Richard Haines: What I Saw Today

Bill Cunningham, Scott Schuman, Garance Doré, all document behind a lens, but the one man you’ll see carrying a sketchpad and charcoal during Fashion Week is Richard Haines. Haines, inspiring a generation of artists and illustrators, is the man behind the famed site, What I Saw Today; a visual blogspot documenting menswear fashion from all parts of the world.

I first spotted Haines in action two years ago in front of Milk Studios before a Rad Hourani show. Flash forward to today and I’m interviewing the designer-illustrator at his live in studio in Brooklyn. A space filled with awe inspiring floor-to-ceiling illustrations. Follow here for the full interview.

Carmen Lam: To start off, maybe you can tell me a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up?

Richard Haines: I grew up all over. My father was in the navy. So, I was born in Panama and then we moved to D.C, Philadelphia, Iceland and back to D.C. It was a lot of moving around and exposure to a lot of different stuff, which I think is really great.

CL: How was living in Iceland?

RH: That actually was really amazing, I was like 13 to maybe 15 [years old], being lifted from this really suburban environment to this exotic, beautiful country, and exposure to a lot of different people. When we first moved there we lived off the base, living in this little Icelandic town. But I remember this was like the beginning of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and all these Icelandic kids were super into it.  To go from this really bland suburban setting to these, they were like pre-Bjork kids, it was just, “Oh my God.” I remember getting off the plane and all these kids looked like Mick Jagger, “It was like, WOW, this is great.” And at that age, where you’re so hungry for stuff it was really amazing. So I loved it.

CL: How did you become interested in fashion? And did you go to school for it?

RH: I didn’t go to school for that. It was kind of an instinctual thing. I was always drawn to fashion, style and drawing. I mean, I remember when I went to Catholic school for a while, when I was five, I had drawings of models, like bridal dresses on my notebook covers. And all these other guys were sketching airplanes and World War II scenes. I was obsessed with this stuff. It’s like in my DNA. It was always there, growing up before all this stuff was on T.V. and really there was no access to it. So I just kind of created it in my head, which is fine, too. And then, my parents didn’t really understand what it was to be a fashion designer; I didn’t even understand it either. So, we kind of compromised and I went to school for a BFA in graphic arts and painting, from Virginia Commonwealth University. It was a compromise and it was fine you know – it worked.

CL: I read that you worked as a designer for a while, working for various labels. How was that experience?

RH: That was amazing. After I graduated from school in graphic and fine arts, I decided to move to New York to become an illustrator, this was the mid-70s. There was still a huge business in illustration. All newspaper ads until the mid-70s were illustrations, until it all started switching to photography. So by the time I got here, there were less and less illustration jobs, so I just parlayed into design. I spent most of my career as a fashion designer. And that was really incredible. It’s a tough business, it’s demanding, but the rewards are the exposure, the travel, and you can live really well. And I’ve worked with amazing people, Calvin Klein, Bill Blass and Perry Ellis – when he was alive. So that exposure, that experience is really unbelievable. And it’s a huge part of my illustration; I spent so many years doing flats, working with tailors and knowing where the pocket goes, or how the lapel falls. Sometimes people comment on that; my illustration is loose and not detailed. And people comment on the placement is always right, and I think that comes from knowing how things are made.

CL: And how was it working with Sean Combs? In an environment rooted in music and fashion.

RH: That was my last big Seventh Avenue gig. That was freelance, I was there for three months, but I loved it. It was incredible. It was really demanding, we had this whole show produced in like three months. And my job was to work with the designers, get everything sourced, fit and made. It was insane, but it was just this camaraderie. Sean P. Diddy is no different than Calvin – in a sense of being driven and building an empire and knowing what people want. His way of starting was music and Calvin’s way of starting was pushing a rolling rack.  It’s still this big way of thinking – incredibly driven. There are similarities to all these different places. And he, people like Calvin, surrounded themselves with really good people.  Really devoted, dedicated people.

CL: When were you working at Calvin Klein?

