Fei Wang - better known as Mr Slowboy - talks us through his artistic and sartorial inspirations, and discusses the nature of tradition, the resurgence in fashion illustration, and making a living doing what you love.
I spent the previous 12 years making all sorts of advertisements in the creative department of an American ad agency in Beijing, while illustration was always my biggest hobby on the side. I have been interested in menswear since I was in college, and my focus shifted from street style to classic menswear and workwear. In June 2015, I started a personal blog on social media called ‘Slowboy’ to share my knowledge, experience and tips about men’s fashion through writing and illustration, which was well received by my colleagues and friends, who encouraged me to post stuff more frequently. Later in the year I moved to London to be reunited with my wife, and finally jumped off the boat and became a full-time menswear illustrator.
The tide has changed direction towards traditional menswear over the past few years. I remember when I opened my account on Instagram in late November 2015, the first few posts only gained 10 or 20 likes, and just one month later I got my first commercial project from Lock & Co Hatters. I couldn’t really believe it when I received the message from their PR manager – they’re probably one of the best hatters in the world and have been in business for more than 250 years. I’m definitely lucky enough to have accelerated the reach of my illustrations with the power of the current ‘menswear boom’.
I think, generally speaking, illustration is considered as more ‘traditional,’ which means we will start to see more and more hand-drawn art rather than computer generated digital art. Regarding menswear illustration, the future of it is rather an evolution of its past - once upon a time, when photography was too expensive, all the menswear brands used illustrations to make their lookbooks, and the illustrations themselves were not just showcasing the suits and ties, but depicting scenarios and telling us stories. I feel that consumers nowadays are actually more receptive to those kinds of visuals, perhaps because we have seen too much seriousness in the way our clothes are presented.
If you look back to fashion illustrations in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s or even ‘70s, especially the work of René Gruau or Laurence Fellows, they were very narrative, and you can see humour and interaction between the characters. I just wanted to insert that type of human touch into my drawings and make them relevant to the modern world we are living in. Menswear used to be an indication of one’s status and social class, where you needed to learn the formulas, but now it has become more personal and everyone actually tries to break the formulas. Of course, that momentum makes menswear less pretentious and more chilled, more relaxed.
One of my favourite fashion artists, and a great influence on me, is Kazuo Hozumi. He invented a brand new visual language to depict men’s apparel, in a vivid, cute and light-hearted, yet iconic style. His work was nurtured by the distinctive Kawaii culture of Japan, and was revolutionary in a sense that changed the way people saw clothes. The iconic cartoonish round face, huge eyes and smiles are so lovable and well designed by using basic geometric shapes and simple clear lines. On one hand, these classic and systematic designs make his illustrations a perfect match to ‘traditional’ menswear which also has basic shapes and timeless designs, and on the other hand, the trend of making menswear less serious and more approachable echoes Hozumi-san’s artistic expressions.
It might sound cliché, but I see myself as a global citizen, though I don’t speak many languages, but I like mixing things together and blurring time and space. I’m really grateful for my background in advertising, it trained me to be very open to all kinds of resources of inspirations, and only create universal ideas applicable to everyone across the world regardless of ethnicities and cultures. At the end of the day, one’s artwork is just a reflection of one’s self.