple yet incredibly impactful fashion illustrations of Givenchy and Dior collections.
“[I had] such an intense, visceral, emotional reaction to it. Those drawings are exquisite, and they’re everything I’ve ever worked for.”
As a child, he was so close to realizing what his life’s work would be. But it would be decades before he embraced it. Sometimes you have to wait.
Drawing has colored Haines’ life for as long as he can remember. It began as an anomaly to his naval officer father and family, as Haines went about sketching things like flowers and wedding dresses at the age of 5. Over the years it has been many things to him: A coping mechanism and escape as a child when his father became seriously ill. A way to carve out his own identity and universe after pinging around from Iceland to Washington D.C. in his formative years.
Alongside those couture drawings, there was another key early influence: the Lascaux cave paintings in France. As Haines detailed in an interview with the clothing brand GANT, “To me, it’s really the first way of saying, ‘I was here, I saw this, and I’m sharing this information.’ Drawing is a very primal thing.”
He nabbed his first illustration gig as a sophomore in high school, creating an ad for a women’s shop in Virginia that ran in Washingtonian magazine. All the early indicators of a framework for a career were there—so Haines moved to New York City with the intention of being a famous fashion illustrator. But then reality challenged his assumptions: He discovered that in fashion editorial, photography had deposed illustration. He realized that he had never formally studied his would-be craft. He was crippled by self-doubt; each line he drew he obsessively deconstructed and analyzed—is this what people want to see? His parents didn’t think there was a career in fine art. He wanted to please them.
So he turned his back on illustration. He went into fashion design. And though it wasn’t his passion, he excelled at it, building a thriving career and creating work for the likes of J.Crew, Calvin Klein, Sean Combs, Perry Ellis and many others, while making great money and living in a 5th Avenue apartment in Manhattan.
And then something happened. Around 2008, Haines experienced the worst year of his life, or arguably the best—a complete, all-encompassing seismic shift. He was married to a woman, and got divorced. He lost his job in the heyday of the financial crisis. Broke, he left Manhattan and moved to Bushwick in Brooklyn, before it became the hipster paradise it is today.
He was in his 50s and his life had been forcefully, and mercilessly, reset. One wonders if he would have left the safety of his fashion design life on his own accord. Perhaps the upheaval was completely necessary for him to do what he did next—found his calling, finally.
A friend suggested he start a blog. After all, it was free, and he was, well, broke.
It changed everything.
After brainstorming concepts and hooks, he had an epiphany. As he tells Debbie Millman in this episode, it was thus: “Fuck it, I just want to draw. I love living here so much and I see incredible stuff every day. I’m just going to call it ‘What I Saw Today’ and post what I see—or my version of what I see.”
He did. And it resonated with people. Wandering Bushwick, he would sketch men that caught his eye, using wildly simple lines to tell complex stories. His work thrives on omission; with the select details that flow from his hand, we get a complete picture of the subject, and perhaps a hint at how Haines, a master editor, sees the world.
After a lifetime of bottling his talent, it poured neatly. And it earned quick, and wide, acclaim—the salivating dream of every would-be blogger toiling for years in the hopes of such a break. Roping illustration work from Prada, Dries Van Noten, The New York Times and GQ, and live drawing commissions at fashion shows around the world, Haines was a man reborn, and reborn into the most genuine version of himself.
The key to his style?
“I think that it goes back to being 5. To me, a line is the most beautiful thing in the world. It’s all the humanity. It’s pain, pleasure. It’s beauty, it’s not beauty. Those are all the things I see every day in humanity.”
Perhaps life autocorrects. Perhaps it brings balance, works in a cyclical nature. Or perhaps, as Haines has noted, he had to absorb everything he could in the fashion industry to be able to do what he does seemingly with mystic ease today; as he told Port magazine, “When I draw I know exactly where the pocket goes or where the lapel falls because I spent so many years working with pattern makers, being in fittings.”
Sometimes you have to wait.
“I really believe that things happen when they’re ready to happen,” he says in this episode. “I think that if this had happened at 30 or 40 it would be a really different thing. It wasn’t meant to happen.”
Life takes time. Life takes its time. Patience is not a virtue. But perhaps it’s a necessity in the creative arts.
Debbie Millman: Once upon a time, oh, back in the 1970's, Richard Haines moved to New York to become an illustrator. He found work as a fashion designer instead, for the likes of Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, and Bill Blass, and was very successful at it.
In 2008, after some major professional and personal changes, he started a blog for his illustrations, mostly of well‑dressed guys out on the street. It took off. Now, he's a go‑to illustrator for the "New York Times," "GQ," for fashion brands, and he's huge on Instagram.
