IN­NER CON­FLICT

Fash­ion il­lus­tra­tor Laura Laine’s lat­est sub­jects are in­spired by pow­er­ful Mid­dle East­ern women, writes Selina Den­man

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To my eye, the women in Laura Laine’s il­lus­tra­tions look tough, de­fi­ant and em­pow­ered – but they can be viewed in myr­iad ways, their cre­ator ad­mits. “They can be so many dif­fer­ent things. I’ve heard ev­ery­thing from de­pressed to strong to mys­te­ri­ous. I’m happy with any in­ter­pre­ta­tion,” Laine tells me dur­ing a re­cent trip to Dubai.

The one thing that they are not sup­posed to be is easy. There is some­thing beau­ti­ful yet slightly sur­real, and al­most Tim Bur­ton-es­que, about the pro­tag­o­nists of Laine’s works – with their un­flinch­ing gaze, elon­gated limbs, ex­ag­ger­ated manes and slightly dis­torted pro­por­tions.

“To me, it is an ex­plo­ration of the dif­fer­ent sides of women, or maybe of my­self, although that is def­i­nitely not a con­scious process. I am try­ing to con­vey a mood or a story. I want there to be some­thing there, in­stead of just mak­ing them plainly happy or ac­ces­si­ble. In that sense, com­mer­cially, it is not such an easy aes­thetic, be­cause nor­mally what sells is a happy, colour­ful, smil­ing face, of some­body who is beau­ti­ful,” Laine ex­plains.

“I am not try­ing to do some­thing that is purely dark or in­tim­i­dat­ing; that’s not my pur­pose at all. But there are some themes that are a bit un­easy, or that con­vey some sort of con­flict. Themes like this re­ally in­ter­est and in­spire me – the con­flict that peo­ple have within them­selves. I don’t want to do some­thing that is tra­di­tion­ally what we think fash­ion il­lus­tra­tion is. Partly maybe there is some crit­i­cism in it as well, of a cer­tain side of the fash­ion in­dus­try,” she adds.

Both of Laine’s par­ents are artists, and she has drawn “con­stantly” since she was a young child. She did a bit of mod­el­ling in her late teens, and when it came to de­cid­ing what she wanted to study at univer­sity, she de­cided that she would give fash­ion de­sign a try. “Dur­ing my stud­ies, I dis­cov­ered that de­sign­ing wasn’t re­ally my thing. It was re­ally all about wear­a­bil­ity and other prac­ti­cal things; it’s not as glam­orous as peo­ple think. You re­ally have to have a cer­tain kind of mind­set, and I feel that there are al­ready so many clothes in this world, so you need to be cre­at­ing some­thing re­ally ex­tra­or­di­nary if you are go­ing to add to that,” she ex­plains.

Laine found her forte when she took some cour­ses in fash­ion il­lus­tra­tion and im­me­di­ately be­gan pick­ing up com­mis­sions; by the time she grad­u­ated, she was al­ready work­ing al­most full-time on her draw­ings.

Her aes­thetic may not be the eas­i­est sell, but sell it Laine has. The fash­ion il­lus­tra­tor has worked with brands such as Givenchy, Har­vey Ni­chols, Tommy Hil­figer, Gap, Sephora, Zara and H&M, has had her work fea­tured in books, mag­a­zines in­clud­ing Vogue, GQ and Elle, and news­pa­pers such as The Guardian and The New York Times. She has also taken part in count­less solo and group exhibitions, and her work is part of the col­lec­tions of the Helsinki De­sign Mu­seum and Benet­ton Imago Mundi.

Last month, she pre­sented her first ma­jor solo ex­hi­bi­tion in the Mid­dle East, with a 10-piece col­lec­tion at The Court­yard Gallery in Al Quoz. Dubbed In Bloom, the col­lec­tion ex­plored the du­al­ity of the con­tem­po­rary Mid­dle East­ern woman. “Women

here have this re­ally pow­er­ful pres­ence,” Laine says. “There are all these strong women who are do­ing their own thing and be­ing cre­ative in their own fields.”

This is trans­lated into fig­ures that gaze out haugh­tily from un­der­neath a gold-flecked, fur-trimmed veil, or an elab­o­rate feath­ered head­dress. They ap­pear swathed in black or dwarfed by a bal­loon-shaped dress. They are, as Be­y­oncé might say, fierce.

Laine pre­dom­i­nantly works in black and white, using pen­cil and inks, “be­cause it gives more em­pha­sis to tex­tures and vol­ume and com­po­si­tion and dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als”. De­tails are cap­tured with re­mark­able pre­ci­sion, as are flu­id­ity and move­ment, all un­der­lined by this ever-so-slightly eerie sen­si­bil­ity.

Laine ad­mits to hav­ing been in­flu­enced by Ja­panese manga comics, which she used to fer­vently search for on fam­ily trips to Italy each year, since they were not read­ily avail­able in her na­tive Fin­land. “Later on, I re­ally got into the Vi­enna artists, like Egon Schiele and Gus­tav Klimt. Those artists have also been a ma­jor in­spi­ra­tion to me. They are not so rel­e­vant now, but when I started to il­lus­trate, they were very use­ful in help­ing me find an aes­thetic that was in­ter­est­ing to me,” she ex­plains.

This re­gion is a per­fect match for the il­lus­tra­tor’s sig­na­ture style. “If you look back at my work, I’ve al­ways been very in­ter­ested in this very dec­o­ra­tive, op­u­lent, al­most Ori­en­tal style – and it’s not at all Fin­nish or Scan­di­na­vian. I love min­i­mal­is­tic art and de­sign, but am some­how un­able to cre­ate it my­self,” Laine con­cludes.

Fash­ion il­lus­tra­tor Laura Laine, above, ex­plores the du­al­ity of women with her beau­ti­ful but slightly sur­real pro­tag­o­nists

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