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Interview with Daisy de Villeneuve

She’s been drawing in felt-tip since the age of three, but unlike the rest of us she’s forged a brilliant career out of it. Daisy de Villeneuve’s illustrations have adorned everything from Topshop shoeboxes to the pages of Vogue, but, says the fashionista, it hasn’t always been an easy ride.

How would you describe your work?

It’s always referred to as childlike or naive, which I don’t mind. I’m known for drawing with felt-tip pens, but the end result is quite modern and worldly once I’ve added words to the picture. I like the handmade feel to it, the rawness, when you can see the overlapping pen marks showing through.

How did you set out on your career?

I’ve been working as an illustrator, designer and writer for the past 10 years. I studied at Parsons School of Design in both New York and Paris. I wasn’t great with the technical side of fashion design such as pattern making and sewing, but I was good with the inspiration and ideas.

I was really struggling and decided to switch to a fine art degree. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I realised I was heading in the direction of illustration. It’s a good idea to have lots of interests in different areas as it gives you more options if one area isn’t working out.

Who are your main clients?

Topshop, Moët and Chandon, the V&A, British Vogue, Elle Decoration, Nylon, Lula Magazine, Habitat, Nike, Browns Focus, Boots, Random House in both the USA and UK, the Fashion and Textile Museum and Transport for London.

Were you always artistic?

I won art competitions when I was little and I’ve been using felt-tip pens since I was three years old. It’s what I’m used to and feels right. It’s funny that I’ve made a career out of it, but fortunately it seems to have worked for me!

Are you from a creative family?

Yes. My parents divorced when I was quite young, both had careers in fashion but that was before I was born and never a part of my upbringing. My sister, Poppy, and I grew up in the Sussex countryside with my mother, and she often took us to London to visit art museums.

My house was an inspiring place to grow up. There were images of art around all the time – books and magazines about interiors, pop art, photography, sculpture, art history, psychology. My parents are friends with the pop artist Peter Blake, his wife Chrissy is my sister’s godmother, and he was a big influence, I’ve always loved his work.

Which other artists do you admire?

Artists I admire are Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Peter Blake. I love pop art, surrealism, outsider art and folk art.

You blog about fashion – which brands do you live for?

I love traditional brands such as Cartier, Hermes and Chanel for their simplicity. And I travel with Globe Trotter suitcases; I love their bright colours and people always comment on how old-fashioned they look, which I like. My favourite beauty brand is Shu Uemura – I always wear red lipstick and nail varnish.

As for clothing brands I like the classic style of Margaret Howell, A.P.C., Isabel Marant, Sonia Rykiel, plus Diane von Furstenberg (the wrap dresses), Ralph Lauren (the cashmere sweaters), and Zac Posen (because he makes dresses that fit well on any shape plus he’s a good friend of mine). I’m also a big fan of Lulu Guinness handbags for their quirky style.

You also hold your own exhibitions…

I think it’s important to do both commercial work and exhibit. I do think they are different forms of expression and markets too. My commercial work is normally aimed at a target audience – the work I designed for Topshop is more teenage orientated, and I always think about the consumer when I sit down to draw. Commercial work pays the bills, so is a necessity, but I also really enjoy it and seeing my work in shops.

For my exhibition work lately, I’ve been using black India ink to paint, giving the felt-tip pens a rest. I like to have a change of scene occasionally and reach a diverse audience.

Has it been a bumpy ride?

Obstacles did arise that I would never have expected. I prefer to talk about the positive things but this choice of career is not an easy ride. It has been a huge learning experience, with constant ups and downs. You need to have a business mind and a good lawyer. I deal with contracts that are so complex – and they don’t prepare you for that side of things in art school (well, not at my art school).

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

It would be to learn as much about business as possible. Even if it sounds boring, you need to learn about it or become really good friends with your lawyer, like I’ve done. Don’t rely on an agent, as they can miss bits in a contract that are crucial to your career. Always read the contract yourself and with your lawyer, and question anything that doesn’t seem right because later down the line you could get stuck otherwise – I’ve been there, I know.

Your luckiest break?

Meeting my publishers Pocko Editions at my solo show in Euforia (a boutique in Notting Hill) in December 2000. They encouraged me to write and illustrate over 100 drawings which became my first book, He Said She Said. This led on to work with Topshop, who commissioned me to do their shoe boxes in the same style.

Is the US market different from the UK?

I guess the USA is a bit more conservative than Europe. I’ve only recently got a US agent and America is a market I’d like to explore. Several years ago, I was told that my books were too edgy for New York, which seemed quite funny considering I was educated there and it’s known for being an edgy city. My books did end up being distributed in some bookstores in NY and across the USA, but I had to edit out some of the contents first.

New Yorkers are tough, they can be quite blunt and that’s hard, especially as I’m relatively unknown there. They have a ‘too cool for school’ vibe and that’s intimidating. I’m based in London, and people are familiar with my work here; they are respectful of what I do – I appreciate that and never take any of my success for granted.

Where’s your favourite location to find inspiration?

I went to Mexico last year and absolutely loved it. I found the bright colours very inspiring. I especially enjoyed going to the Frida Kahlo house, which is kept as a museum. She had great style.