Full circle, yet the circle is not yet complete. Richard Haines, welcome to "Design Matters."
Richard Haines: Thank you so much for that lovely introduction.
Debbie: Oh, thank you. Let's talk a little bit about your past. Your father was a naval officer in the military. You moved around quite a bit as you were growing up, but you were born in Panama.
Debbie: Do you have any memory of that?
Richard: I don't have memories of it. I like going through the photo albums, but I was maybe two when we moved. It kind of plays a big role because people always say, "Were you born in Idaho?" I say, "No, I was actually born in Panama." It feels like a big part, but I don't really remember it.
Debbie: You started to draw when your dad was very sick. You were very young and used it as a way of coping with what was happening to him and to your family. How old were you at the time, and what kinds of things were you drawing?
Richard: I was probably four or five. As soon as I could hold a pencil, I was drawing. I remember creating these alternate worlds of gardens and all this kind of beauty and flowers and, for some reason, wedding dresses and gowns.
Debbie: Not very typical for a five‑year‑old. [laughs]
Richard: No, it was really not. This was 1956. In a military family, this was not an accepted thing at all.
Debbie: Were they worried? Were your family worried?
Richard: They wouldn't even acknowledge that there was a...Even to say you're worried was an emotion. It was just, "It's not really happening, so we'll pretend..."
Debbie: [laughs] They were in denial.
Richard: They were really in denial. They were really in denial. I put the pieces together about why I started drawing, and I think it was a way to escape, for a lot of different reasons, what was going on.
Debbie: Now, you went to Catholic school. You were an altar boy. This may have been why they were in denial. At one point, I understand you also wanted to be a priest.
Richard: Wow, you really do your research. I did. I don't even know what... [laughs] I can't even explain. I think it was another way...
Debbie: It's a little bit hard for me to envision this.
Richard: It's really hard to envision. I did. I was a really bad altar boy because, back then, you'd have fast the day before, and I would always faint.
Debbie: Oh, dear.
Richard: I loved the ritual and the garb. I don't know. I think it was another way of, maybe, escaping. I don't think it was ever really about being devout or being a good Catholic. It was more a way out. It was, "Well, I don't know. If I can't do anything else, I'll be a priest," but I was five, so who knows.
Debbie: I read that when you were five or six, you started drawing on the church notebooks with...The ones that had the rough, grainy fabrics. [laughs] Though you weren't supposed to, you loved the feeling of the crayons on the fabric. Did anybody ever discover your secret behavior, or is this something that you were doing surreptitiously?
Richard: I can still remember that tactile feel of scratchy notebooks and what the crayons were doing. I thought, "Well, this is cool." All the other guys were drawing World War II bomber planes and explosions. I was drawing wedding dresses. I wasn't even really...It was, "Well, this is what I wanna draw."
Debbie: Your grandfather got The New York Times every day. When you were about 10, you were looking through it and came upon the coverage of the Paris couture collections. This was in the early '60s, and there were all these beautiful, elegant fashion illustrations of Givenchy and Dior.
I read that you thought, "Oh, my God! How can someone make these beautiful drawings with just a few lines and give out all that information?" That is such a perfect description of what a great illustrator can do.
Richard: It's interesting. I remember exactly that moment of looking at those drawings, and that feeling, and thinking, "How did I even know what to process out of that?" It was such an intense, visceral, emotional reaction to it. There's was no turning back. I've gone back to The New York Times microfilm to look at those drawings.
They're exquisite, and they were everything I've ever worked for as an illustrator, which is telling something in a way that brings the viewer in and can be effortless.
Debbie: At 13, you moved to Iceland, where you said that all the men look like Mick Jagger. I'm like, wow. [laughs] Really? That's the first time I've ever heard that.
Debbie: It was there you got your first job, which I believe was bagging groceries. What did you think you wanted to do at that point in your life when you got older? What were you envisioning for yourself?
Richard: I had a feeling it was something in fashion. I'm 66. To talk to anyone younger than 60, they really can't imagine that there wasn't access to all this information, but in 1964, '65, in Iceland, there wasn't. I knew it was something with colors, something in art, but I didn't really know what that meant.
Debbie: You returned to Washington, DC, to go to high school. I read that you used your drawing as a way to transition from the 40‑student school in Iceland to this sprawling school outside of DC where everyone "dressed the same and was the same." Did you feel like an outsider at that point or...?
Richard: Oh, yeah.
Richard: Yeah. I did, after living in Iceland and being in this really contained world and then going to this huge suburban school and everyone really did navy sweaters, chinos. It was really the height of that look, and I was shocked. I was shocked.
Debbie: Hard to go from Mick Jagger to chinos.