RH: I was working with him when he was at the top of his game. And he was just launching Obsessions. He was building an empire from nothing – from scratch. He has an awareness of branding, marketing and creating an image around you. You can think of Calvin and you could hold up a pair of white underpants and say, “these are white underpants or these are Calvin Klein.” These are two really different things, and he understood that, by putting them on Marky Mark and Kate Moss – it was taking this and owning it.

CL: When it comes to illustrating your choice of mediums are?

RH: For a long time it’s been charcoal. I was using watercolour, but switched to acrylics – it just balances out with the charcoal. And sometimes I’ll switch mediums, but I’ll always go back to these cheap charcoal pencils that you buy, they’re like $1.50 each and you pull the string. I love the boldness of the line.

CL: You sketch mostly menswear, what is the one thing you think guys should own in their closet?

RH: I don’t know if I’d say one thing, but I would say a pair of really good fitting jeans. I finally watched that movie Crazy Stupid Love on Netflix, it’s so great at the beginning, what’s his name, he’s the handsome guy.

CL: Ryan Gosling.

RH: Yes, Ryan Gosling says, “dude you’re jacket is two sizes two big.” And it was the perfect call out, because most American guys, the sleeve is down to here, the shoulder pads are sliding off, and there’s no sense of fit. Get a pair of jeans that are cut really well and a jacket that really fits.

CL: What is your most coveted item in your closet?

RH: Oh God. Someone just asked me this. I don’t really covet anything; it’s all clothes. If I owned a collection of Schiaparelli jackets, vintage pieces or like these amazing things – I think I would covet them. I don’t know. I mean I love clothes and fashion. I do have two pair of Stubbs Wootton shoes that I’m really into. Every time I put them on, I feel really happy. I can’t say I covet them, but they make me feel really good. So that’s close to coveting as I would get.

CL: Do you have a go-to outfit, something you usually wear?

RH: I wear the same thing everyday. Basically these A.P.C jeans. I bought these shirts by Gitman, and they’re basically really thick oxford button-down shirts, but they’re cut really well. And v-neck sweaters from J. Crew. I mean it’s a simple uniform. And I think everyone thinks, because I’m into fashion I have like all this stuff. But it’s basically, the more paired down I am, the happier I am, because I don’t have to think about it. I’m much more focused on what’s around me, instead of how I’m looking.

CL: Attending the shows this year, what were your top picks?

RH: I went to Prada in Milan. That to me was beyond – there are no words. I was in such awe of how they keep doing what they do. I was looking in their stores in Milan and their execution of vision is so extraordinary and lovely. I walked in the women’s shop and the colours were heaven.  Just the way they would layout 10 wallets, they were the most beautiful shades of blue and melon and green. Seeing the show and sketching it was just a dream come true. Then there are up-and-coming designers who I think are fascinating.

There’s Siki Im who I really love – I think he’s really on to something really special. I love N-Hoolywood, this Japanese designer. He has this take on Western masculinity, but because he’s Japanese it’s a totally different spin. I think he did a second or third show in New York. He’s from Tokyo. There’s a new designer Todd Snyder, I think he’s really interesting. I love bits and pieces of almost everyone. J. Crew’s presentations are always great. It’s a totally different experience than Prada, but equally valid for them, there’s always something great to look at.

CL: Where’s the prime location to spot that must have sketch?

RH: The Morgan stop by the L-Train. It’s the more warehouse part of Bushwick. It’s kind of like art boys and hipsters. This little strip called Morgan-town, these amazing restaurants and all these lofts and galleries around it. It’s just very posy, and everyone is on their game, in a very chill way – everyone trying to act cool.

CL: What made you start on Blogger?

RH: It was this pivotal point of not getting or finding the design jobs that I thought I could get. And I was frustrated with that. And I think after working with so many big companies, to have that direct voice, was really powerful. So it was a combination of “Fuck I can’t get a job,” to “I’m not getting these high paying jobs,” that I thought starting a blog of sketches could be used as a marketing tool as a designer. It was also a combination of getting back to drawing.

