Mandy Lau - Is Drawing The Future
The amazing part about fashion is that there are so many different opportunities to be creative with it. Sure, the clothing is arguably the pinnacle part, but there is the photography, the models’ interpretation, the casting directors’ decisions, the make-up and hair, and there is also the illustration. The illustration can be the very first part of the process, or it can be a celebration of the designs and inspiration, similar to photography, but very different. The illustration is a very integral part of fashion, which is why it is so important that it is also experiencing the lovely influx in diversity that the rest of the fashion world is slowly accepting! This is exactly what Mandy Lau is doing with her amazing fashion illustrations! She highlights diversity, racial and LGBTQ+, and makes it exciting and inspiring. But don’t just take our word for it. Please see some of her fabulous work, and read Jejune’s exclusive interview with her below.
Where are you based?
How did you get into fashion illustration?
I studied fashion design at Vancouver Community College. Within the program, there were fashion illustration courses. Before then, I knew very little of fashion illustration – just from vintage magazines, garment patterns packaging, and children’s books with cut-out paper dolls.
Once fashion illustration was introduced to me at VCC, and we had to learn how to draw figures and clothes, I’ve never really stopped since.
As a child from Chinese immigrants, do you feel represented in the fashion industry?
If we’re talking about Asian models on the fashion runways and campaigns, I do feel there’s an increase since the 90s. Of course, there’s always room for growth. From viewing website pages of numerous local modeling agencies and fashion magazine covers, it’s apparent there needs to be continued growth for diversity. I happened to stumble upon the site of a Vancouver-based modeling agency, Stranger Agency, that advocates for diversity which is fantastic.
How do you feel about the increase of inclusivity in the fashion industry?
Slow as it may be, I think any increase is great, and going in the right general direction. Compared to the past, there are more models of colour walking the runways and in campaigns, and the industry is also bringing awareness to the importance of gender-inclusivity.
With the explosion of social media, advancement of technology, access to information and ability to self-publish via open-source programs, it’s allowed individuals to build their unique voice, introduce more progressive creative work, thus paving the way for others to join in the movement towards increased inclusivity. (At least in societies with that accessibility, that is. It is unfortunate that not everyone in the world has the same access to information or technology.)
Can this be seen in the illustrations as well?
I feel that fashion illustrations, like fashion photography, capture what’s around. We all feed off of one another. Once in a while, we catch glimpses of those who are more ahead of us, challenge us, are more progressive, more aware. The hope is to all learn and teach one another through creative work.
To answer the question though, yes, I do see an increase of inclusivity in illustration work, and hope it continues to move in that direction.
What inspired you to incorporate people of colour and gender-inclusive individuals into your fashion illustrations?
I guess, in my own way, I’m trying to contribute towards this increase. I also, like most portrait illustrators, generally just draw what I think is beauty to me. I grew up, and have resided, in cities that are multicultural and generally more progressive in terms of social diversity and inclusivity as compared to other places I’ve travelled to, which I feel very lucky about.
For my portrait illustrations, I always use visual references. I actually start by collaging photographs of different people, to make essentially fictitious people. I then draw from those references. Often, it’s collaging people of different race and gender. Most of my portraits are of people who do not actually exist. Maybe in some way I’m trying to recreate these images of beauty based on people I’ve seen in my past.
Why is it so important that illustrations are also more inclusive?
Illustrations send messages. Our messages and our actions, however small we may think they are, do have an effect one way or another on others.
What brands have you worked with, or been inspired by, that are incorporating more inclusivity into their illustrations, in addition to their models?
I worked a live drawing event for St. John Knits a few years back illustrating their new collection. They had a live model come in to wear the clothes and model for my illustrations – a beautiful Asian woman. I am hired by brands a lot for in-store events like these. I sketch their clientele (and often staff too), so it’s great that Vancouver is a multi-cultural and diverse city.
Where would you like to see the fashion world be?
Continued growth of inclusivity - racial, gender, age and body type inclusivity. More investment towards artistic education, exhibits, and collaborative experiences. Less consumption, and less mass production.
There are wonderful individuals, communities, and companies advocating for change.
Maybe idealistic, but it would be great to see leaders in the fashion industry follow in this direction, and push for more and more racial, gender, age and body type inclusivity, and also for less consumption, less fast fashion. Although it isn’t just the responsibility of the industry leaders. Fashion will go in the direction where society will feed it. Like any marketable industry, TV, film, etc., it will go where there is money, and it will satisfy audiences who will pay for it.
Less consumption, and less mass production:
I recently listened to a podcast interview with designer Jason Matlo (by Terroir Magazine) where he talked about his bespoke fashion company. He has created pieces for his clients that have lasted them many years. I think that’s fabulous. We don’t need hundreds and hundreds of things. We don’t need to buy things and dispose of them after one season.
More investment towards artistic education, exhibits, and collaborative experiences:
I became interested in fashion because of the creativity, the fantasy, and my curiosity for design construction. I’ve been fortunate to see some fantastic fashion exhibits, and learn about creative construction. It’s the interest and the accessibility of education, as well as inspiration from fashion exhibits, that’s led to my career in fashion illustration. Through my work, I hope to pass on some level of inspiration and curiosity onto others.
Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show project is really interesting to me. It’s a live theatrical performance retrospective of the designer’s past 50 years, showcasing his work throughout his career – all in the form of live theatre and dance. I’ve been enamored with his work since I started watching fashion, including his work for films (Fifth Element, City of Children).
It would be great if there was more investment towards, and demand for, fashion art exhibits, education, and collaborative or interactive experiences. Creative inspiration is far better fuel for positive energy, not mass product consumption.
Continued growth of inclusivity:
I do feel progress is taking place, but it’s very much a continual work-in-progress type situation.
I read a quote by model Hari Nef, (published back in 2014 by mic.com), stating “There are more and more jobs for out trans models, but most of them are identity-focused or quite outré. It's harder for an out trans girl to book a blue chip runway where she gets one look and simply walks out with all the other girls."
It will be nice when someone can get the job/part/role because they’re good at doing the job itself, and a good person to work with, rather than because of this category or identity society has fit them into, or not fit them into.
What is your motto in life?
“What would today look like if I didn’t indulge in fear and anxiety and negative thoughts?”