If you are on Instagram and have seen beautifully drawn pictures of women in perfect outfits, you’ve likely seen a Hayden Williams illustration. Instagrammer Hayden Williams is a phenomenon, with over 1.2 million followers on his Instagram channel, and is known for his sketches of celebrities, Disney princesses, and more. His channel has been lauded by musical and fashions icons such as Rihanna, Beyonce, and the Kardashians, and his work has been featured in design and fashion publications such as Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair, and Harper’s Bazaar.
Check out our exclusive interview with Hayden as he tells us about his career, his perspectives on social media, and his creative process.
Mediakix: To get started, can you tell me more about your background and how you got into illustration, design, and fashion?
Hayden Williams: It really all started from childhood at age 3. My parents would purchase Disney movies for me on VHS, and I would sit and watch them religiously. I would sketch over and over again until I got the details right. I guess I was trying to perfect my craft since then. I feel fortunate to say I am self-taught in illustration and as I got older, it naturally progressed into fashion, illustration, and design. I did my research and found that the style of work I was doing could translate to fashion design. That is when I decided to go to college and university to study fashion and take things to the next level. Interestingly, social media also came into play during those years and helped to change everything…
How did you develop an interest in women’s fashion and the female figure?
When I would watch Disney movies, I would draw what I was inspired by and those inspirations were predominantly female characters. My favourites were always the Princess movies because I found them to be the most inspiring. I loved the glamour and fantasy aspect of the movies, and simply sketching the female form. I would become inspired by characters like Jessica Rabbit and many others that still influence my work today! There was something fascinating to me as a child about how Walt Disney would portray women in animation. Always hyper-feminine, glamorous and elegant! The way the long hair would move and the silhouettes…it all just inspired me to want to sketch. I still feel the same today! Growing up surrounded by very glamorous women in my family played a big part as well My mother, my sister, and aunts all love fashion and make-up. I would watch them get ready to go out and it was always a big deal to them, even to this day.
I also collect fashion dolls and have done so since childhood. Collecting dolls played a major role in why I became inspired by the female form. I would create my own paper dolls, but instead of tabs, I would stick the clothing on with Blu-Tack. I would create clothing for my fashion dolls with tissue paper! Haha! I guess you could say I was different because when other boys would be playing with things that were viewed as a more “stereotypical boys’ toy”, I was always drawn to the more feminine toys like fashion dolls. I am sure there are many other boys out there that can relate to this too. All of these childhood inspirations eventually manifested into what I do today, and those same inspirations helped shape my vision as a designer and illustrator.
Can you walk me through your process in creating an illustration?
My process can vary depending on the inspiration. You never know where inspiration can come from. I often come up with my own original design concepts, and when I do, I like to write down the idea so that I can revisit the concept especially if I am busy working on something else. For the most part, my process is pretty simple. I like to work on A4 scale and often, I will already have a vision in my head of what I want the illustration/design to look like. Once I’ve sketched out the preliminary look in pencil, I add colour using alcohol based markers. I add details to the face and fashions using fine liner, gel pens, and white pencil for highlight details etc.
I take everything into consideration when I create my fashion illustrations. I treat it like I am basically dressing a woman from head to toe: the hair, make-up, outfit, accessories…the whole look in its entirety! It’s so much fun! Once I have completed the illustration (it usually takes about an hour or faster depending on detail), I scan it into my laptop. Then, I clean up the illustration and make some edits. I guess you could say this would be the “airbrushing” stage. I like my work to look as glossy and refined as possible. Once I have touched the work up and am happy with it, I release it to the public via my social platforms and the rest is history….
How has your Instagram channel changed your life? Can you tell me about your journey?
Instagram is now my biggest platform with over a million followers, but the journey actually started with Twitter! I joined in 2009 when I was at college studying fashion design. This was on the cusp of when social media was really about to become a major thing! Twitter hadn’t been around very long, and I had just heard about it. I decided to join and initially, I used it as a diary to share my thoughts. In particular, I would share my college days and how I was getting on there. I was still drawing frequently and thought I would start sharing my work on Twitter to see if anyone else was sketching their own designs, similar to what I was doing. I wanted to make friends that had the same passion and interest in fashion as me, but I also wanted to see if people liked my work. I already had support from my family. They all loved my work…but I wanted to get an outside opinion. An outsider’s perspective from new people. I started sharing my sketches and slowly but surely, I started to garner a following. My Twitter grew very organically and as my work became more popular, aspiring bloggers would get in touch and want to interview and feature my work on their blogs. I was so excited by that and really appreciated that people wanted to interview me. I still do!
Things really blew up in 2010 when Rihanna saw my work on Twitter. She followed me after I had created an illustration of her that had received a lot of retweets. She saw it, followed me and immediately direct messaged me telling me how much she loved my illustrations and designs. At one point, I remember she even changed her Twitter profile picture to one of my illustrations. A year later, she invited me to one of her London tour dates and told me to bring my portfolio. After having many online conversations via DM, I finally got to meet her! It was such a surreal and amazing experience. She embraced me like I had known her for years and I loved how supportive she was of me. I am always happy when I see her doing well, because she is a really genuine person. We still follow each other on social media today! She pretty much started the domino effect of celebrities that would eventually show their love for my work and endorse me.
