>> This is so late to report back on but I had some strongly festering thoughts after I had my little conversation with Julie Verhoeven in the basement of David David's pop-up store a few weeks ago. Given there's now a permanent memento of the event – a video of the convo, which fully showcases my awkward and amateur interview skills (Alex Fury I am not… he stakes full ownership over the skill of In Conversation With Fashion People), I thought I'd let those thoughts bubble over.
I was fixated on the idea of interviewing Julie Verhoeven, whose body of work continues to fascinate me as her career has fluidly flitted about through fashion, art, music and interiors with her illustration skills as the primary weapon. David Saunders, whose graphic tees are going down a storm at his Monmouth Street pop-up was kind enough to faciliate the 'In Conversation' event and Verhoeven also kindly agreed to do it.
Yet afterwards, I felt like I had let down everyone's expectations of a cracker of an interview. It was protracted to say the least interviewing Verhoeven, who I discovered to be shy, succinct in answers and yet disarmingly honest at the same time. This made for a few revelatory moments but it was far from the happy-happy uplifiting gush-fest I was hoping it would be. I wanted to really celebrate with a big HURRAH RAH RAH, how amazingly diverse Verhoeven's career has been – from illustrating for John Galliano when he first started, to collaborating with Louis Vuitton and Mulberry, to designing for the label Gibo, to art directing music videos, to putting her pen/brush strokes to walls, countless homewares/lifestyle collabs and prolifically illustrating all the while for magazine editorials and finally now decisively concentrating on her work as an artist. Oh and for the lucky students doing Central Saint Martins fashion MA and Royal College of Arts fashion course, Verhoeven is a tutor too and it was encouraging to see many of her ex-students in the audience.
Als I don't think Verhoeven was into the whole celebration thing. At every opportunity, it seemed she downed on her own achievements. This wasn't annoying false modesty but a genuine reproach from somebody who doesn't seem to place too much value on her body of work. Much of this was connected with Verhoeven's flat-out discouragement of fashion illustration as a career. She stressed at several instances how BLOODY difficult it was to make a living out of fashion illustration – how her work was at times undervalued and how there simply just wasn't the demand for her skill. This was baffling to me. If Verhoeven, whose work for me pretty much was a core game changer in fashion illustration and represented the KEY to successful longevity in a niche skillset within fashion, had a difficult time working, how does the the rest of the fashion illustration community bear up? It was a ringing home truth for budding illustrators out there and perhaps not one that people wanted to hear.
This type of honesty was coupled with a few raw personal revelations – the death of her parents, the break-up with her husband and professional difficulties – that Verhoeven cited as triggers towards her becoming an artist. She said "It's pretty sad to realise that aged 38, you want to become an artist!" yet she is currently taking pleasure in scoffing at the egos of the art world with her two-part exhibition Gluteus Maximus in Amsterdam.
Despite the cartharsis of recognising herself as an artist, it felt blindingly obvious to me though that Verhoeven was ALWAYS an artist – self-defined or not. Her drawings through their depiction of femininity, vulnerability, beauty and the absurd, be it on a bag or a wall, or a limited edition print always had an emotive effect on me. She may have been drawing/designing to brief in those instances but the reponse from the audience (at least me) was never just restricted to that of consumer to product. I raised this with Verhoeven but she seemed genuinely unsure of the power of her work. There was no rah-rah hurrah spiel but instead we got an affirmation of a few things that are plainly obvious anyhow – how brutal the industry can be, how doing something for the love of it isn't all fun and games and that at the end of the day, one needs to be able to make a living.
In the end, I'm glad the course of the interview was swerved by Verhoeven's natural manner and her overall refusal to be all glossily gung-ho about everything. People probably won't learn even 1% about Verhoeven's work from this conversation, compared to what you get from her illustrations, even if she is reluctant to talk it up. The gesture that really sealed the deal for the evening and summed up Verhoeven's introspective personality, was when she presented me with a personalised copy of her book A Bit of Rough, that have left speckles of glitter all over my sofa. I haven't bothered to hoover it all up.