When the economy collapsed in 2008, a 50-something Richard Haines lost his job as a fashion designer. He moved to a studio in Brooklyn’s bohemian Bushwick neighborhood, then less trendy, and started a blog, What I Saw Today, that caught the eye of fashion's highest priestest, Miuccia Prada, who asked Haines to create illustrations for a line of T-shirts and a collectible book, released in 2012.
Their collaboration turned Haines into one of today’s most sought-after illustrators. Since then, he's become a fixture on the front row at fashion week, where he sketches the clothes as well as the audience members. This fall, Haines's work is the subject of a New York solo exhibit, A Room of One's Own, opening September 10 at Daniel Cooney Fine Art.
Here, Haines tells us more about his work, and the man behind the pencil.
Out: What made you move from Manhattan to Brooklyn?
Richard Haines: I was broke! (laughs) I had this other life. I was married to a woman, and we had this very posh apartment on Fifth Avenue and Tenth Street. I had this big job. First, I lost the job, and in 2008 it was very difficult to get designer jobs. At the time, I was creative director of companies like Perry Ellis and Nautica. I started a line of my own shirts, but it was really, really difficult. Then I got a divorce, I lost a lot of money, and I couldn’t afford Manhattan anymore.
As I was starting my career as an artist and illustrator in 2008, when I started my blog, that’s when I had to find places much cheaper. So I moved here (in Bushwick) not knowing that I was going be in the middle of this scene. So it all kind of worked out.
Was illustration more of a hobby before that?
I’ve always drawn since I was a kid, but as my career developed in fashion, it was less and less drawing, more managing people, and I’m really not good at that. I was more and more unhappy, because I wasn’t doing what I really love doing. In 2008 when everything kind of fell apart, I decided to start a blog. First I thought I would start a men’s style blog about trends, and then I just started drawing people and posting it, and people started to react immediately. I was forced to do something, but it was kind of an amazing thing to have it work out like this, because it’s really what I love doing more than anything. So, it’s a happy ending.
You came out later in life...
I kind of was out already. I didn't go back... I was married a couple of times to women. When I moved here in the '70s, I was very gay, and then certain things happened in my life, and a lot of my friends died, and I was kind of freaking out. I really wanted to have a child, and that was the way to have a child. People that I was married to, I really loved being with. But now I’m gay, and I'd like to have a relationship with a man.
Are you dating anyone?
No. It’s very easy to meet guys, especially 25-year-old guys, and to hook up -- that's not a problem. But to meet someone older and have a relationship is a much more challenging thing. If I were happy just hooking up with 25 year olds -- great. I mean, I love it, but it’s not sustainable. It’s a very tricky thing.
What are you looking for in a partner?
Someone to share my life with. I know that’s really vague. Someone I can have a dialogue with. I’ve been alone for seven or eight years. I’ve dated a little, but no big relationships. I needed to be alone to really learn how to take care of myself, because I always relied on other people. So it’s been a good thing for me to just be able to do everything on my own.
My therapist always says: 'What are you looking for?' It’s really just someone to talk about what life is. You know what I mean? Let’s go away for a weekend. Love. Support. Relationships are a lot of work, but when they’re great, they’re really great.
I have a daughter, Jitan, and I’m really focused on her. And my career. Really making those things work. So now would be a good time to be on Out’s Bachelors List (laughs).
How did you come out to your daughter?
My daughter is adopted. She’s incredibly creative, she has an amazing eye. Up until she was 10, we’d spent a lot of time drawing together.
After her mother and I separated, Jitan and I were having dinner, and she said: 'Are you gay?' And I said, 'Yes, I'm gay.' It was actually the most difficult moment of my life, because for a second I thought: What if she doesn't love me anymore? What if it'll change our relationship? But she was right to ask me, and it should have been my responsibility to tell her. Ever since then, she's totally fine with it. Her two closest friends also have gay fathers. She always jokes that we have better sense of humor, better clothes, and we can be bitchy (laughs).
When I was growing up, no one had a gay father. Now it’s a very different world. But I think it’s still a struggle for a lot of people, mentally. It's still an issue, because it is something that differs from the norm.
A series of self-portraits from Haines's blog, What I Saw Today. His daughter, Jitan, is pictured in the center.
What will be on view at your solo show?
It’s my first big Chelsea solo exhibition. I had a show in a small place on the Lower East Side for one day in summer 2009; and I had a group show, “The Boys of Bushwick,” where most of the work was mine. It kind of put me on the map.
