Interview by Laura Hensley
Photography by Ashley Satchell
Danielle Meder is a Toronto-based freelance fashion illustrator with a degree in fashion design from Ryerson University. She has since used her illustration talents to help communicate fashion ideas for designers, fashion magazines, and newspapers. Danielle recently won the Doc Martens boot competition with her original design Colour Puddle Jump. She has an honest and totally unpretentious fashion blog Final Fashion and the satirical ‘haute on the hog’ Rags and Mags, a collaboration with TFI blogger Carolyn Rohaly.
Coming from a small town, your exposure to fashion must have been far different than it would have been had you grown up in a city. What interested you in fashion as a child and how did you discover your talent for design?
My family had zero interest in fashion at all; in our small town there was one clothing store. I grew up in hand-me-downs. I was homeschooled as a kid so mostly it didn’t matter. My initial interest in fashion was discovering books on costume history in the library – as a kid I would take out as many as I could carry, take them home and study them carefully, and draw paper dolls inspired by all the various eras. When I was a preteen I learned how to use my mom’s treadle Singer sewing machine and I would make cloth dolls with wardrobes inspired by fantasy novels like The Lord of the Rings. As a teenager, I went to small town high school and developed a strong feeling that I wasn’t wearing the right clothes, and I think that sense of discomfort pushed me towards fashion even though I had terrible anxiety that I would never fit in.
Did Ryerson’s fashion program meet your expectations?
I can honestly say that it exceeded my expectations. I worked my way through the library’s fashion section, developed a style of technical and figure illustration that I still use, learned how to sew properly, and spent four years with an amazing group of girls. Growing into your own style over four years as you are surrounded by a group of people doing the same thing is a powerful experience. Not all of my classmates would agree. It is easy to be disenchanted if you expect university to form you into a complete adult and give you a dream job. I think if you take responsibility for your own education regardless of the institution, you can enjoy the privilege of immersing yourself in the subject of your choice without regret.
In an industry that can be harsh, what are the most important lessons you have learned?
Fashion isn’t really as harsh as I thought it would be at all. It is populated by outsiders and eccentrics of every description and allows a lot of individuality and self-expression. Fashion people are very open minded even as they make the inevitable aesthetic judgements.
The most important lessons I have learned… so far? Trust your gut. Invest in quality. Be curious, be kind. Ask for what you want. Stuff like that.
Which Canadian designers do you find the most inspiring and innovative?
Jeremy Laing‘s work resonates with me strongly from an aesthetic and intellectual point of view. His cuts are abstract riffs on flat patternmaking that appeals to me as a fashion nerd. Even more than that he inspires me as an entrepreneur – he is both rational and instinctive in his approach to growing his line and he thinks big which really appeals to me. Philip Sparks is another designer with a strong identity and a head for business – he is also a friend and talking shop with him is fascinating. Denis Gagnon and Rad Hourani are two designers from Montreal who have dark, distinctive looks. Gagnon’s shows bewilder you with impossible techniques and Hourani’s singular vision is both memorable and desirable. Renata Morales creates the most incredible gowns like nothing else I have ever seen. These designers aren’t just my favourite Canadian designers; they really are equal to my favourite international designers.
Do you prefer illustrating designs quickly while watching them on the runway, or sketching detailed drawings at your own pace?
I love both and they are both important. Live sketching helps me develop attitude and a confident line – it reduces the figure to a few essential strokes and encourages me to do hundreds of sketches. Sketching at home lets me try new media and techniques, and allows me to do multiple iterations of a figure over the lightbox until I find something that looks lovely and effortless.
Do you have any signature techniques or details that define your work and set you apart from other illustrators?
Hm, I’ve never been asked that before! I think as a fashion illustrator, I strive for both accuracy and attitude. My signature is certainly the designer sketch that is all about showing the garment in an accurate and persuasive way. My early years interpreting Betty and Veronica comics is a part of my “style” that I’ve never been able to shake even when I try. I am scrupulous about feet and hands – I like to think that’s something that gives a pro touch to a fashion illustration.
Danielle’s Favourite Fashion Illustrators of All Time