Art & Design Art & the Artist Style & Fashion

In the Studio with Fashion Illustrator Blair Breitenstein

Illustrator Blair Breitenstein’s instantly recognizable portraits and vignettes are inspired by a lifelong love of fashion magazines and contemporary couture

Fashion has always loomed large in this Seattle-born illustrator’s life, and Blair Breitenstein has developed a distinctively fun and quirky style for her work that she describes as “an expressionist take on contemporary high fashion.”

What are your earliest memories of fashion?
My grandma worked for a clothing company and I was fascinated by the lookbooks they sent her each season. She also used to have sketches and fabric swatches in her den. I was obsessed with it all. I remember trying to copy the pages of the lookbook in my fifth-grade sketchbook.

Blair Breitenstein
Blair Breitenstein at her New York home surrounded by examples of her artwork. Image and banner image: Laura Barisonzi

Were you interested in how people dressed when you were a child?
Yes! I absolutely loved looking through fashion magazines. My grandma had a subscription to Town & Country and W—she always let me take her old issues home with me. She would get her hair done every weekend in a bun and I loved it. I thought she looked so elegant compared to everyone else I knew.

How interested in fashion were you when you were growing up?
I loved shopping but I was more interested in the editorial side of fashion. I loved old Hollywood stars and the idea of New York. I drew a lot but didn’t really express my passion for fashion through my own clothes. I absolutely love attending Fashion Week even though I wear a sweater and jeans almost every day.

Blair Breitenstein
Taking inspiration from high fashion, Breitenstein works in markers, pastels, and watercolors. Image: Laura Barisonzi

Where were you born and what was home like?
I was born in Seattle and grew up in Mercer Island, WA. My hometown is beautiful. You are surrounded by the lake and trees—yet close enough to enjoy the downtown Seattle Barney’s when you wanted it.

What were your ambitions?
In college my major was communications and advertising with a fine art minor. I always thought I would work in advertising. I started posting my drawings on Tumblr after college and people were interested in buying them. It was never my intention to make a profit from my drawings when I started posting, but the interest people started showing in my work inspired me to pursue more drawing-related work opportunities.

Blair Breitenstein
Valentino 19, one of a range of limited-edition prints by Blair Breitenstein.

Where do you live now?
I now live in New York City. My apartment is cozy—the best part is that the windows in my room overlook a cute cobblestoned neighborhood called South Street Seaport. I also have a view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Since I spend so much time working at home, a nice view is essential. I first visited New York City when I was 25—I attended an Oscar de la Renta fashion show and completely fell in love with the artistic atmosphere.

How would you describe your illustration style?
Imperfect, quirky, exaggerated, a little bit satirical, fun, approachable.

You’ve described your style as “spontaneous”. Tell me more…
This means I draw quickly and when I feel inspired. I am never too precious about location, time of day, or supplies on hand. The improvisation of it is what makes a piece interesting and fun to work on.

Blair Breitenstein
Breitenstein at work on a sketch at her home studio in New York. Image: Laura Barisonzi

Why do you choose to work in watercolors?
I actually work with watercolors, markers, and pastels. And the reason is because they dry quickly and are easy to use at home in a small apartment. Pastels add texture and saturation to an otherwise soft and smooth medium.

You’ve painted stars such as Karl Lagerfeld and Yasmin Le Bon. Who would you most like to illustrate and why?
Anna Wintour. I love drawing someone with a signature look. This way you can use your artistic license, but the subject is still recognizable. I love Anna.

Where do you get your ideas?
Mostly Instagram these days. I have hundreds and hundreds of screen captures that I work with. And my inspiration library is constantly growing. Instagram gave me a platform to share my artwork with important people in the fashion industry. I continue to post and tag designers and editors that I admire in the hope that they will see what I do.

Blair Breitenstein
Breitenstein has worked for fashion houses Alexander McQueen and Louis Vuitton, and is always on the lookout for new collaborations. Image: Laura Barisonzi

Who do you think has real style, and why?
The Olsen twins, Sarah Harris [deputy editor of British Vogue], Blair Eadie [fashion blogger]. I also love Lauren Santo Domingo [cofounder and chief brand officer of online fashion retailer Moda Operandi]. Her style is timeless. Everything she wears will still be appreciated 10 years from now—she’s classic and elegant in a world of fast fashion and trends.