I didn’t realize it but when I moved here, the first weekend I thought 'Where am I, what is this?' and then I walked outside and there was a free concert, and there were, like, the most beautiful kids. So I ran back here and got my sketchbook, and I started sketching guys. Living here opened up the possibility of recording this gay scene of guys: artists, performance artists, and just beautiful men. There will be an element of that in the show, but I want to take it some place else.
What gets your attention when you're looking for a subject to draw?
It’s a creative vibe. These guys are doing interesting things, and that all shows in their appearance. They also happen to be beautiful in a lot of different ways. It’s about being around artists who want to be in a community of artists. I mean, most guys I draw are very tall and very thin. They’re almost like these narrow lines. I see them on the street, and it’s almost like they're walking drawings.
Do you have a different approach when you draw at a fashion show?
Sometimes the most interesting thing is on the runway, but sometimes it’s someone sitting in the audience. My work is not just fashion illustration: I want to think that I capture something of the people also.
What have been your favorite fashion collaborations?
I did the Prada thing, and then I did the Dries Van Noten collection last summer. It was really amazing to work with him. I loved working with Siki Im, a few seasons ago. They asked me to draw on the clothes on the spot, at the runway show. I got there on the day of the show, and I don’t know what I expected, but they just started handing me the samples, and Siki would be like 'Here, draw on this!' and I’d draw, they’d put it on the model, and the model would go out. I drew them backstage, using white oil-based crayon on the clothes. Now when I look back on it, the element of spontaneity was so incredible, and so many things could have gone wrong, but it was this kind of communication... We didn’t even speak to each other, but I knew I couldn’t fuck up.
There was this one model who was being a total dick, really obnoxious, and Siki was like 'Draw a big dick on something' and I was like 'My daughter is here, I don’t know if I can do it,' but this guy was being such an asshole, so I drew this huge cock going up the leg with jizz shooting out. You can look for the picture online. The guy looked mortified.
Pictured, above: Drawings by Richard Haines at Siki Im Fall/Winter 2014 (Julien Sauvalle/Instagram)
Sounds like you thrive on spontaneity. Do you have more long-term projects?
I have a show in Paris, in January. I want that to be another step. I wanted this year to be my art year. I really wanted to focus on art, so that’s why I’m doing these two shows.
I read that growing up you wanted to become a priest...
Oh my God... I went catholic school, and I don't know, I thought that's what my career options were (laughs). I was an altar boy, and I wanted to be devout. I think I wanted to be a priest for a minute, and then I wanted to be an archeologist.
How did illustration come about?
I always drew. Even when I was five, I was drawing. Around that time, my dad got very sick and he was in the hospital for six months. I think drawing a lot was my way of coping with what was happening. Back then, it was pre-therapy. People weren’t like 'Oh he’s going to be ok,' it was 'Don’t talk about it!' I would draw those beautiful gardens, flowers, and wedding dresses. Not typical stuff that a boy would draw. I think it was just a way of escaping, and it always has been kind of an escape, or an alternate world that I created. I think most artists do that.
When did you find your style?
I went to art school, but I didn’t study illustration, I studied graphic arts. So I moved to New York thinking I wanted to be a fashion illustrator, but my style wasn’t really developed, and it wasn’t assertive, confident. There’s something apologetic about it, so I stopped doing it. That’s when I became a fashion designer for 25-30 years.
By the time I started it again, I had the confidence to get behind it, and to really own my work -- which was not that long ago. I think that’s when my style happened. My blog is called What I Saw Today, which is basically what’s around me. It’s all very recent in the story of my life.
Are you annoyed by comparisons with other illustrators?
I don't know... I don't think people compare me to anyone. I've heard people say 'It looks like Jean Cocteau,' which is amazing to me. There's this illustrator I'm obsessed with: Christian Bérard. He did a lot of fashion illustrations for Chanel. I went to his grave in Paris at the Père Lachaise cemetary. It was incredibly moving. I left a note for him, I’ve never done anything like that before! I went into a trance.
Who are the other artists that influenced you?
Alberto Giaccometti, Egon Schiele, Toulouse-Lautrec are my favorites. Schiele probably has one of the most expressive lines. For me, everything is line. I always say that line is one part beauty, one part pain. The most beautiful line has beauty and pain in it.
Richard Haines: A Room of One's Own opens September 10 at Daniel Cooney Fine Art, DanielCooneyFineArt.com
Illustrations courtesy of Richard Haines/Daniel Cooney Fine Art