Man and the Machine-an Interview with Pioneering Illustrator and Digital Artist Patrick Morgan

To say that Patrick is one of the most successful illustrators of today would be an understatement. Still, how do you define the work of a multidimensional creator that took his design art to territories unexplored? A true modern-day homo Universalis, he has created a personal visual universe while creatively incorporating top-notch technology and innovation into the process. Pioneering digital innovation in his field, Morgan’s work opens up new opportunities for disruption and discussion on man and the machine. Mixing art and science, his projects are a combination of XR, AI, VR, and old school artistic craftsmanship. His clients? Tom Ford, YSL, LVMH, Christian Dior, Fendi, Schiaparelli, you name it, it’s there.

Like every true artistic soul, Morgan is also an educator. Indeed, he has been fusing relationships between industry and universities working with the RCA and Wallpaper* magazine, while giving a series of lectures at Tate Modern about future learning and critical thinking. Always pushing boundaries, he became the founder and director of the Fida Fashion Awards, the first global online awards to promote fashion illustration and drawing around the world, supported and partnered by some of the best brands and people in the fashion industry. Most recently, Fida presented the new Digital Innovation Fashion Awards in collaboration with Condé Nast and Wired Magazine and   ‘The Fashion Illustration Bible’, a book-showcase of the best illustrators around. The StyleTitle caught up with him to discuss creativity, future trends, and his ‘lifting creativity as we rise” mantra.

You have experimented with fusing traditional design with future trends. How do you envision the future of design?

Fusing, is a word I have started to use frequently, as I believe that it is imperative for artists, craftspeople, and designers to work much more, hand in hand with machines and technology.  As technology becomes more available and affordable to a non-industrial system, creatives will be able to get much closer to competing on a smaller scale with industry. Future trends are driven by art, culture, music, and life and true artists will always be immersed in tradition, so disguising their process through more technological workflows will become much more apparent. Ever since Duchamp introduced the Read-made and Jeff Koons incorporated an industrialized system to his final work, embedding a restyle or appropriated piece from the past.

You define yourself as an ‘educator’. How important is the education process for you?

Education is a major part of shared knowledge and as a creative educated through art school, I feel the need to pass on wisdom and information. This is the only way to progress and make ideas better and more progressive.

Is modern design a case of art versus the machine?

Modern design will either be a collaboration or reaction against the Machine. The creative will either choose to work alongside the technology or they will choose to embed it into their daily work. Artists and creatives have always looked for the new. This is what makes things exciting and different, creating pastiches of the past won’t inspire us to provoke new thoughts and open diverse conversations.

Do you feel that digital is the way fashion should go in a post corona era?

No, Digital and fashion, like art will always be in flux. Artists like Jonathan Anderson is reacting to digital and using and promoting a much more traditional way of working, where Iris Van Herpen is embracing the future, pushing the envelope of what the machine or technology can do to enhance her final design.

Tell us about your current book project-and your future ones.

I am currently working on a few books, firstly a book Celebrating Fida, a platform I have created for fashion artists and illustrators to celebrate this amazing field of talent. Fida will be a year old and we have worked with Peter Dundas, running a competition reflecting on his past works and Celine Dion on imagining her future through the lens of fashion illustration. The second book will be for a show I am creating with an ex-student of mine, looking as tastemakers of the past and art collecting of today. Opening the question of what art brings to your personal wellbeing and how we desire to be surrounded by beautiful things or art that makes us feel happier or more powerful

More of Patrick Morgan’s work can be found here

The Ganni exhibition at Copenhagen Fashion Week spring / summer 2021. Courtesy Copenhagen Fashion Week

The Fashion Shows of the Future Will Be Phygital.Or Perhaps Not.

Nothing can be as unpredictable as the future-and for fashion an industry that relies heavily on predictions and trends, the post- Coronavirus era has been a catalyst for radical changes. Social distancing and health regulations meant the idea of a fashion week as we knew it had to change-with first being the fashion shows. The most recent Copenhagen fashion week showed us that the buzz word of the future would be “phygital” – physical space and digital technologies combined.

Copenhagen Fashion Week was redesigned both as a hybrid format of virtual showrooms which allowed buyers to review the clothes and as a newly designed digital platform to host the shows that would take place both in a digital and phygital format. The advisory board made up of Ganni’s founder Nicolaj Reffstrup; Stine Goya’s CEO Thomas Hertz; Holzweiler’s creative director Susanne Holzweiler; Hope’s creative director Frida Bard; and the creative agency MOON’s CEO Martin Gjesing decided on a series of installments that included almost everything: from presentations, runways exhibitions to installations.

