Richard Haines is a legend. His artistic legacy ratifies him as an innovator who upended the worlds of fashion and art. As these categories revolutionized over time, so did Haines. He’s lived in and between moments—undergoing transformations parallel to the cultural narratives of New York City. His story can only be described as sui generis, completely in a class of its own.
Before the days of hashtags and Insta-stories, the premier documenter was illustration. It was the art medium used for ads in The New York Times and the covers of Vogue. Growing up, Haines connected to this kind of imagery. It was emotive, sometimes even more colorful than photography. He aspired to become an illustrator one day, teaching himself how to draw by copying fashion photos and department store ads. However, by the time he moved to New York City in the mid-1970s, the talents of fashion sketchers were no longer of vested interest.
Photography had taken over in a big way. Under these prevailing conditions, Haines made the shift to fashion design, where he spent decades working for renowned labels including Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis. While Haines enjoyed a successful career working for major fashion houses, he wasn’t exempt from the economy’s temperament. In 2008, he was no longer able to find work. Equal parts total fluke and an act of serendipity, Haines turned back to his love of illustration. He decided to start a blog called, What I Saw Today, a platform where he detailed New York City street fashion like an anthropologist.
Haines’ loosely sketched figures pose as the perfect foundation. Not only do they showcase his genius for fashion and function, but the images also provide a cultural context. He invests in the conversations around him. At first, it seems like Haines is merely acting as a spectator, observing and documenting the world around him.
However, with a little more scrutiny, we recognize that he is a storyteller. Haines takes us with him, witnessing the world through strokes of color and form. His sketches are the only ones that can cut through the noise of social media. In a world of digital, this analog representation is almost an act of rebellion. And no one could illustrate this the same way Richard Haines can.
Tell us a little bit about your childhood. What did becoming an artist mean to you?
Becoming an artist at an early age was a way of escaping and ‘checking out’ from the reality around me. My father was very ill and in the hospital for about six months when I was five or six. I think that’s when my art practice really began.
I would draw gardens—it was a way of creating an alternative, happier universe. Escape and survival...
In the mid-1970s, before the days of Twitter and Instagram, you created a visual archive of what you saw on the runway. What was that experience like for you as an artist?
In the 70s I moved to New York to ‘become’ an illustrator. Because I don’t have formal training as a fashion illustrator I put that dream aside and became a fashion designer, working for companies such as Bill Blass, Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein. Nonetheless, it was an incredibly exciting time—the beginning of the idea of American sportswear, and I was right in the middle of that era. I loved it and it as informed who I am today.
That was an exceptionally unique time in New York City. What was it like living in the “front row” of fashion?
My first job designing was with a woman named Cathy Hardwick. She had a small, self-owned company of women sportswear, and she taught me everything about fashion design. She’d send me to Paris twice a year to go to the fabric shows, and while there I started going to the shows of designers like Claude Montana, Jean Paul Gautier and Thierry Muegler. Amazing, powerful shows of models in huge shouldered outfits—an incredible time!
You must have some fantastic stories from those days. Can you share with us one of your favorite memories?
I randomly met John Duka—he went on to become the fashion editor of New York Magazine, the fashion editor for the New York Times, and one of the co-founders of the PR powerhouse KCD. John was working on his first story and wanted something memorable, so I arranged for us to meet with the couturier Charles James. I believe it was the last year of James’ life, he was living in the Chelsea Hotel in less than optimal circumstances, but to meet him, and to be in rooms filled with the most beautiful gowns was a true New York moment!
Shortly after, the fashion industry experienced a seismic shift. You found yourself transforming your craft by designing in-house for major New York labels. What was it about menswear that you loved the most?
I love the ease of menswear. And of course, being a man, it’s something I can easily relate to. Also in the 70s and 80s, there was a huge change in the way men shopped and put themselves together. This was the beginning of ‘Designer Labels’ such as Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein, so there was an excitement about being at the vanguard of that.
You’ve encountered a lot of successes in your life. Do you credit that to talent or hard work? Perhaps a little bit of both?
Hmmmm. I think both. But I do realize that talent is only part of the reason for one’s success. I’ve learned over the years to be grateful and willing. I also am genuinely happy to work and have people pay me to draw, to do the work. I think that kind of attitude creates more work. I also think one has to be willing to share their work, use social media, etc. I know a lot of people who are very talented, but without knowing how to share work and work with people, the talent can only go so far.
This is a digital extract from the print version of THE LATERALS MAGAZINE | Issue 01.
To read the full interview, get a copy here.
Photography by Karl & Kristof