I've been following fashion illustrator Blair Breitenstein on Instagram more or less since I joined about 2 years ago, and I figured it was only a matter of time before her work appeared on beauty packaging. The only surprise was the brand - I thought for sure MAC would have scooped up Breitenstein for a collab (more on that later) but it turns out Fresh beat them to it. As you know, I try not to make a habit of collecting skincare/bath and body products, but I haven't been able to resist Fresh's artist collaborations and knew their iconic soy cleanser illustrated by Breitenstein had to join the crew. It seems like odd timing, as Fresh usually does special packaging to mark an expected milestone, but decided to celebrate the 19th anniversary of the introduction of the cleanser. Why they wouldn't wait until 20 years is beyond me, but really, no special occasion is needed for an artist collab in my view. :)
Breitenstein honored the original product packaging that featured a "soy girl" by maintaining a female presence, but thoroughly modernized it with her own style and added another girl. I love the image, since for me it represents the timeless tradition of women bonding over beauty rituals. And their robes look so plush! It's an appealing scene and one that reminds us to take some time out for ourselves and take pleasure in the cleansing process. I love applying my makeup, but I also enjoy feeling the warm water rinsing away the day's grime and knowing that it's time to wind down for the night. (I guess if you use it in the morning it's an equally enjoyable way to prepare for the day ahead.) While I think the concept of "self-care" has been ridiculously co-opted at this point, face-washing is a necessity so you might as well make it a nice experience for yourself. This cozy and comforting image definitely helps with that.
Here's the original "soy girl" for reference.
(image from nylon.com.sg)
Let's get to know Breitenstein and take a look at her work, shall we? Born and raised in Seattle (though she now calls NYC her home), the 28 year-old illustrator attended Washington State University and majored in communications (with a minor in art history, ahem!) Breitenstein had always loved art, especially painting, but it was a class she took her junior year of college that helped shape the path to her career as an illustrator and, arguably, her spontaneous drawing process: "My junior year I studied abroad in Florence and took all art classes. One of my classes was called Florence Sketch Book. The class was literally drawing all over Florence in our sketchbooks. One assignment was to draw as many paintings in the a museum as you could before class ended. That's when I fell in love with sketching. I loved the quick quirky half drawn pieces more than anything I had ever taken a lot of time to paint." Indeed, there a freshness and immediacy to Breitenstein's illustrations. While they appear hastily sketched at first glance, they're much more detailed than meets the eye.
Fashion was a natural source of inspiration, given her family's interest in fashion and Breitenstein's own lifelong affair with fashion magazines. "I grew up surrounded by fashion. My mom and grandma love fashion, so even early on my art has been inspired by fashion. My grandpa was an artist. I have always wanted to be an artist...When I was growing up fashion was an escape. I remember flipping through a W Magazine when I was very young, and I was fascinated with the opulence of it all. I was intrigued by the fantastical and remote settings in the editorials. At the time, I assumed everyone enjoyed magazines and fashion imagery as much as I did. Later I realized I didn’t just enjoy flipping through magazines. I realized fashion was my passion and my muse...fashion still is an escape. The things I draw are not realistic to me. I do not have the place or money to wear Dior but it is too beautiful for me to ignore so I draw these things."
As for her process, Breitenstein selects images from the runway, magazines, or social media and works from those. "I am always collecting images. I screenshot, browse tumblr, mark up magazines, etc. I usually start my morning reviewing all of my images; then I just start drawing. I draw for a few hours in the mornings." For tools, Breitenstein relies mostly on watercolor, but utilizes markers and pastels as well. The variety ensures she's able to capture the range in materials and silhouettes in the clothing she represents. "I get fixated on textures, colors, shapes and movement of clothing. I get completely lost looking at fashion week coverage," she says. One of my favorite uses of various artist tools comes in the form of these illustrations based on couture gowns by Dior and Giambattista Valli. The watercolor allows the viewer to practically feel the sheer, gauzy texture of the garments between their fingers, while markers add just enough definition to the dresses' layers as well as the models' hair and makeup; in the case of Dior, the dark eye makeup provides a delightfully sharp contrast to the soft tulle on the dresses, while the red pouts on the models at Giambattista Valli stand out without overpowering the design.
(images from blairbreitenstein.com and instagram)
Just for fun (and because I'm almost legally blind from nearsightedness), I wanted to share another area in which Breitenstein excels: eyewear. Her drawings of fabulously bespectacled ladies seriously make me want to ditch my contacts.
(images from instagram)
I can't tell whether I like Breitenstein's takes on Vogue covers more than her runway illustrations...probably just a little bit more since, like me, she's a huge Pat McGrath fan. McGrath did the makeup for the following covers, and I think Breitenstein captured the vibrancy and uniqueness of her work perfectly.
Breitenstein also recreates some pretty amazing vintage covers. It's not surprising, since she cites '60s and '70s style as an influence: "I would describe my style as exaggerated, moody, sexy, and fashionably on trend with a nod to the 60’s and 70’s."
(images from instagram)
In hearing her describe her work, I feel as though she left out one descriptive term, but perhaps one that was too obvious. All I could think of was "chic". Even non-models are impossibly chic - whether playing tennis, gardening, or just languidly lounging about on sofas or poolside in bikinis, these women are incredibly stylish, and seem somewhat intimidating in all their glamour. But perhaps their confident stares are signaling mystery and intrigue. As Breitenstein notes, "I think I’m a bit mysterious, and I think my illustrations are a bit mysterious too."
The bathing beauty on the left is particularly great. Drink in hand, this woman combines a bouffant, pearls and a fierce winged liner with an expression of mild disdain and boredom. She's a completely unapologetic rich bitch, which for some reason greatly amuses me.
(images from instagram)
I saved my favorite subject (makeup, obviously) for last.
To bring this post full circle, the MAC sketches are why I was a little surprised Fresh tapped Breitenstein for a collab - if any beauty company was going to approach her I think it would be MAC. Then again, it's always possible she'll get a line from them too. In any case, the ever humble Breitenstein notes how pleased she was to work with Fresh and create a more regular girl rather than a high-end fashion model. "I was really excited to work on the Soy Face Cleanser because I got to bring the Soy illustrated girl to 2018. She's different than the normal girls I create. She's also a bit more like me - less done up - and that was really exciting for me to be able to create a girl that I can really relate to."
These girls definitely seem more approachable than Breitenstein's usual figures, while still maintaining her signature chicness. I think it's partially due to the fact that they're in profile and not staring out at the viewer, which is the case for most of her work. And I know I mentioned the fluffy robes previously, but depicting women in "bath-leisure" attire rather than high fashion also helps tone down the intimidation factor.
Overall, I think the illustration perfectly captures the essence of Fresh Soy Cleanser. In terms of brand imaging, Fresh packaging has always been spa-like and sleek, while the product itself is soothing and calming, just like the water cascading from the girls' hands. I admire how Breitenstein modified her style just a bit to accommodate both the Fresh brand and a specific product from them. Plus I'm really happy to see her continued success via a collaboration with a major beauty company. Not only is Breitenstein talented, she seems pretty down to earth and grateful for the exposure her work garnered via social media. "I never thought art would lead to a career. No one ever explained that their are SO many jobs that require a BFA...If instagram was a person I would hug it and send it a billion thank you cards and flowers." I just hope the fashion industry doesn't crush her spirit!
What do you think?