The experimental format performed well-that is, for a compromise. However, the organizers knew right the start it was a challenging choice. “We know from other fashion weeks that the numbers haven’t been crazy high” Cecilie Thorsmark, chief executive of Copenhagen Fashion Week told Vogue Business. Vogue Business also reported that according to Traakr, the best performing Copenhagen Fashion Week brand was Ganni, which hosted an exhibition-by-appointment instead of a runway gathering with 208 posts and over 156,000 engagements, thus  suggesting that people still want to engage in physical events,

Now that Copenhagen Fashion Week is over, the conversation about how the fashion show will evolve becomes more relevant than ever. If the fashion show is based on the shared experience-a communal feeling of participation, then how this could be reproduced in the non-physical world? How would we get the excitement, the thrill, the show? And how can consumers want to actually buy without the fantasy offered, without the immediate reaction?  “If I’m a buyer I’m not going to spend tens of thousands of pounds of my budget on a collection I haven’t physically seen. The digital platforms are great for discovering brands and great for re-orders for instance, but if I was buying from a new designer or spending vast sums, I would want to see and touch the collection first,” notes Lauretta Roberts, CEO & Editor in Chief of The Industry.fashion media.

She is not the only one who sees radical changes coming. For Evelyn Mora, the founder of Helsinki Fashion Week, the fashion industry will embrace interdisciplinary collaboration to the fullest. “It is a new start for the fashion industry and I personally see it as a positive opportunity to reinvent ourselves and our industry. “ she notes. She also feels digital shows do have a future-in a complementary form. “Digital shows might replace the physical shows as we know it but I do think that digital can never replace IRL interactions and socializing. Digital is an essential tool for the fashion industry to embrace. I don’t think that it is an either-or question. Digital compliments physical and vice versa.”

Katie Baron is an author and the Director of Brand Engagement at Stylus. For her, the future of the fashion show will be a mixture of gated, industry-only content like debates, and public-facing experiences from shows to further discussions. “One of the most significant changes will be the introduction of not only live-streamed shows that we’ll comment on akin to watching sport but also, slightly further down the line, the capacity to enter virtual environments with digital models allowing even smaller brands to showcase worlds more closely aligned with their creative vision than at present when even a basic show requires significant funding.”

For Lauretta Roberts, the catwalk, and the showroom experiences are vital. “The catwalk or runway is a device used by a designer to market their collection and present a coherent and compelling creative vision for their collection – they are important and often just joyous to watch. Yes, they are expensive to produce but the marketing benefit and the content created from it endures long after the show has ended. But the buying, from a retailer perspective, happens in the showrooms afterward when they really get a chance to get up close and personal with the collection.” She predicts the new fashion show format is here to stay. “I would not be surprised to see brands investing more in digital presentations” she notes, “either through the digital fashion weeks or through their own channels to cover off the marketing and creative vision side of the equation. “

If phygital is to stay as the new fashion show format, then technology will be vital in securing a future for the industry. “Tech will certainly put consumers in the picture to a greater extent, making shows much more of a ‘tentpole’ moment, but not necessarily bound to the conventional seasons.” remarks Katie Baron. “Consider too, she adds, a greater play on the components that constitute great shows, such as (AR)-trialling of catwalk make-up – straight to fans’ faces – allowing their audiences to continue generating the buzz.”

According to Lauretta Roberts,the change is coming-and will most likely affect both smaller designers and big brands. “There does need to be some sort of physical presentation of a collection for trade but I don’t think it needs to be four times a year and we need to give clothes a chance to sell in-store before they are discounted and moved on to allow space for new deliveries. It’s a bit insane that all the summer stock is cleared in June and the stores are full of coats and chunky knitwear in August. That has to change.”

Ninette Murk’s eternal optimism will save the world

There are people that can turn every heartbreaking event of their life into an act of positivity -and Ninette Murk is definitely one of them. The founder and creative director at Designers Against AIDS (DAA) and creative platform for social change Beauty Without Irony (BWI), Murk created DAA as a tribute to her assistant, Peter, who died of an AIDS-related illness; and BWI as a response to the cynical outlook the fashion business was adopting –being a fashion journalist she was experiencing it big time.
20 years later, both foundations are going from strength to strength, with DAA successfully collaborating with leading and popular fashion brands, designers and celebrities such as H&M, Eastpak, JBC, Delvaux, Marc Jacobs, Bernhard Willhelm, Rihanna, Timbaland, Robert Smith from The Cure, Pharrell Williams and Kendall Jenner. In 2013 Murk relaunched BWI as a creative platform for social change staging exciting international exhibitions in Essaouira (Morocco) and Antwerp (Belgium).

