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Interview: Illustrator Michelle Njeri Cuthbert On Working With Footwear Designers

Working on Fashion Illustration Africa provided a behind the scenes look into the work, inspirations, experiences, and styles of the illustrators we were privileged enough to feature. It was so interesting to see the differing interpretations, and in particular, the contributions these illustrators are making towards growing a commercial African fashion illustration industry by connecting with African fashion brands both on the continent and internationally. Therefore when we caught a first look at the collaboration between textile designer and one of our featured fashion illustrators Michelle Njeri Cuthbert and the luxury footwear brand MO SAÏQUE we caught up with Michelle to find out more.

1. Michelle, thank you for taking the time to chat with us, and firstly to say congratulations on the collaboration with MO SAIQUE, the shoes are gorgeous. Can you tell us how the collaboration with MO SAIQUE came about?

This delightful collaboration came about through networking. I met luxury brand consultant Cristina Cisilino in Kenya, who brought Afua Dabanka (owner of MO SAIQUE) and I together over dinner. We discussed ideas and it was an immediate match, her shoes, and my prints.

2. We see that the illustrations follow your signature colourful and playful style, what was your inspiration behind the style of the illustrations adorning the shoes?

The collection themed ‘Market Women’ was inspired by my Master’s degree project where I used my playful art style to depict women carrying heavy loads on their heads, as is traditional in African countries such as Kenya. The beadwork was done by a group of Masai women in Kenya.

3. Was there any difference in the process of illustrating for shoes as opposed to the textiles you mainly work with?

There was a big difference! A bespoke print was designed and engineered to fit in a shoe template based on the specification for the ballerina shoes. This was a unique and rewarding challenge that allowed me to learn something new and expand my design skills. This is very different from textiles, in which you can have a broad range of areas to work within the design of the print. Overall, I find working on different surfaces rewarding!

Michelle Njeri Cuthbert Illustrations For Mo Saique Shoes

4. Fashion illustration is having its moment in the spotlight, what do you think is fuelling this interest and what do you enjoy most about what you do?

I think the interest in fashion illustration is fuelled by the desire of artists to find a new exciting medium that will allow them to express their visual art. In fashion illustration, designers can bring to life fashion designs and create realistic expressions and moods through their art style. As an illustrator, I enjoy telling a story through my artwork and drawing the viewer into the story.

5. What would be your advice to anyone reading this who is thinking about a career in fashion illustration or looking to develop their skills and collaborate with brands?

I would say define your signature style and perfect it. Fashion illustration and prints can be applied to many surfaces, so think broadly as to how you can apply it to your work, and collaborate with brands that have a similar aesthetic to your artwork style. At the same time be open to different opportunities that will allow you to expand your art style and give you more experience as an artist.

6. As one of the illustrators featured in the book Fashion Illustration Africa how important are books like this for those interested in the subject?

Firstly, I am honoured to be part of this book alongside other brilliant artists. Thank you for the opportunity! Books like this are important as they bring together unique work on one platform; can serve as a ‘go-to’ reference book of new art styles, and can inspire others looking to become fashion illustrators themselves.

7. Where can readers go to find out more about your work, and of course the MO SAIQUE shoe collection?

The shoe collaboration will be released next year for MO SAIQUE’s Spring Summer 2017 collection.

The MO SAIQUE shoe collection can be found at: http://www.mo-saique.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/mo_saique/

Michelle’s work can be found at: https://michellenjeri.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/michellencuthbert/

Thank you, Michelle, and to our readers, we hope you feel as inspired as we are!

– Tapiwa Matsinde

[Image credits: The images of the MO SAIQUE shoe collection belong to MO SAIQUE, and the illustrations belong to Michelle Njeri Cuthbert. If downloaded and used elsewhere as a matter of courtesy please credit accordingly]

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