Richard: It was really like Mick Jagger to Troy Donahue.
Richard: Only not as romantic as that or as interesting. I thought, "OK, I'm here and I'm going to have to really survive this." I immediately transformed. I bought all the clothes. I just kind of became this...It was really the only way for me to deal with what was around me. I realized that, by drawing, I could at least separate myself, make a place there.
Debbie: You went to Virginia Commonwealth University. You majored in fine art and graphic arts. You've said that as much as you love fashion and illustration, at that point, you really didn't think of it as a career. Why not?
Richard: The whole idea of a designer, I didn't really understand. Again, I graduated from high school in '69. People weren't talking about Calvin Klein or Yves Saint Laurent. There really wasn't...
Debbie: Right. I graduated in '79 and that was just when people started really talking about Calvin Klein.
Richard: It was when it really, really started to turn around. Again, I knew it was something. I was always drawing. Always. I was always doing fashion illustration. I'd spend the weekend copying magazines, and looking at the newspaper and copying that, but my parents, they would never have sent me to school for that, so there was also a compromise.
Debbie: I learned how to draw because my mother was a seamstress and, on the side, she would put ads in the Pennysaver and would make custom clothes for people. Usually, there were people that were either very large or very small because they couldn't find clothes in regular department stores.
After she made each outfit, she would draw the outfit on a mannequin and cut out some of the squares of the fabric. That's how I learned how to draw.
Richard: That's amazing.
Debbie: It is amazing, actually, thinking back on it now.
Richard: I would have loved to have had that.
Debbie: There's always stories, right? Always stories. You didn't think of it as a career. You graduated from New York City. You arrived in Manhattan in the winter of '75 and thought it was the most amazing place to be, which, of course, it was.
Richard: It was, and it still is.
Debbie: It still is, but 1975, the mid‑70s in New York City, what was it like?
Richard: It's funny. I was walking here and I was just thinking how different...You could not pay people to live here. Really, the only people who were living here were people who couldn't afford to get out and 25‑year‑olds who were really ambitious from other places.
To be 25 here is heaven. The city was falling apart. There were no services. There were fires everywhere. It was dangerous, but, when you're 25, that's...
Richard: It's everything. Yeah, it's great. It's great.
Debbie: Where did you live at the time?
Richard: My first apartment was on Hudson and Charles.
Debbie: My first apartment was on Hudson and Perry.
Richard: See. People said, "Well, it's safeish there. You'll be OK." I think the rent was like $110 for a studio.
Debbie: One of your first jobs was as an illustrator at Vogue Patterns. You originally taught yourself to draw from fashion photos and copying department store ads, but did you study illustration at all at VCU?
Debbie: Nothing at all, but you're still doing all this drawing on the side. That was where you're feeling your soul?
Richard: It was where the passion was. I taught myself how to draw figures. I bought one of those little wooden mannequins to bend them and copy that, but by the time I moved to New York, I thought, "Well, I'm gonna move to New York and be this fabulous fashion illustrator like Antonio or Michaele Vollbracht," but, by the time I got here, I realized, "Well, I've never really studied it.
"I don't even know how to put a portfolio together so I got to kind of wing it." That's when things started to change.
Debbie: You said that your drawings at the time were very different from the illustrations that you're known for now. You said, "It wasn't loose and it wasn't easy. It was very tight and people‑pleasing." What does that mean exactly? How were you trying to please people with the kind of drawing you were doing?
Richard: I was so into having people love what I did, ‑‑ and that's really not a reason to do anything ‑‑ and to approve of it, and to say, "Oh my gosh. This is fabulous." I was so self‑conscious, and that was in my head. It was never about, "I just need to make this drawing."
It was about, "Is this right?" or, "Are people going to like this? Is this the right thing?" Every line was self‑conscious and studied.
Debbie: Was there a moment at that point when you made a conscious decision to not pursue being an illustrator? Was there a moment where you said, "You know what, Richard? What were you thinking?"
Richard: I'm never really that... [laughs] It's just, "Oh!" Back then, it was really easy to get a job. I was at Vogue Patterns. I was illustrating. This woman, this big nightlife personality who was a stylist there said, "Oh, I'm leaving and I'll recommend you for a job as a stylist for 'Vogue Patterns' magazine."
I just thought, "Well, this is my ticket to fabulous, so I'll do that." I just stopped drawing. Then I started styling and then I got more and more into fashion design.
Debbie: When was that moment where you thought, "OK, fashion design. This is the career I'm going to pursue"?
Richard: Probably my first real job was a woman called Kathy Hardwick.
Debbie: That was where you designed your first collection.
Richard: Yeah. She had her own company. She basically taught me everything.
