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A Style Guide to New York with Fashion Illustrator Megan Hess

Following the release of New York: Through a Fashion Eye, illustrator Megan Hess talks to Luxury London about her love of the Big Apple and its sense of style 

New York, to quote the Alicia Keys song, is a concrete jungle where a disproportionately large number of dreams are made. For Melbourne-based fashion illustrator Megan Hess, it’s the city that catapulted her career to the attention of the sartorial behemoths and compelled the likes of Tiffany & Co., Givenchy, Cartier and Prada (and America’s former First Lady Michelle Obama) to come knocking on her door. 

Her rise to sketching success started in London, back when Hess was the art director at Liberty and penned illustrations on the side. Her reputation started to flourish and commissions began to flood her inbox and fill her evenings, but it wasn’t until a late-night call from Candace Bushnell’s publisher in 2008 that Hess started to really make a name for herself. Soon her cover illustration for The New York Times bestseller Sex and the City was plastered across billboards in Times Square. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Today Hess’s work takes her and her trusty Montblanc fountain pen (affectionately nicknamed Monty) across the globe. Fortunately, she has recently been named as the artist in residence for the Oetker Collection hotel group, so a comfy bed is never far away.

Whatever her schedule though, she still manages to find an excuse to return to New York. As a tribute to the city that has a special place in her heart, Hess has illustrated a guide to the metropolis told through a fashion lens. Here, she touches on the best people-watching spots to catch the Big Apple’s different style tribes in action... 

On New York’s charms
New York is probably my favourite city in the entire world, and it’s somewhere I’ve been travelling back and forth to for about 15 years now. I fell in love with the energy of the city straight away – the noise, the people, the diversity between Uptown and Downtown. It’s also the city that gave me my first big break in terms of my work, so I have an affection and a love for it. It’s the sort of place that no matter how many times you go, you never see everything, so you have that desire to get back.

On the city’s fashion scene
New Yorkers have incredible fashion sense and style – it’s really diverse. Uptown is very chic and polished: twinsets and pearls and Chanel jackets. Then Midtown is a bit more mainstream, accessible fashion, and Downtown is very cool – think black leather drainpipe leggings. One of my favourite things to do is to perch myself in a busy coffee shop Downtown and just sketch all the eclectic people I see walking past. 

On the must-see sights
There are lots of travel guides to New York, so I wanted to give mine a fashion twist. I’d like to think you can read it in your armchair at home a million miles away, or if you’re visiting you can take inspiration from it. Admittedly, some things I recommend are hard to do, like going to the Met Gala. Basically, unless Anna Wintour invites you, you can’t get in. But then there are things that cost almost nothing, such as having a coffee in Bergdorf Goodman on Level 7. It has the best views of Central Park. Make sure you spend half a day on Fifth Avenue too, popping into all the flagships before getting down to SoHo to see the more urban side to the city.

On her visiting rituals
I’m pretty jetlegged when I first arrive, so I usually pass out in my hotel. The first morning I’m there I always have a big breakfast before heading off to Berdorf Goodman to peruse its enviable edit of homewares. I usually end up wandering around Downtown after that and staying for dinner.

I fell in love with the energy of the city straight away – the noise, the people, the diversity between Uptown and Downtown

On her travel bucket list
Every time I travel I feel creative, and the more I see, from fashion, to film to architecture and cultural diversity, the more inspired I become. Recently I’ve been dreaming about going to the Greek islands, specifically Santorini and Mykonos. I also love Hawaii. I go there for family holidays with my husband and two small children and there’s something there for us all – it’s a very relaxing, wind down and chill out kind of place.

On starting out
I’ve always loved illustrating, ever since I was a little girl, but as a child and even as a teenager I had no idea that you could actually be a fashion illustrator for a career. It was only when working in a creative field that I realised it was possible to illustrate full time. After the Sex and the City project happened it was released all around the world and I began working for Tiffany & Co., Chanel, Dior, Vanity Fair and all these amazing creative clients. And, touch wood, I’ve been very busy ever since.

On her favourite commission
It’s always really hard to choose one specific commission – they’ve all been memorable for different reasons. Some highlights have included an animation I worked on for Prada and sketching for Fendi in Milan. It was a live sketch, so there were a few nerves, but it was still fun. I recently collaborated with Christian Dior couture in London, which was an amazing experience, especially because it’s such an iconic brand.

On her style icon
I think a lot of people have an amazing sense of style, although if I had to narrow it down it would have to be the British writer and model Laura Bailey. She has a kind of polished lady-like look going on, but it’s a little bit messy and rough around the edges.

On working with Oetker Collection
This is probably the most exciting collaboration that I have ever worked on as it brings together all my favourite elements. It involves sketching architectural and interiors scenes, and sprinkling them with the sorts of people you would expect to find there. I get to travel around and experience all these different hotels too, which is exciting, not least because they’re some of the most luxurious in the world.

On her dream project
I’d love Tom Ford to call me – that would be fun! But, honestly, if I keep getting to work on the types of commissions that I’m working on now, I’ll be very happy.

New York: Through a Fashion Eye, by Megan Hess, £12.99, published by Hardie Grant, www.meganhess.com