JARNO KETTUNEN, ILLUSTRATING FASHION IN REAL-TIME

Live fashion illustration. In real-time. That is what Jarno Kettunen has devoted his career to: bringing out studio brushes to take them to the backstage of the most interesting fashion runway shows. We conducted this interview for him to explain to us that illustrating can serve to capture a moment in a more sensorial and emotional way than photography.

We are so used to an artistic discipline being just what it’s supposed to be that when this one goes beyond its own limits (which are self-imposed or imposed by that stagnation that is provided by Fine Arts overtime), it’s inevitable for us to be surprised by it. Nowadays, for example, there is this common sense that says that photography specialises in capturing that perfect instant whilst the visual arts is the recreation of a moment that as it requires more time to become realised they invoke a much wider, abstract and unreal reality. Many may think that, as we already have photography, why do we need a pictorial current as hyperrealism?

But other (artistic) worlds are possible and Jarno Kettunen knows it. This Finn born in 1980 debuted as a fashion illustrator in a privileged place like Paris. But what’s interesting about him is that he didn’t just lock himself in a studio to make churrigueresque, inspiring and/or precious illustrations that serve to fill pages and pages of ads of the most cutting-edge brands. Not by a long chalk. Why would he want to move from Finland to Paris to stay put in a studio? Jarno wanted to stay in the backstage of runway shows and capture what happens there in a style that has nothing to do with hyperrealism but it’s more of a multi-sensory experience that is able to encapsulate not just a moment but also an emotion.

Currently, Kettunen has built his career as a pioneer of the restoration of live fashion illustration. Because, before the trendiest of photographers started to cram themselves in the backstage of shows, who do you think was there to capture what would go on? Illustrators, of course. That might be why Jarno has ended up working for clients like Jean Paul Gaultier, Dior Homme or Diane von Furstenberg. That might be why he’s able to alternate a series of colourful portraits for Nylon Guys with an extremely detailed worked capturing the movement of the dancers from the Royal Ballet of Flanders. And, after all, that might be why Jarno Kettunen is a character with whom we’d like to talk with to get rid of any type of preconceived notions you could have about fashion illustration.

Do you remember the first time that you thought of building a career in fashion illustration?

Whilst I was studying, my teachers advises me that my figures could be of interest in fashion and they helped me get a meeting with the Rochas Maison in Paris to show them my work. The people I met there showed a lot of interest in my approach to illustration and they encouraged me to keep practising to learn more about fashion. That made a big impression on me, so that was the first time I seriously thought of the possibility of building a career in that field. I don’t consider myself to be a fashion illustrator in the traditional sense, as my approach is more eccentric and is strongly influenced by Fine Arts like Neo-Expressionism. My work also has a certain performative aspect, as I always draw in front of a crowd.

And so what was the exact moment you realised that you had managed to make a career for yourself in fashion illustration?

Wow, that’s a tough question! Of course, I’ve lived through many beautiful and privileged moment working for the best fashion houses, magazines and designers. But I have also participated in other art and design projects and I’ve never taken for granted my work nor my achievements. I really appreciate my assignments and opportunities to collaborate that I have been receiving overtime, but I’ll never settle. I’m always looking towards the future, looking for my next project. Saying that fashion illustration is a career in itself sounds as if things were just handed out  easily and automatically,, but it’s not like that. At least it’s not like that for me. I’ve discovered that in this world you need to prove yourself each and every time and, if you may like your job today, you might not like it tomorrow. It flows all the time. What makes me happy, however, si the fact that I’ve never given up in those hard times, I’ve kept consistent and true to my style and I haven’t let myself get carried away by trends or by what other people do to get results. It’s just like when someone who I’ve worked with before calls me again or trusts me with bigger and more elevated productions.

Your career started in Paris… Was it hard to start in a city that is full of avid fashion professionals?

Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard. From the very beginning, my goal was to aim for the top, and, in fact, it didn’t take long for me to take part in big projects. It wasn’t too stressful or hard. Everyone was quite pleasant and welcoming. I was young, open-minded and very focused in doing the best I could. My success and initial recognition helped me build a great network of contacts and opened many doors for me. But the biggest challenged is to keep evolving and stay relevant. We find ourselves in a global scene with too many opportunities but also with a lot of competition and noise. For example, in the mid-2000s I started drawing models live in fashion shows but it now seems like everyone has a sketchbook and a popular Instagram account. What keeps me going is trusting my vision, experience and organisation. I don’t arrive at places with a pen and a sketchbook, I’m prepared to make fashion art pieces that are finished in the moment, which are adequate both for museums and galleries as for an editorial or commercial approach. Sometimes, drawing models at shows even becomes an artistic performance that helps revitalise the creativity of the event at the same time that it connects with the audience.