Debbie: Did you think at that time, looking back on it, that it would be easier to be a fashion designer than an illustrator? Was that part of the decision‑making process?
Richard: [laughs] There wasn't. There really was no...
Debbie: There really wasn't. You just abandoned it. There was no...
Richard: I was this kid and it was, "This looks like an amazing opportunity." Also, fashion illustration was starting to really wane. All of a sudden, all the big department stores went from illustration to photography. It was not having its moment, so I thought, "I don't see my life in this.
"I think design is much bigger. I can travel." Basically, I thought, "My parents will think I'm really amazing because I turned out to be a big, fabulous designer."
Debbie: The first collection you ever designed was for Kathy Hardwick.
Debbie: I understand you designed little dresses made out of terry cloth.
Richard: Wow. [laughs] Oh my God, you really do your research. Yeah, it was brilliant. I found this really cheap terry cloth and made these little dresses like...
Debbie: Please tell me you have pictures.
Richard: Back then, there were no...Not like now.
Debbie: No, did you draw anything up? Did you...
Richard: I think I might have some of the drawings.
Debbie: You have to post them.
Richard: They were these great terry cloth colors and these little tank dresses. I never studied design, but I had an idea of what I thought looked great on people.
Debbie: You also worked for big houses like Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, Perry Ellis. You said that when a designer goes to work for a large house like Calvin Klein, the goal is to enhance the vision of the person who owns the company. You said that when you went to work there, you found it easy to do that then, but likely couldn't do that now.
Richard: Yeah. I could never do it. I could collaborate. I have collaborated. I've collaborated with people like Dries and Prada, but part of what was so thrilling about starting a blog and drawing was just this is my vision. This is really my voice. Collaboration, yeah, but going back and deferring that way, no.
Debbie: What was the biggest thing you learned from Calvin?
Richard: Calvin was/is a brilliant marketer. I was there in the mid‑80s and he was launching fragrances and underwear. I sat next to this guy, and he was doing it all.
I look back now and I think, "Jeez, what an amazing thing to work with someone like that, next to him, travel with him, and see him take a pair of boxer shorts and make it become this incredibly charged, sexual, wonderful, desirable thing? It's brilliant."
Debbie: It was really brilliant.
Richard: It was really brilliant.
Debbie: It changed the fashion industry forever.
Richard: It changed fashion. It's changed advertising. It changed the fashion industry. It changed commercials. It changed how people see each other in fashion. It was really an extraordinary moment, and I was there.
Debbie: You also worked with Sean Combs aka P. Diddy.
Debbie: Yes, Puff Daddy. I've worked with him twice. I worked with him back in the early '90s when I was working with Hot 97 and then when he launched his water brand, AQUAhydrate. It was really, really interesting experiences, especially since there were 20 years apart to see how much he grew. What did you think about working with him?
Richard: It's working with another person who has an incredible vision of where they are in the world. He's driven. Anyone who's that laser‑focused, hats off.
Debbie: Did you design his collection?
Richard: I wasn't. I was working with the designers and coordinating the design with local production to get all the samples made. It was great. I was there for five months, 24/7, but I loved it.
Debbie: You said that you had an amazing run all the way up to 2008. That's when the economy tanked and you lost your job. In many ways, your whole life is different from pre‑2008 to post‑2008. At the time, you were married to a woman. You had a very posh apartment on 5th Avenue and 10th Street. You then got a divorce, lost a lot of money. This was your second marriage to a woman. Is that right?
Debbie: You stated that, when you moved to New York in the '70s, you were very gay. Then certain things happened in your life, and a lot of your friends died, and you freaked out. You really wanted to have a child and that was the way to have a child at the time. You got married, had a daughter, and then you decided to re‑come out.
You came out, then you went back in, and then you came out again. What was that experience like for you?
Richard: I'm still trying to figure out [laughs] how to articulate it. It wasn't as off and on as it seems. The women I'd married knew my history. I was very committed to being in the relationships with them. I knew after the second marriage that I would not be with women again.
How much of that is turning myself on and off, I'm still not quite sure. At the end of the day, it led me to exactly where I am, and I have an amazing daughter, so it all worked out. It was a really strange, terrifying time.
Debbie: In what way?
Richard: My friends and I were really at the very center of AIDS and I lost all my friends. My really close friend, John, who we went to Fire Island every summer, he was gay. He married a woman, Kejon, and they introduced me to someone. It just seemed like this lifeline and like a safe zone because everything was imploding. Everything I knew was completely blowing up in my face.
Debbie: Did you feel like you were living a pretend life being married to a woman?
