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My Desk

Richard Kilroy

The east London-based fashion illustrator talks about his art, inspiration and signature style.

Interview by Stuart Brumfitt. Photographs by Jasper Clarke.
Fashion by Chris Hobbs.
Interview by Stuart Brumfitt. Photographs by Jasper Clarke. Fashion by Chris Hobbs.

You won’t find many creatives in any field who want to push their rivals’ work, but 29-year-old illustrator Richard Kilroy is as keen on championing the talents of his contemporaries as he is spreading his own visual take on men’s fashion, physique and attitude. Kilroy is the founder and editor of Decoy, a magazine dedicated to the best in contemporary fashion illustration, and he recently released Menswear Illustration, a book that shines a light on everything in his field, from impressionistic watercolour works to super-sharp ballpoint-pen drawings.

Kilroy’s own work is photorealistic, playing with negative space for suggestion and simplicity. His drawings of models (preferably ones with a strong nose, good hands, piercing eyes and a pronounced Adam’s apple) are sharp, sexy and almost unnervingly accurate, with parts of the drawing leaping out at you with photographic clarity.

I’m mainly menswear focused as I like the details of men. Images of women are very smooth... I like all the shadows and musculature – it lends itself to my style.

After a childhood in Liverpool, Kilroy went on to study at Leeds College of Art and now lectures at London’s Central Saint Martins (with the odd guest appearance at the Royal College of Art). He’s worked on commissions for Numéro, V Man, John Smedley, Lee Roach and Canali and a selection of his works are in the permanent collection of fashion drawings held by London’s V&A museum. The Style Report met up with him in his Hackney live-work studio space to find out about his key tools of the trade, his love of The Face and schooldays’ socks and sandals.

What are the most important things in your studio for your illustrating?
‘My massive scanner is an absolute godsend. It’s a top-end A3 scanner and without it I don’t know how I’d afford professional scanning – it’s insane. I let all my illustrator friends come round and use it. I draw with a mechanical pencil, 0.35mm. And I use certain types of paper that don’t come up with grain. It’s called Bristol board. It’s really smooth like glass. And I have my brushes, my inks and my paints, which I use quite sparingly. I have a good camera to shoot models with and a small space to photograph them.’

Work-in progress and finished pieces displayed at Kilroy’s Hackney live-work space

What things around you inspire you?
‘My collection of The Face magazines is really important to me, because that’s what got me into it all. They’re from the early noughts – their last few years. Lots of people say that the last few years were s**t, and I’m like, “Is it?” It’s not like I go through them every day, but every few months I’ll have a session and go through them all. That’s what I want from a magazine: a more playful and original way to approach content. So many magazines seem to exist solely to please advertisers with as many editorial credits as possible – they don’t have a voice.’

I see there are Lego models on your shelves.
‘Yeah, I used to play with them a lot as a kid. My mum buys me one every Christmas, after she’d seen I still keep a few on my shelf.’

Which is your favourite of all of your books?
‘Reading The Face, I was always inspired by Julie Verhoeven, and a friend gave me her book A Bit of Rough. It’s with a custom cover, so there are only 40 of them. She’s been really instrumental and helpful. I looked up to her so much and she’s so lovely and so genius. She sent me a copy of her first book, Fat Bottomed Girls, which I told her I couldn’t find anywhere, so she sent me a copy that she’d managed to find from the Newcastle University library for me.’

Above: ‘I always preach about being the sum of all your influences.’ Kilroy’s book collection.

And which illustrators did the framed works on the wall?
‘Richard Gray. He’s super important to me and has been really helpful. Antonio Lopez. I never grew up on his stuff and it took a while for me to come round to it, but he’s amazing.’

Which publications do you think do illustration well?
‘Luis Venegas’s titles use it well. I really respect him and his viewpoint on illustrators. Also, GQ Style and any mag usually involved with M/M (Paris)’s Mathias Augustyniak, the Stephen Jones issue of A Magazine Curated By. Online, I think ShowStudio and Fashion Illustration Gallery do a great job. People who follow illustrators will usually get their fix from books, online, publicity and window displays.’

