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03/18/14 Ryan McMenamy On the Fashion Illustrations that Made Him

Where radically retouched fashion campaigns and editorials can be fatiguing, advertising offers art as a palliative. Gurka’s latest print ads, for example, show sketches of the brand’s bags accompanied by quotes from Hunter S. Thompson. Independent fashion publications have also employed illustration, featuring clothes rendered idealistically by hand and printed on matte paper—a refreshing alternative to just another glossy photo of a model.

“I do agree that there’s been some new interest in this medium from publications, which is wonderful,” says New York-based fashion illustrator Ryan McMenamy, who worked as a designer for several years before pursuing illustration exclusively. His recent work for high-end maverick men’s titles like Man of the World and Hercules has made a strong and elaborate case for the Parsons graduate’s switch in careers. Strokes of refinement characterize portraits and product sketches, be it a lustrous emerald jacket or elegant tousle of hair.

“I’m definitely a traditionalist when it comes to drawing. I like when drawing in itself is the first and foremost focus,” says McMenamy, citing influences on his work such as Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Ingres, Gericault, Picasso, Degas, and Lautrec. “I’m incredibly inspired by John Singer Sergeant and Charles Dana Gibson, who magically used their incredible draftsmanship to document people of their day in a way that is fine art, portraiture, and fashion illustration simultaneously.”

Working from his studio in the Lower East Side, McMenamy is trying his hand at “playing with size.” Recently, a menswear store requested illustrations to be blown up as window art. As the artist prepares to go big with his work, he shares a few memorable projects with NOUS, drawing up the stories behind them. His most memorable of these, however, isn’t documented. “13 years ago, I worked directly with Calvin Klein drawing up dresses that were being sent to an actress as possible options for an award show. It was during fashion week so while we worked together there were a million other things going on—casting, styling, music, everything that entails putting a show together,” says McMenamy. “People were asking him questions all at once and he answered each one calmly, all while he was reviewing my sketches! I was very impressed by how focused he was—and inspired.”

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