Richard: I never did. I think there were parts that were maybe I wasn't really honest with myself, even about where I wanted to live and who I wanted to be, so there was a big picture. Again, I was always honest about being with these women and so it wasn't a pretend life. I had some of my friends from the past, so it wasn't like I just went through this looking glass into this other thing.
Debbie: You said that the most difficult moment of your life was telling your daughter you were gay because you thought she might not love you anymore.
Debbie: I felt the exact same thing with my brother. It was really, really tough. When I told him, he looked at his wife and said, "I told ya." He knew all along and it never mattered a bit. What was it like for you?
Richard: She asked me. This was maybe a year after her mother and I had gotten a divorce. She said, "Are you gay?" She's probably 11.
Debbie: She just asked you at the table?
Richard: Yeah, we were having dinner.
Debbie: Like, "Daddy, are you gay?"
Richard: "Daddy, are you gay?" I said, "Yeah, yeah." She kind of pulled away from the table and that, at that second, was just, "Shit. If she loves me less, that would be unbearable." It was just kind of her processing it.
Debbie: Also just the notion that somebody would love you less for being who you are is horrifying.
Richard: Yeah, especially after I...Right, when I was so much in the process of really just peeling all...The fancy apartment, the big job, the going away every summer. I was just, "This doesn't really...it's not who I am. It doesn't really fit."
To get down to who I really was and, like you said, have it be less than from someone who I love so much was really like...but it was only about three seconds.
Debbie: But she's thrilled.
Richard: She's thrilled and now she has a girlfriend, so, go figure.
Debbie: Oh, wonderful.
Richard: She's been living with a partner for over a year.
Debbie: That's fantastic, congratulations. At that time, you moved to a studio in Bushwick, which was a bohemian neighborhood in Brooklyn [laughs] at the time.
Richard: That's a stretch, yeah, yeah.
Debbie: It was far less chic then than it is today, and you started a blog titled "What I Saw Today". What made you decide to do that?
Richard: I could not get a job. I could not get a job designing. It was after the economy tanked. Up until that point I had really nice jobs, freelance jobs, big salaries, expense account. It all went away. People were kind of, "You're 55 or 56, and we can hire some 30‑year‑old and pay them $28,000. Why do we need you?" I remember there was about six months of I couldn't get a job.
I'd walk into stores, "Do you need a cashier?" I'd walk to J.Crew, "I'd love to be a sales person here. I know everything about menswear." Cricket, nothing. It was just, "Oh, shit, I'm..." [laughs] I ran out of money. I had a lot of money that I lost.
It was just, "I've got to make something happen fast." Someone said, "You know? Try a blog. They're free. You just start posting drawings, and see what happens."
Debbie: That just took you to an entirely new stratosphere. As much as I'd like to tell everybody that's listening to this podcast that, just put your stuff out there and you, too, will be discovered by Miuccia Prada. That's not really practical. How did you...
Richard: That's not practical, but I have to say, "Put your stuff out there."
Debbie: Yeah, of course, of course. No question. Everything that I've ever made has been self‑generated, but it wasn't like this. Like, "Here, do that Deb." You just started putting your work up there. All of a sudden [makes explosion sound] the world discovers you.
Richard: I had no anticipation. I was selling art books to buy groceries for me and my...It was really down to, "This is serious." I was about to get evicted.
I don't know other than I just...I had to, as you said, I had to go through this full cycle of who I really was to get to a place to show how I felt about a drawing, how I felt about what I see, and how I felt about the line was that I was putting down. When that line was honest, people responded to it.
Debbie: Can you describe the blog for our listeners that might not be aware of everything that you're doing or had done back then?
Richard: The blog was really...At first I thought, because my background was in design, "Well, I'll start kind of a trend report." This was early blogging, very few people even had blogs.
It just quickly turned into, "Fuck it, I just want to draw. I love living here so much and I see incredible stuff every day. I'm just going to call it 'What I Saw Today' and post what I see, or my version of what I see."
The first guy, I remember exactly. I was sitting in Union Square Park and there was this guy maybe 20 feet away. His profile with this beautiful afro with this incredible shape. I just drew it and I remember scanning it and posting it that night. Then people started...I think because it was the beginning of blogging and people were just on it.
Debbie: Blogging really started in 2003. This is well into, five years into...I think it's just a little bit more than you were one of the first.
Debbie: No offense.
Richard: I guess you're right, maybe that's my...Maybe, for me, it just seemed really new.
Debbie: You were showcasing really simple, but really elegant charcoal on paper sketches of mostly well‑dressed dudes. Nearly overnight the blog caught the eye of Miuccia Prada who commissioned you to create illustrations for a line of T‑shirts and then a book. Do you know how she found your work?
