With a background in graphic design, it wasn’t until Megan Hess began doing small illustrations as art director of Liberty department store that she began to pursue a career as an illustrator. Her big break came when author Candace Bushnell’s publisher called and asked her to illustrate Candace’s new book, One Fifth Avenue. After this, Megan’s work fell on the radar of luxury brands such as Chanel, Dior and Tiffany & Co and the commissions haven’t stopped coming since. The ever talented Megan then decided to add ‘author’ to her resume and has penned and illustrated the hugely successful Claris the Mouse picture books. I recently caught up with Megan at the launch of the Claris the Mouse High Tea at the Sofitel Hotel in Sydney where we chatted about drawing Michelle Obama, her biggest pinch-me moment and she answered my daughter, Sophia’s questions about the loveable Claris…
Congratulations on the success of your books, Claris The Chicest Mouse in Paris and Claris: Fashion Show Fiasco… Did you ever envisage being the author and illustrator of best-selling picture books?
Thank you so much. I did always dream of creating a children’s character that could have wonderful adventures, but it took many years to really develop her and really bring her to life.
Your background is fashion illustrating, what led you do become an author?
I certainly never planned to become an author but I’m so happy that I did. My fashion books have always been a labour of love and the writing has always been based on subjects that I’m very passionate about. Creating the children’s books has been a completely different speed! Firstly, they are much harder to create. The rhyming of each story is quite epic. They seem basic when you read it but literally every single word is written and re-written over and over! Then the illustrating of each story is intensive but in saying all that, I couldn’t’t love it more. Creating Claris books is probably the most fun I have in the studio.
Did you grow up in an artistic household and at what age did you realise your talent for illustration and design?
I’ve just always loved drawing and it’s the one and only thing I think I’ve been good at! My parents worked in pharmacy and more medical fields, but they always encouraged me to follow my heart and do what I loved. I also had very inspiring art teachers growing up. As a child I attended art class every Saturday and it was literally my favourite time of the week. Then in high school I had an amazing teacher who really pushed me to explore the possibilities of making art my career. I’m so glad she did!
What career path did you take to get into fashion illustration?
I studied graphic design because it felt like a ‘real’ job in the art world, but always wanted to be an illustrator – I just never knew back then that it was a possible career choice! After working as an art director in ad agencies for several years I packed everything up and moved to London. It was in London that I worked in a million different creative jobs and in my final job there realised that I had a burning desire to be an artist. At this time, I’d became the art director for Liberty department store. Whist I loved art-directing fashion I loved illustrating it more. I started to do very small illustrations for Liberty and from this art directors saw my work and little commissions began to follow. After about a year I found myself with non-stop work. I wasn’t earning a fortune, but I’d never been happier, and I knew I was going to do this forever.
You have worked with some of the most influential fashion icons and designers in the world – how did you get your break?
As my clients got bigger and better, I was able to be a little more selective and just work on briefs that I knew had a great creative opportunity. Then in 2006 I got a call in the middle of the night from Candace Bushnell’s publisher asking if I would illustrate her next novel ‘One Fifth Avenue’. This was when things took off at rapid speed for me. Her book became a New York Times bestseller and I met with Candace and she asked me to illustrate all her previous books including the cover of ‘Sex and The City’.
Once ‘Sex and the City’ was released I was contacted by TIME magazine in New York to create portraits for them. Following this, I began illustrating for Tiffany & Co, Chanel, Dior, Cartier, Vanity Fair, Italian Vogue, Bergdorf Goodman, Laduree…. Ironically, at the same time as my work finally took off, I had my first baby! It’s funny, I always tell people that I haven’t really slept since 2006!
You’ve worked with the likes of Dior, Balenciaga, Tiffany & Co., Prada… and the list goes on. Which designer was the most interesting to collaborate with and why?
I would say Fendi. The entire brand is built on creativity and being brave. For them I created an imaginary Fendi Palace with almost ‘Alice in Wonderland’ rooms with Fendi girls. It was a mix of pretty and eerie in terms of mood. I had so much creative freedom, it was a joy to collaborate with them and create without restriction. At the time of creation, all my illustrations were for Karl Lagerfeld (as co-creator of Fendi) which was such an honour.
What was it like to work with the likes of Michelle Obama and Candace Bushnell?
Daunting but exciting! Creating 10 portraits for Michelle Obama was my most challenging. It was an incredible project to work on but also quite daunting purely because I really wanted to make sure they were perfect. I really respect her as a woman, so it was an amazing project to work on.
Working with Candace was literally my first BIG break! I thank my lucky stars that she chose me to illustrate the cover of Sex in The City— It was the project that really started my career with Luxury fashion. She is still a mentor to me today.
If you could work or collaborate with anyone/ any designer who would it be and why?
Vivienne Westwood or Tom Ford—I always joke that I would love Tom Ford to call me—that would be fun! But, honestly, if I keep getting to work on the types of commissions that I’m working on now, I’ll be very happy.
What has been your biggest challenge in your career?