Today, in a world experiencing the aftermaths of the corona pandemic and in the midst of the #blacklivesmatter protests in the US and Europe, Murk’s creative optimism appears the only way to go forward. Indeed, her full body of work is a celebration of pure beauty, idealism, and lust for life -a lust that overcomes all obstacles to support a good cause –and makes a positive change to the world. Here, she speaks about DAA, her more recent project ‘Beauty for a Better World 2020’- and how eternal optimism in action can save the world.

Tell us a bit about your most recent projects, especially Beauty for a Better World 2020?

Beauty for a Better World was a very early project of mine that started with the Twin Towers incident and the overall world apocalypse that happened -and didn’t really get the attention it deserved. I then went on to found Designers against AIDS, a project that became very famous -and got media attention especially after our 5 years lasting global H&M collaboration. Many designers contributed, in fact, we have a vast archive of work that represents our mission. Meanwhile, I wanted to reboot my beauty projects as I feel the perception of beauty in the world is important-but most donations were made to DAA just because the initiative has gained so much publicity. I don’t think it’s bad, naturally, I just felt I needed to do something involving beauty-and thus restarted it. We have a great team of high profile and talented people both in the fashion and media industry that are passionate about our mission. I believe in beauty -in fact, the process of choosing your most beautiful artwork of all to be exhibited on behalf of BFBW2020 has been cathartic even for the artists themselves.

Your work deals a lot with beauty and happiness through awareness and responsibility-How do you define the idea of responsibility in the fashion industry? What’s missing in terms of ethics right now?

Every company (not only in fashion!) should make sure that it’s being fair on every level of their process- towards their employees, customers, suppliers, ad /media agency, shareholders – and also to the planet. The focus right now for many businesses is mainly about making as much money as possible, cutting costs wherever they can. This is not sustainable and it certainly is not human.

 

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Kendall Jenner and Neville Jacobs (dog of Marc Jacobs) in one of the t-shirts he designed to benefit Designers against AIDS. This project by LOVE Magazine also featured Gigi Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and Cara Delevingne

 

What is the greatest lesson fashion must learn from the coronavirus epidemic?

Fashion must slow down, its more imperative now than it has been some years ago. The fashion schedule with so many shows a year and countless meetings and fast fashion production are destroying nature, the most important thing we have-and thus our wellbeing and future. There are solutions: reduce the schedule, produce less and better quality clothes that are ethically made, and make your supply chain as transparent as possible. Full transparency is needed. I am also a member of GWAND, a Swiss festival for Sustainable fashion, and have learned a lot from these people-advocates of sustainability in a creative and not –boring, fun way! Sustainable fashion isn’t anymore how it was some years ago-the clothes are actually very nice, stylish, and more accessible price-wise.

The #Blacklivesmatter movement is causing a stir-How can fashion brands fully embrace diversity?

They must mean it. Not many brands are actually investing in diversity in their staff roles or ensure equal pay rates. They must hire more black people, promote and consult them. Diversity in fashion is not a new concept, in the past, Benetton and their photographer Oliviero Toscani have been successfully embracing it with great vision-and commercial success. The Benetton clothes were just brightly colored basics, but the message, the awareness, the brand ethics were powerful. They talked about AIDS, racism, everything that matters. Diversity also means more representation in terms of sizes. Brands must embrace diversity and actually mean it as a long term strategy-don’t just add a plus-size model to gain attention but then not do anything groundbreaking. You don’t brush off the need to show diversity and inclusivity just by stating it or posting a #blacklivesmatter on your Facebook page.

So, how does it feel being an eternal optimist?

This is more part of who I am, more of my attitude towards life than a structured philosophy. I have been through a lot the recent years in terms of personal health, and have managed to get through them smiling and with optimism. You see, I may occasionally feel pain or get a low mood, but then I focus on all the great things I am blessed to have: a nice life, a house with a beautiful garden, a great husband, and an invaluable circle of friends. Those are priceless -and that’s how we all should face life.

Ballet Room by Antonio Paladino
Graduation collection of Serkan Sarier at the Antwerp Academy (2001), photo by Antonio Paladino-the start of Beauty Without Irony project

 

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The Dita Von Teese- designed T-shirt for DAA’s first global Fashion against AIDS collection with H&M.

beautywithoutirony.com

designersagainstaids.com