Richard: This is another lesson about just saying yes and keep going to everything. A friend of my...Actually I didn't even know this guy. Bruce Pask, who was a fashion director of The New York Times men's section saw my work, saw the blog.
He commissioned me to do the 10 best looks from New York for Paris on The New York Times website. I had a small job I was doing in Milan and Bruce said, "Well, you should contact my friends at Prada. They'd love your work." I contacted them and I missed the show by a day, but they said, "Oh. Well, just come. You can come to the showroom and draw." For me that was like...
Debbie: Be still my beating heart.
Richard: Yeah. They opened the doors and I almost burst into tear. It was, "This is everything I've ever wanted in my life." I just hung out and drew, which that in itself would have been amazing, and I posted it. Then, maybe three months later, Sunday morning, the phone rang and it was Alessio from Prada.
He said, [Italian accent] "Richard, we want you to come to the show, the men's show. You draw the show. Maybe we do a little project."
That was, "Holy shit." It's Prada. Then the book happened and then...It just kept going and going. That really took things on another level obviously.
Debbie: You have now done quite a lot of live drawing at the biggest and most prestigious fashion shows. Do you have a different approach when you draw at a fashion show than when you're drawing on the street or if you're drawing in your studio?
Richard: Yeah, they're really different. For me, drawing at a show, it really goes back to those New York Times drawings from '62. It's, "How can I really get this information down?" It's really quick because the models are just there and then they're gone.
Oddly enough you can tell a lot about what's happening with the head, like where the hair is going and all that and then it's really just shape. I want to let people know what I'm seeing and it's basically shape and then the model's gone. That's a very different thing than doing a portrait in my apartment.
Debbie: Your work, it's not really just fashion illustration. You seem to be able to capture the essence, the real soul of the people that you're drawing.
Earlier on, when you first thought about how someone could make these beautiful drawings with just a few lines and give out all that information, I actually felt like you were describing your own work because, with just a stroke, you convey emotion. There's a wistfulness, or a heartbreak, or a pathos. Your humanity is just in these lines.
I also asked this question to Alison Bechdel, who I think also can do this with just one or two lines. How are you able to embed so much emotion in just a few singular lines?
Richard: I don't think about it. I think that, again, it goes back to being five. To me a line is the most beautiful thing in the world. For me, a line is part...It's all the humanity. It's pain, pleasure. It's beauty, it's not beauty. Those are all the things I see every day in humanity.
That's one reason why I love living in Bushwick. It's just this non‑stop humanity. It gives me so much energy, hope, and passion. I want to go back and draw it because it's so extraordinary.
Debbie: You've said that drawing is a personal interpretation of how an artist sees the world and it's your choice to determine how much reality you want to bring in. When you're working on more commercial work, you need to include a lot of information about the product and, when you're at a fashion show, you look for details to tell the story, a pocket or a proportion, as you've said.
Can you define how you see the world via the kind of illustrations that you're creating? Is that possible to do?
Richard: What happens in the drawing, again, I want to leave something out to bring someone else into it. I think that the engagement with whomever is seeing it is the most important thing. That determines it. As I'm drawing and I'm not really thinking about it, but I'm always editing the information to not spell everything out, to just bring in someone else. Does that make sense?
Debbie: Absolutely, absolutely. Since your first success with Prada, you've worked with the New York Times, London "The Sunday Times" "Style" magazine, MR PORTER, GQ, Gap, J.Crew, Union Made, Dries Van Noten, and the list goes on and on. What have been some of your favorite fashion collaborations?
Richard: First of all, and it sounds really corny, I'm thrilled if anyone asks me to collaborate.
Debbie: That's the way I feel, too. It's like I'm just so grateful for the work.
Richard: Yeah, I'm really grateful. I don't want to say...Of course, having a book made by Prada is an amazing thing, but, truthfully, last year I went to Columbia in Central America for four days and drew coffee plantations.
It was an amazing experience, so is that less than? It's work. I'm really grateful people want to pay me, people really respond, and have a great life. I can't call out one other than the other.
Debbie: You've worked with Siki Im? Siki Im?
Debbie: You've drawn clothes for the runway on the spot at the runway show, just drawing on‑demand. I want to ask, what was that like? Can you tell us the story? I know that there was somebody kind of obnoxious and you had some fun with a drawing that you did.
Richard: [laughs] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Debbie: Tell us that story I think that's a good radio story.
Richard: Yeah, it's a good radio story. I have to back up because Siki is this extraordinary man. He's an incredible designer and visionary, and he does exactly what he wants to do. He and his stylist, they brought me in. They said, "Listen, we want you to draw these clothes. Just come up and see the collection and then come to the show."