Managing it all! In the very beginning the struggle was to find great projects to work on. I had no clients and I wasn’t yet a mother, so the initial challenge was to get things moving. THEN once my work took off after Sex and The City, I had the opposite problem—I had lots of great projects and brands coming to me to collaborate and I also had just had a baby, so it was quite overwhelming. Today I still find the biggest challenge juggling it all. I can now only take on about 20 per cent of the jobs that come to me each year so I have to be very careful about what projects are the best fit. I’ve learnt that it’s better to do a smaller amount of jobs at 100 per cent than lots of jobs at 50 per cent. At the end of the day I try to base this decision on what projects will have the best creative outcome—some projects have huge budgets and others are tiny, but I always choose to work on projects that will fulfil me creatively.
What has been your biggest pinch-me moment during your career?
I am continuously in ‘pinch me’ mode! I think my biggest ‘pinch me’ moment though was earlier this year – I was commissioned by Chopard to illustrate for them at the Cannes Film Festival. I saw more diamonds and Hollywood’s finest in 24 hours to last me a lifetime. It was such an incredible project to work on. I designed and illustrated their Cannes 2019 Red Carpet book and then we launched it on opening night at Cannes. I kept asking myself… ‘Is this real?’
Working in the fashion arena can be cutthroat – what has been the most valuable advice you’ve received?
To enjoy the process as much as the outcome. As creatives we are often striving to get to the completed piece, whether it’s a final sketch or a finished piece of writing. I’ve learnt that the time spent dreaming, exploring, creating, and re-writing is just as magical as seeing the completed works.
How did you come to create Claris and what was the inspiration behind your compassionate and stylish mouse?
It was during my time in Paris, researching for my last book, that I had a wonderful idea. I was sitting on my little balcony at Le Bristol Hotel (as I am their Artist in Residence) and I thought I saw a little mouse on a neighbouring rooftop scurrying across the building. I remember thinking how wonderfully chic it would be to live in Paris, even if you were only a tiny little mouse!
Is there an individual who inspires Claris’s stylish wardrobe?
I think Claris could give Carrie Bradshaw a run for her money! Claris’s wardrobe is every dreamy dress and couture design I wish I owned. I loved the thought of this little mouse dressed in couture and still going on wild adventures! I wanted little girls to know that its ok to love fashion—you can still take on the world!
What has been the most interesting opportunity that has risen from the success of your books?
With the Claris books it’s been the amazing experience of connecting with kids all around the world! I first launched her in Paris, and I was brought to tears when I arrived at Galleries Lafayette and saw hundreds of the cutest little French kids dressed up in their finest to attend the book signing! When you create a children’s book in the studio, you wonder how it will be received and most importantly, will kids like this?? So, to get a great response has been wonderful. Since then we’ve launched Claris all over the world, in Australia (of course), London, South Africa, Dubai, Korea etc. Last year’s ‘Book Week’ I was inundated with the cutest pics of little girls all over the world dressing as Claris for their favourite book character. It made my heart melt.
Congratulations on the launch of Claris the Mouse ‘The Chicest High Tea in Sydney’. How did this collaboration with the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour come about?
When Sofitel Darling Harbour reached out about a possible Claris Book signing I had the idea to do something I’d always dreamt of… A chic Claris High Tea! Thankfully the Sofitel loved the idea and we have had SO MUCH fun planning it! Their incredible pastry chef went straight to work on the most creative and delicious menu. We’ve created beautiful accommodation packages that have some ’secret treats’ in each hotel room! I love a beautiful high tea and think this will such a fun experience to share as mothers and daughters or even as a group of girlfriends.
What can guests expect from attending a high tea at the Sofitel?
The Claris High Tea at the Sofitel Darling Harbour is the perfect day out for young and young at heart! You can enjoy all of Claris’ favourite foods, like macarons and madeleines, served on Claris the Mouse plates and cutlery. My favourite part of the high tea is, of course, the chocolate fountain! And naturally there is French Champagne for the grown-ups to enjoy.
Can we expect to see any more adventures from Claris?
I have so many plans for my little mouse! I’m planning her next adventure right now! Book three is on its way…
For young illustrators out there, wanting to continue developing their craft and artistry, what tips would you suggest?
I think if it’s what you really want to do then do it and don’t let anything put you off course. The more you do something the better you’ll get. Students often ask me how to find their style and I always say that if you just keep drawing, your style will find you. And my ultimate advice is to enjoy the journey as much as the outcome.
5 quick questions from my 5-year-old Sophia:
Will Claris & Monsieur ever come to Australia?
Which outfit is Claris’ all-time favourite?
Her favourite is the Giambattista Valli inspired gold dress on the cover of Fashion Week Fiasco.
Does Claris own any pants and t-shirts, or does she just wear dresses?
Claris does like to mix it up. She loves everything from elegant Chanel Couture dresses to tough leather looks from Balmain or Prada.
Does Claris go to school and what is her favourite subject?
Claris is home schooled in her little apartment. Monsieur gives her all the schoolbooks. Her favourite subject is art.
What is Claris’ Favourite book?
Eloise at the Plaza (Claris thinks that living in a fancy hotel would be very fun!)