After that, Beyonce posted my work on her Instagram and then her team got in touch, telling me that she loved my work and would like to feature me on her official website. Such an incredible moment! I sent over some exclusive content for the site…an exclusive Beyonce illustration I had whipped up just for the feature. I still remember when that feature was published…my phone was on the verge of exploding! Haha!
I’ve been fortunate to work with Kate Moss and Rimmel London in 2014 on a beauty campaign. I was commissioned to create fashion and beauty illustrations that was displayed in cosmetic stores worldwide for her then new line called ‘Idol Eyes’. It was a global campaign, and I got to film with Kate for the project. Getting to work with her so closely was definitely a huge career highlight and an honour.
I was commissioned by Disney and Tumblr the following year to create a modern day couture gown in support of the then upcoming live-action Cinderella movie. The dress was used for social media purposes and press. It was such a beautiful creation that I am still proud of.
Last year, I collaborated with Naomi Campbell. She got in touch with me in 2013, as she wanted my work featured in her incredible book with legendary publisher TASCHEN. Last year, the book was finally released, and I got to meet her and thank her in person for the opportunity at the U.K book launch. Another incredible and life changing moment. I cherish every moment and feel very blessed to have achieved what I have thus far. I am very grateful to be part of the social media era. It was just beginning when I started, and I was fortunate to have been part of it at just the right time.
What role do you think social media in general plays in high fashion today?
I think it’s become such an integral part of not just high fashion, but our everyday lives now! It literally feels so strange to imagine life before it all. Social media changed our world so much and has made things so fast-paced. We consume everything so quickly and then move onto whatever is next, and this phenomenon is seen in the fashion world. I like how social media has allowed us to feel more included in fashion. We don’t have to be sitting front row at a show anymore. You can see everything as it’s happening online straight from the runway, whether it’s via a livestream, or via Instagram photos. People that aren’t invited to fashion shows or certain events can feel included and not left out anymore. Even how we shop for clothing has changed. You can now purchase clothes straight from the runway with the ‘See Now Buy Now’ method.
All of social media has its positives and negatives, but personally, my experience with social media (and using it to my advantage in my career) has been positive overall. Sure, it definitely comes with added stress at times, mainly caused by companies or people trying to profit off of your name and vision by selling things illegally. This is something that does come with success, but thankfully I have a legal team in place to deal with that. It makes things easier for me so that I can focus on being the creative. I definitely do not regret making the decision to showcase my ideas and designs on social media. If I hadn’t, I would never have been offered all of the incredible opportunities and achieved all of the things that I have thus far.
What do you look for in a brand partnership, and which would you like to pair up with in the future?
For me personally, it’s very important to be genuinely invested and passionate about the project I am being offered to work on. A lucrative partnership is always nice of course, but I wouldn’t attach my name to something just for the sake of it. I have to truly be passionate about the brand and project because I want to deliver my best work at all times. To do that, I have to be inspired and happy with what I am working on. Every project and brand partnership I have done in my career thus far has been something I genuinely wanted to do. I manage myself, so this makes things easier when making decisions. I get to choose what is right for me!
Professionalism plays a big part for me also. I love working with brands and people that know what they are doing and know what they are talking about. Professionalism makes things to run smoother and makes everyone’s life much easier. Further, it’s important for a partnership to be mutually beneficial and not just one-sided. Lastly, for me personally, the partnership has to make sense for me as a brand and what I’m about. I like things to be a fashion illustration or fashion design focused and not be totally random.
There are still many brands I would like to partner with in the near future. I have already had meetings with some and have partnered with others before, but I would now like to collaborate on a bigger scale. I definitely would like my next partnerships to be more “design” focused. I guess you will have to just wait and see what I have up my sleeve…
What is the piece of work that you are most proud of?
It’s very difficult for me to choose one specific piece of work, because, in the moment, the piece that I am working on is my favourite. I am proud of it.. until I move onto the next piece and then that becomes my new fave. It’s like asking a parent to pick their favourite child…I can’t decide! Haha! Of course, I would say I definitely have some pieces that will stand the test of time and are “stand-out” pieces, but I have so many illustrations and designs…I’d be here all day.
Who are the icons that inspire your work? Have you met any of them?
Aside from the ones I have already met or worked with….I would love to meet Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Jason Wu… to name a few. All of them are such inspirational, focused, and talented individuals that have achieved so much and have inspired me in many different ways.
Quick-fire: Favorite Disney princess dress? Art tool you can’t live without? Hardest part of an illustration to master?
Hmm…probably Cinderella’s gown because I remember being mesmerized by the animated movie as a child, especially the dress transformation scene with the fairy godmother! Truly magical! The live action dress was just stunning! My pencil…I mean it’s the basis for all my preliminary sketches, so I definitely couldn’t live without that! Oooh the hands….I always dislike drawing hands, haha!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your life, and what would be one piece of advice that you’d given to aspiring designers and artists?
Probably from my family, especially my sister. We are very close, and she always reminds me to just remain humble, to be smart about my decisions, and to remember that everything happens for a reason. I am grateful to have a very supportive family. They have been encouraging and nurturing from day one and are incredibly proud of me!
My advice to aspiring designers and artists is to stay focused on your craft, be consistent in everything you do and make your own mark in the world. Create things that set you apart from everyone else. You want to be as original as you possibly can be in this competitive creative field. People know my work right off the bat, because I have carved out a signature style as an artist and I am proud of that!