I look at the collection, they give me scraps of fabric. These are beautiful Italian wools. All the samples are hand‑made. I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. I went back and I bought these white, beautiful oil crayons. I show up half‑an‑hour before the show and Siki starts handing me this $10,000 coat and says, "Draw on this."
I draw a big profile and then they're, "Draw on this." They hand me boots and I draw on the boots. Then there was this guy, towards the end of the show...How it happened was amazing. This guy was being a real asshole, so Siki said, "Draw a big dick on his pants."
Richard: I said, "This guy is being such a dick." This all happens within 18 minutes. There's no time for anything, so I draw this huge penis spewing and then I just wrote, "Draw a big dick" on the other leg and said, "Here are your pants." Make it work.
Richard: Payback. Payback's a bitch. It's, "Don't mess with us backstage."
Debbie: If you can, talk a little bit about your collaboration with Dries Van Noten?
Richard: Dries and Prada are two people who I just have so much respect for as designers and the way they manage their business. Dries had contacted my agent when he was doing a book. They said, "We might want illustrations," and then they said no. Of course, I was devastated, which is the whole...Like, "Nothing's ever going to happen for me again."
Then they contacted me about six months later and they said, "Now we're thinking about doing a collaboration. Dries will be in New York. Can you meet him for lunch?" I said, "Absolutely. I'd be thrilled." Then they call me that morning, and they said, "Dries can't meet you for lunch, but he wants to come to your apartment."
Debbie: My eyes just popped out of my head, listeners.
Richard: Yeah, which is basically like God is descending into your studio, Bushwick.
Debbie: I would have died on the spot.
Richard: I did for a minute, and then I thought, "You know what? This is what it is." I love my apartment. It's great, it's not...Have you ever seen a picture of Dries's home?
Richard: It's a castle with 80 acres of roses. It's, "There's no way I'm going to compete with that. Even if I vacuum, it's just not going to be that."
Debbie: [laughs] Pull out the Pledge.
Richard: Yeah. Like, "It's never going to be that. I'm just going to make it the best of what it is for me." It was actually a really good lesson. He came, and we talked, and he shared his vision. I thought, "Do I do a selfie? Do I ask him?" I just thought, "He's way too cool for that. That's part the test," so I didn't do that. Then he left and it was just, "Dries sat here," that kind of thing.
Debbie: What was it like to work together?
Richard: I went to Antwerp for a week. I stayed in the studio every day and drew. Then, at the end of day, Dries would say, "Let's do a fitting." I'd bring in all the drawings and we'd tape them onto the model. I stopped at one moment and I thought, "Wait, I'm in a fitting with Dries in Antwerp, and he's using my drawings."
The whole thing was amazing because then I left, and I thought, "I have no idea. He might change his mind and not do anything." Then I went to the show a few months later in Paris and it was basically, he'd used everything. He just did it beautifully. It was another one of those moments of, "Jesus, this isn't real."
Debbie: You just mentioned worrying that nothing would ever happen to you again. I've suffered from that quite a bit, the last thing that might ever happen might not even happen. How do you cope with that?
Richard: Just to back up there. The Joan Rivers movie, when she opens to an empty calendar, that's my worst fear. As a freelancer, that's my worst fear. How do I cope with it? I have really, really good friends who I speak to daily who I support emotionally, and they support me.
We're all freelance and it's, "This has happened to you before. You're gonna get through this. This is going to work out." It actually really makes a huge difference.
Debbie: You've written about your doubts, and you've said that you still doubt your talents, but less so as you get older. The struggle now is to push through to create something new. The best thing anyone can do is to work through the doubts. The worst thing is to stop. How do you push yourself to work through the doubts?
What do you do when you're in that space, aside from speak to your friends? Do you have any techniques or things that you are able to use psychologically?
Richard: The transition from being a full‑time employee to freelance is a really challenging thing. Now I realize, when I come home, I used to think, "Oh, I have to get to that desk. If I'm not drawing within five minutes, I'm a piece of shit." Like, "Why am I not doing this?"
I realize now, "OK, I need an hour between walking in to the door, and getting to the desk, and putting the first line down." I need to...
Debbie: A whole hour, Richard?
Richard: All right, maybe like...
Debbie: No, that's not a lot. [laughs]
Richard: Actually, it's more like half‑an‑hour, [laughs] but I need to do something to completely decompress between walking in and getting to that desk. Now I know to allow myself that. It's like giving myself permission to ease into it.
Debbie: You stated that some of the early challenges you faced when starting your career were your own self‑doubt and insecurity. You also wanted to be famous, and making career choices based on that. You've declared that this is the totally wrong reason to decide to do something. What would you say are the right reasons now?