Is there any city at the moment which you would like to spend more time to capture its fashion scene?

I love depicting the energy of the shows. But, instead of specific cities, I’m really interested in following the work of certain houses and designers, show where they learn and make their productions. When I was recently invited to live draw in Germany in the show of the s.Oliver company in their central offices in Rottendorf, for example, I was able to tour the campus and interact with other creative marketing teams, feeling part of the group. Staying a few days in the same place as they served for me to experience a culture which otherwise would have been difficult for me to access. These project can lead to wonderful results like the selection of original illustrations for s.Oliver, from which three of them were turned this summer into t-shirts for the special  S.OLIVER X JARNO collection.

Capturing the essence of the moment is also an obsession that is shared by many photographers. Do you think that your work has things in common with photography?

Yes, of course. I think that live illustrations are like snapshots due to the speed in which I work and how I look at things. Unlike photographers, however, I’m able to edit the instant and focus on the essence in my illustrations, omitting things that are distracting and less important. The backstage at shows are especially chaotic, full of people, equipment, objects and architectonic elements don’t have to necessarily appear in the image that described a new fashion look.

A camera can take a picture very quickly. How do you do it to capture the moment quickly without it vanishing away?

That is possible thanks to my training when it comes to really focusing on the essence of things that are captured by my eye. It’s a dynamic process in which I observe and capture valuable information about a specific moment or personalities. Unlike a picture that shows a frozen second in a frame, my drawing capture a whole moment, a sequence in time that can actually last a few seconds, minutes or even longer. It can capture a model walking down the runway, showing a pose and going back to the backstage. It can also happen that I push aside unfinished drawings and that I come back to them at a more convenient moment, like when someone starts to pose but it needs to be pushed aside to be revisited later. In this case, I start a new illustration and I go back to the old moment when that moment comes again.

Has any moment vanished before you could even capture it and does it continue to follow you to this day?

Many years ago, I was given the permission draw at a Dries Van Noten show in Paris. But I didn’t receive the message in time: my then-agent called me from the backstage to ask me where I was and it turns out I wasn’t even in the city. I hope that I’ll have the chance to do it again because I love Dries’ work!

What is your main obsession when you have a blank page in front of you and you feel that a moment you need to capture is about to come?

Drawing what I see consists of a dynamic process of looking, marking and changing between different techniques and colours. I stop when I feel like the illustration has enough energy.

The backstage of a show is, in fact, reserved for photographers. How did manage to earn a spot there?

I guess for the same reason I managed to enter the fashion illustration world at the very beginning. I’ve always had an artistic approach towards my illustration and design projects and I’ve always been fascinated by the longstanding relationship between art and fashion. By observing the work of the great masters of fashion illustration like Iribe, Erté, Gruau, Antonio and Viramontes, I see an energy that can be captured by working in the moment, being present in the scene as an artist. When I started out, the shows seemed to be only documented by photographers, whilst illustrators worked from their studio out of their imagination or from pictures taken by another person. I felt that it was the right moment to reintroduce an artistic and contemporary vision in live fashion illustration and I appreciate that this vision has been well-received up until this moment. It’s truly interesting to think that photography takes on the documentary role whilst illustration can be creative and inspiring: everything’s based on conveying the ambience, attitude and energy.

Is there any garment that you particularly enjoy drawing?

More than a garment, I’m very interested in the complete silhouette. I like the garments and looks that accentuate or manipulate the body, that have a sense of layering and that look well when illustrated. For example, if a look already looks like an illustration in of itself because it has too many details, patterns, graphics, patches and logos, I prefer those to be captured by photographers. I like illustrating the qualities of different materials and volumes and how they fall onto the body of those who wear it. I also enjoy playing with proportions and emphasising accessories like sunglasses, hand purses or head adornments.

What can you tell us about your future projects?

Above all, I like art in the form of a drawing, painting and illustrating. That’s what my work’s about. I continuously work on big and small projects around the world and appreciate any collaborative opportunity.