Fashion Is Her Canvas: Kris Keys

”Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures.” — Henry Ward Beecher.

During the holidays most children are wrapped up in childlike things such as gifts, games, and their favorite TV shows. But, for Kris Keys her childhood holiday fascinations were sneaking through her aunt’s drawings, patterns and sketchbooks when she’d come home from fashion school. These special moments developed the birth of a future fashion illustrator.

As time evolves, you can catch Kris Keys always perfecting her gift with one colorful stroke of watercolor, gouache, and Indian ink after another. Whether it’s paying homage during Women’s Month to the likes of Grace Jones, Diane Vreeland, and Grace Coddington or live illustrations while attending London, Paris and Milan Fashion Week. Definitely a woman about town, the Memphis native keeps her skills sharpened by finding inspiration within her favorite nooks in London such as Broadway Market, Columbia Flower Market, and small cafes.

With a strong background in Fashion Design (AA) and Fashion Merchandising (BA); the grind of a city girl, thanks to the years she spent in NYC, and her Southern belle charm will take K. Keys beyond her wildest dreams … Get Ready!!!

RowASeat1: K. Keys is…

K. Keys: K.Keys is an ever evolving individual learning as I go…

RowASeat1: Why Fashion Illustration?

K. Keys: Fashion Illustration really came quite naturally. I’ve always painted and sketched as a little girl. I’m also studying Fashion Design so it’s the perfect marriage of my two worlds. I prefer fashion illustration over fine art because I can make it very fictional and surreal. It can be as extra and over the top as I want. I love that!

RowASeat1: When I draw I feel… 

K. Keys: Liberated

RowASeat1: Being a native daughter of Memphis, Tn. where the world thinks fashion barely exists, how did your love for fashion become so deeply rooted? 

K. Keys: I’d like to credit my mother’s sister. She’s a pattern maker and growing up, she’d come home from Fashion School for the holidays and I would just gaze at her work. When she’d leave the house, I would sneak and go through her drawings, patterns, and sketches and try to mimic them. I had no idea about how the fashion industry worked or even how to really make a garment, but I just knew that I wanted to do whatever my Aunt was doing with those clothes and drawings. I think that was my first real introduction to “The Fashion World.” Other than that, I’ve just always liked style and art. I did ballet, jazz, tap dance, and I went to art camps a few summers as a child. I’m sure seeing those costumes and being exposed to different forms of art had an influence as well.

RowASeat1: From Memphis to New York and now London, share your experiences on how these cities have shaped K.Keys as a Fashion Illustrator on the rise?

K. Keys:Memphis has a culture of real grit and soul that’s indescribable. It’s very unpretentious and not curated. That city has its own twang and I can sometimes see that in my illustrations.New York taught me to hustle. I volunteered; I did tons of internships, and worked many jobs in the industry. I just soaked up as much information and learned as much as I could. I matured a lot and my character and endurance strengthened. The saying is true. “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”

By moving toLondon, I really found my niche and my brand begin to develop. I think it was more of me being in a different environment and I allowed myself to slow down a bit. InLondon, there’s a real innovative and renewed approach to designing. Being around so many talented designers and having some of the world’s best fashion resources at my footstep helped to refine my brand. I also had a lecturer that’s a fashion illustrator. He had my dream job and I knew that I had to commit to it like he did if I wanted to get those same opportunities. I started drawing everyday and everywhere. That’s when my career as an illustrator started to flourish.

RowASeat1: Your first published illustration…

K. Keys: Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration

RowASeat1: I’m sure all of your sketches are your favorite, but which one holds that special place? Why?

K. Keys: The illustration drawing from a Black Model feature in Vogue Italia, I’d tried so many mediums before that drawing, and I finally decided to do a drawing in watercolor. That was one of the first purely watercolor drawings that I’ve done. I absolutely love it.

RowASeat1: You’ve done published sketches for London, Milan and Paris Fashion Week, how does that make you feel? Do you think these opportunities would’ve been presented had you not moved to London?

K. Keys: I’m proud of my progress. I remember the days when I was trying so hard just to get an invite to fashion shows. I honestly don’t think these opportunities would have come had I not moved toLondon. Most of the fashion week opportunities came from me being here to soak up everything around me. I didn’t have a blueprint set out for me, so I needed to be here in this environment to grow. It’s almost like seeing a video of a music concert vs. actually being at the concert. On the video, you might have missed the feeling of the speakers, the encore, the hustle to find your seat, the style of the attendees, etc. You learn and see so much more just by being there in my opinion.

RowASeat1: How is fashion different from the states versus ‘across the pond’?

K. Keys: I think the fashion here is fewer trends driven. Of course there are trends but it’s not so obvious. InLondon specifically, people just have there own style, and I really feel like a lot of global trends emerge from Europe.

As for the designing aspect, it’s more about research and grabbing things way outside of fashion for inspiration. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most over the top idea the designers truly design from their soul. In America, there’s more of a commerce push behind a collection and the immediate need to sell.

RowASeat1: What are some of your ultimate goals as a Fashion Illustrator?

K. Keys: I have many photographers and brands that I’d like to collaborate with illustration work. Other than that, I really want to expand from just covering the American and European fashion weeks and start illustrating at fashion weeks across the world.

RowASeat1: Name your favorite spots to capture inspiration while sketching in London?

K. Keys: Broadway Market, Columbia Flower Market, Somerset House during Fashion Week,V&AMuseum, Bricklane Sunday Markets, The Wallace Collection, Brixton Market and small cafes.

RowASeat1: Take us on a brief journey: Describe your ‘Day in the Life of K.Keys.’

K. Keys: Everyday is different. I try to meditate and pray in the morning, and then I answer emails, send contracts and get the business stuff out of the way before I start on any commissions or personal projects. After drawing for hours, I might go to the museum or to a cafe or call a friend to refuel after I’ve been burnt out from drawing.

RowASeat1: Favorite designers…

K. Keys: Lanvin, Rodarte, John Galliano and Gareth Pugh

RowASeat1: Department stores or Thrift stores. Why?

K. Keys: I like both. I like going to department stores mostly for inspiration. It’s a chance to see recent collections up close and observe the details and even try it on.

I love thrift stores because the clothes have a story and it’s like a treasure hunt. You never know what you’re going to find, and you go with an expectancy to see something that you’ve never seen before.

RowASeat1: I’m thankful for… 

K. Keys: Life!

RowASeat1: I never leave home without… 

K. Keys: My sketchbook and my iPhone to take photos

To see more of K. Keys’ daily drawings, live  sketching videos or to purchase her your own piece by K. Keys check her out at here; and don’t forget to follow her on Twitter: bykriskeys.

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