Richard: It sounds overused but passion, bliss, really listening to one's self. I never really listened to myself, because I never really knew what that was. I had to learn how to do that through a lot of therapy and a lot of work to, "What is it I really want as opposed to what I think people want me to do?" I think that is where the answer is for anyone.
I'm talking to my daughter about it now because she's a junior in college and she's starting to freak out. I said, "Just relax and look at, what do you really want to do."
Debbie: I know you love to draw men in clothes, but I also discovered that you love to draw chairs.
Richard: I thought you were going to say men not in clothes.
Debbie: Oh well, yeah. [laughs]
Richard: Yeah, that, too.
Debbie: Let's talk about both. [laughs]
Debbie: Let's talk about it all.
Richard: OK, yeah.
Debbie: OK, men in clothes. We know that, and we can see a lot of that. What about men unclothed?
Richard: Men unclothed is a revelation of living in Bushwick and meeting a lot of guys who love to be drawn.
Debbie: You said that you're surprised by how easy it is to get men to take off their clothes.
Richard: Real easy.
Debbie: I've never found that.
Richard: You know what? I'll talk to you about how to, if I could draw...
Richard: No, it's not. Yeah. Maybe it's just a thing about what you really want. What's interesting is that the whole process of drawing someone in my apartment, in my studio, becomes really an interview. I think usually because I'm older, and want to listen to people who are younger, and I know questions to ask, and people really want to be heard.
It's not just about the nudity. It's about this whole process of...I would say 99 percent of them are gay, but what's that like? It's actually a really amazing process.
Debbie: Will you be showing this body of work?
Richard: [laughs] It's around. I show it once in a while. I was always a little bit more reluctant to show it because my daughter was younger, and I just felt like I didn't want to do that, but I had a show at a friend's shop a couple of months ago. It's around.
Debbie: What about your drawings of chairs?
Richard: I don't know what it is. I travel a lot. I go to Paris a lot, and there's something about the characters of old chairs that, to me, are just people. They have so much character and so much background, and they carry so much, and they're such beautiful lines that it's a nice break from people to draw chairs.
Debbie: You have said how illustration is something that just feels natural to you, and that you feel that it's the most organic way of being that you've ever experienced. It took you a long time, and a lot of career choices, and doing different things to arrive at this point. Do you think if you had started earlier you'd have been able to do what you're doing now?
Richard: No. I really believe that things happen when they're ready to happen. I don't think I would have had the inner calm or strength to pull that off or the way to manage it. Yeah, I think that if this had happened at 30 or 40 it would be a really different thing. It wasn't meant to happen because it didn't happen.
Debbie: I have one last question for you. You've said that you think good artwork comes from a lot of work and discipline, and you still sketch every day in an effort to work on your technique, to try new mediums, and to work at getting better.
You've also said that you have had so many students who thought style could happen without knowing the basics and working constantly, and it just doesn't happen that way. Aside from working hard, what advice would you give to someone interested in having a career as not just an illustrator, but just any type of creative field?
Richard: Someone sent me an article from 1933 "Harper's Bazaar," and a 19‑year‑old person writes and he said, "People love my drawings. I design my own clothes. I don't know what to do." The response was brilliant, and this is 1933. The writer said, "First of all, you have to realize that in order to be a fashion illustrator you have to really be an excellent draftsman.
"It's not just drawing Kewpie Doll lips and a pretty face, you have to really know your stuff." It said, "Go to the best school, draw all the time, draw nudes, paint." Then it said, "And really, if you don't know how to look, train yourself to look." It's actually really funny, it's 1933, "Go to the best beaches. Go to The Colony restaurant."
It was so beautiful. It said, "Go look at the way a child kicks up sand with its foot. Go look at the way a woman taps her cigarette in a cigarette case. Go look at how someone puts on gloves." It was all of these beautiful moments that I'm always looking at, and they're articulating it in this article.
It's really looking and then having the urge to want to put that down and share it with other people.
Debbie: I actually think that what makes your work so remarkable is that it makes you want to look.
Debbie: Richard Haines, thank you so much for being on Design Matters.
Richard: My pleasure.
Debbie: Thank you for being an inspiration and really showing the world that what you saw today can be what you continue to see tomorrow.
Richard: That's really lovely, thank you.
Debbie: Thank you. To find out more about Richard Haines head on over to his Instagram, @richard_haines. Look every single day. It is absolutely worth it. You can see a wonderful archive of his work as well on his blog, What I Saw Today.
This is the 14th year I've been doing Design Matters, and I'd like to thank you for listening. Remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both. I'm Debbie Millman, and I look forward to talking with you again soon.