Food & Culture

Megan Hess: how I eat

The fashion illustrator on her big break, live-drawing runway shows and eating in Paris on a budget.

By Lee Tran Lam
What's something you remember eating when you were growing up in Queensland?
Mangoes. We had mango trees and you could actually smell when they were ripe. You know how you associate certain fruits with the beginning of summer? For me, it was definitely mangoes.
When did you first know that you could illustrate?
I can't remember not drawing. At school, I started drawing other kids, and I remember the teacher saying to my parents, "They kind of look like them." The drawings were not great, but they were the beginnings of something.
In your new book, Elegance, you write that Coco Chanel got her break in a café. What helped kickstart your career?
Fashion illustration is so niche and hard, and I was on the verge of giving up on it. Then I got a call and was asked to illustrate the cover of Sex and the City. I'd done a little illustration in Italian Vogue, which author Candace Bushnell had seen. She contacted her publisher in New York and said, "Whoever drew this would be good for the new look of Sex and the City." And then it was everywhere: on top of taxis in New York and on billboards. That was my big break.
You've since worked for fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton, Prada and Dior. Was there a particular job that you were really excited to get?
I always stay really calm when a luxury brand contacts me, then I'll do a lap around the studio and scream and hug everyone. The project that I did for Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld was the one that, creatively, I was the most excited and nervous about. I was in Paris by the time the campaign had gone live, and I had dinner with Martina, my marketing manager, and we were talking about how lucky we were that out of anyone, anywhere in the world, I was the one that got to do it. But in general, I always think it's good to celebrate even little things that happen, because I was always in that mindset of, "When this next thing happens, everything will be great." And I realised that then you're never living in the moment.
In Elegance, you write, "Paris makes the ordinary extraordinary: from a freshly baked baguette wrapped in beautiful paper to a corner store that will box your single macaron with a silk ribbon." What are some of your Paris memories?
I always refer to my life before the Sex and the City cover and after the Sex and the City cover. I did a lot of travelling in my early years when I was broke. And Paris is one of those places that even with a very, very small budget, there's so much that you can do and enjoy – there's so much that you can see that doesn't cost anything.
Where did you enjoy eating on the cheap in Paris?
At really nondescript bakeries that you pass randomly, chances are the bread and the pastries are going to be the best thing you've ever had, even though it's not the most expensive food to eat in Paris. When I couldn't afford to do a lot, just getting fresh bread, going to the Tuileries, walking around and seeing the architecture, or getting the cheese plate from a little brasserie, that was amazing.
In Elegance, you write that Chloé founder Gaby Aghion "launched her first collection at Café de Flore over breakfast… At the time, serving fashion with croissants was unheard of." Is that something you think about when you're having a coffee at the cafés in Paris?
I do. That's part of the reason why a place like Café de Flore is fascinating. The history is so long and so many remarkable people have sat there with a glass of wine or a plate of cheese, and created something amazing.
What's it like to live-sketch Dior's runway show in London?
Terrifying, because most of the really good illustrations that I do, I do in the studio with no one watching. Over the years, I've worked out how to do it live. I guess it's like a chef cooking on live TV; I've worked out that maybe a soufflé is not the best thing to do.
What inspired your Coffee Girls series of coffee-cup drawings?
About eight years ago, I had that feeling we all sometimes get on a Monday morning: "So much to do!" I remember thinking, "What I need is a really good coffee, and then I'll be on my way." I drew how I was feeling on the cup: a girl with a coffee with sunglasses on. I posted it on social media, and I had thousands of likes within a really short time.
You've said that you like to search for the perfect pasta when you're in Italy. Have you found it?
The last time I was in Milan, Martina and I ate gnocchi with truffle cheese. Neither of us could even speak. That pasta was probably the best I've ever had.
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  • undefined: Lee Tran Lam