When did you realise you had a knack for drawing?
‘Everyone’s been drawing since they were kids. When you’re a kid and you’re praised for something, it keeps you at it. I always used to draw Sonic the Hedgehog and Simpsons characters and characters from Sega Mega Drive fighting games. I was always drawing figures. Then people would say, “Draw me Sonic” or “Draw me a waterfall.”’

How is teaching?
‘I advise on the students’ drawing and illustration on the Fashion Folio course at Central Saint Martins. I studied fashion illustration, not fashion, so I advise solely on this. I always preach about being the sum of all your influences so it’s constantly getting them to look at the work of illustrators and artists and to try techniques and be more observant on why that work looks great to them. I’ve taught some life drawing at the Royal College of Art, too, as a visiting lecturer. It’s exciting when you see someone do something really strong or new and surprise themselves.’

Can you describe your illustrative style?
‘I’m known for a mix of photorealism and playing around with suggestive line and loose elements and balancing them. I have other styles that aren’t quite fully formed enough that I’m working on. I’m mostly menswear focused, because I like the details of men. Images of women are very smooth – you don’t see many aggressive images of women. I like all the shadows and musculature on men – it lends itself well to my style. I was always interested in artists and photographers with a strong emphasis on form, like Herb Ritts, Robert Mapplethorpe and Alair Gomes, and the details and poses in Roman and Baroque male statues.

My style now is so simple... I do miss that – going shopping for a new top on a Saturday then peacocking around in it on a Saturday night.

Which designers do you like?
‘I absolutely love Haider Ackermann, but I don’t think I could get away with it, because I’m so casual. I like British designers, like Craig Green and Agi & Sam. My wardrobe is mostly black, white and navy, but my three main coats are bright blue, bright yellow and bright red. You go round on London transport and everyone’s in black. It’s a factor of living in a gloomy, busy city on some level. It surprises me how many people point out that my coat is nice because it’s red. It’s not a particularly special coat!’

Were you a stylish kid?
‘No, not at all! I don’t think I liked anything I wore as a child, ever. At junior school, my mum used to put me in socks and sandals, which probably looks quite cool now – but not then. I didn’t think about clothes at all until I was 16 and had to go out and buy them. As soon as I did, I started reading The Face and other fashion magazines. You were always chasing what the other kid had. I had a friend whose mum really spoilt him. And up north, you were weird if you weren’t wearing a tracksuit. I always had tracksuit bottoms, but never a full tracksuit. I love looking at school photos and every kid has got gelled hair and nothing but sportswear. When I go back to Liverpool now and see kids not wearing tracksuits, I realise how much it’s changed.’

What were your first designer purchases?
[Vivienne] Westwood opened up north in my late teens and there were so many gay guys drowned in the brooches and pirate boots. It was such a Leeds thing, too. When the store opened in Liverpool there was a brief period when I got into it, because it was the only store that was seen as a genuine designer store, not a multi-brand store, so I had a few items of clothing from there. I had my weekend job and go blow it on a Westwood top. That’s about 10 years ago. My style now is so simple. Sometimes I like to dress up in the day and down at night. I think people in London are really relaxed dressers on a night out, which is the opposite in Liverpool, where you live for the weekend and you dress in your best. I do miss that – going shopping for a new top on a Saturday then peacocking around in it on a Saturday night.’

Whose style have you admired?
‘I can’t think of anyone famous off-hand, because everything that you see is through the eyes of their stylist. There are certain faces and regulars when I’m on a night out who I can rely on to look great. I’m so not into sartorial stuff. I pretty much just look at designers. I always love Way Perry’s styling and I love Brett Lloyd’s photography and his casting.’

What do you notice about other people’s style?
‘Someone will just jump out at me if they’re exceptionally well dressed. I never feel like I see enough amazingly dressed people – just a lot of really good ones.’