I’ve always loved New York; I’ve always loved watching people. Everyone watches people here; it’s the unspoken pastime – watching and being watched. And I’ve lived here for such a long time I really wanted to document it. I was sitting in Starbucks at Greenwich Avenue, all these art directors, and it was like, “Oh my God, these people are so amazing.”

At first I was thinking, should this be a trend report? I was trying to figure out what it should be. I had this direct access to posting my own voice and it was the beginning of street blogging and fashion bloggers. A lot of it was timing. I remember seeing The Sartorialist, and he had just started. And he was kind of playing around with it, his first post was kind of reporting on stores on the Lower East Side – the photographs were beautiful. It was this new media and it was free. How awesome is that? All I need is a scanner, a laptop, a sketchpad and I am off. And I started posting and I started meeting new people who contacted me. A guy contacted me and told me “You got a write-up on” It’s like “What?” Like holy shit I didn’t even try to get that. So that was a sign I was really on to something. And blogging has changed; it’s the golden years of blogging.

CL: You can reach a much wider audience.

RH: It’s insane. I love Facebook and Instagram. It’s one click and it’s out there. I get people all the time, like kids in Taipei or Hong Kong or Malaysia, “I love drawing! I want to draw and it’s amazing to see you draw and making a living.” I know that it wouldn’t have happened would it have been 10 years ago, to kids it’s [the internet] part of their vocabulary. So it’s still mind blowing to me. It’s amazing how people can find like-minded people so easily all over the world.

CL: Now that you speak of Instagram, did you buy that pink coffeemaker you posted?

RH: No. It was in Sweden. They were beautiful coffeemakers; I don’t think you’ll ever find them in the States. Pistachio green, yellow, pink and maybe black. I love going to hardware stores in other countries.

CL: What do you enjoy doing on your downtime?

RH: Draw, I hang out with my daughter, and having a serious love affair streaming Netflix. And music.

CL: Which shows?

RH: Back shows of RuPaul. Love watching Arrested Development with my daughter. We literally quote whole scenes from it. I can never get enough of that. I got into Downton Abbey, like watching it over and over. And the beauty of Netflix you find similar shows, so I started watching all these British shows, Upstairs Downstairs – have you ever seen that? It’s kind of pre-Downton Abbey, not as sophisticated. It started in the 70s and went on for like five or six years. The other night I found the first movie by Lena Dunham, Tiny Furniture, it’s really really good. Now I’m kind of obsessed with 20-something behaviour.

CL: You mentioned music. What do you listen to?

RH: Bradford Cox, who has a few different bands, one is called Deerhunter. The other is called Apex Sound. It’s very Brooklyn, it’s post-Grizzly Bear, Band of Horses. I like music that a 25-year-old is into, it’s very expressive and of the moment. And when I draw, that music really inspires me. So that’s what I’m listening to lately. The flip side, if I’m with friends they’re playing Gucci Mane – crazy all over the place stuff.

CL: What do you indulge in?

RH: My idea of indulging is so different. I guess 25 years go it would have been shopping or traveling. These guys opened a yoga place about three blocks from here, and it’s this old car repair shop. They totally gutted it and it’s just this amazing hippie place. And they have yoga three times a day and it’s so lovely and sweet. When I go, that to me is indulging – it’s great physically and mentally, it’s just so chill. That to me is my idea of indulgent now – surrounding myself with really good energy and inspiring people. Or even just getting a good book, that’s even an indulgent – leafing through a beautiful book or looking at a painting.

CL: What was the last book you read then?

RH: When I travel I buy a lot of books. I bought the David Sedaris book. And I’m trying to read Balzac – I love French 18th century, 19th century literature. I mean I love anything about Paris and France. I try to get these inspirational books. I just got an iPad – it’s amazing.

CL: What was the last art show you saw?

RH: I walked into the New Museum at Bowery at an opening and they had a tri-sentential. I don’t know what that means, but they have a lot of new art. And that was really inspiring. A lot of people are nostalgic for other periods of time, especially in New York and I’ve been here long enough to experience that stuff.  This is an amazing time, a really interesting time. I just think this is a dynamic, scary, awesome time.

Interview and image credit: Carmen Lam.