Conversation with Fei Wang aka Mr. Slowboy illustrator
It was only a matter of time until Mr. Slowboy became well-known to #menswear enthusiasts. Being one myself I was very interested in the artist behind hugely popular Instagram illustrations. They have everything: style and good looks, regularity both of posts and the character and something vintage about them that has gotten the attention of so many of us these days.
It has a fun factor of a comic book but in a more adult version. Probably a bit geeky too :). It is a new thing in menswear advertising, interesting, very well made hand sketched illustrations and the author himself is a stylish chap too, not surprisingly! He’s already worked with big brands like Fox Brothers, London Undercover, did a very nice fashion illustrations incorporating “Mr Slowboy” into The Armoury’s photography and very recently a series for Alfred Dunhill.
When I figured that the author – Fei Wang – aka Mr. Slowboy lives in London I decided I had to meet him and hear the story behind those successful illustrations. Here comes the interview that we did in a nice coffee place in Shoreditch, East London.
Fei, tell me a little bit about yourself
My name is Fei Wang and I moved to London from Beijing in October last year to live with my wife. It wasn’t my first time here because I did the MA in Illustration at the Camberwell College of Arts in London. Before that I also studied Graphic Design in Singapore. From Singapore I moved to Beijing and worked in advertising. However, after about 6-7 months here in London I decided to quit my job and work on my own. I focused on working on my illustrations and the development of Mr Slowboy.
When was the first time that you created “Mr Slowboy”?
Mr Slowboy was created in June last year when I came back from Florence after seeing my in-laws exhibition. Of course, during our stay, me and my wife experienced a little bit of Italian tailoring. Florence I guess was my inspiration to start my own blog in China. I have always had an interest in fashion and thought that I could create illustrations for it rather than use photography. The blog is mostly on some style tips and shopping guides. Even though the blog was founded first, after my wife’s recommendation I started Instagram account only in October.
How did you come up with the name “Mr Slowboy”?
Well, I am a little bit slow myself (laughing). My reactions are always slower than other people, I even speak relatively slowly. I am the last one to get the joke. Even in Chinese it takes me more time to structure sentences compared to other people ;).
So your friends would recognise you by this nickname?
Yes, definitely. I think it would be very easy for them to relate Mr Slowboy to myself.
For me it is only a name, good one, I have to say, but a name. Is there any other meaning to it?
Actually yes! There is a line on my blog that says “slow fashion is always the best fashion”. So for people who do not know anything about me, that could be a hint. I like ‘slow fashion’.
Would you say Instagram as a social platform helped you get your name out there and help you get clients?
It was definitely very helpful but I would say that opportunities in London were even a bigger factor. I only started posting photos there in October and was able to do only Mr Slowboy starting from late Spring this year. It is very fast. I mean, I never expected so many opportunities in a such a short time. I thought that it would take at least a year or two to become better know, to network and work on the Slowboy itself. So yes, Instagram, as powerful as it is, it definitely helped me a lot. Even if I make less money now than when I was working in advertising but my love to illustration and fashion is much bigger than money.
Besides, working long hours 5 days a week in advertising is nothing unusual. There is a lot of pressure to generate new ideas constantly so the only time you can connect with ‘outside’ world is when you go on annual leave.
Let’s talk a little about illustrations. How do you actually make them?
Everything is drawn on paper by hand, most often with colour pens. Then I scan them into the computer. Sometimes a little touch up is necessary but most of the work is done on paper.
Have you always been interested in fashion? I mean your illustrations caught my eye because they are very stylish, the way you create the looks is really good.
The illustrations I do for my own blog are entirely my ideas. For the paid work it varies. For example the work I did for Fox Brothers was based on their new AW collections of fabrics. So Douglas reached out to me and presented me with the collection. I then visualised our ideas on how to wear those fabrics and also added short stories to those illustrations. It might have been a comment, a thought or a funny face but there was something comic about it. That’s how the collection has been presented then, using my illustrations as a guide on how to wear them.
In regard to my interest in fashion. I think it’s been with me for a very long time. I remember from childhood when my mum used to make simple clothes for me. At times these were just one-piece of cloth items. I found them very boring so I started taking my fathers medals, he was in the Navy then. Those medals became accessories to my outfits. It must have been then when it all started in relation to fashion for me. Then when I was about 9 years old I went on a tour around Europe which was very special because not many kids could do that at a time. It was Chinese ink painting tour in Europe that I did. We visited Norway, Belgium, Netherlands which all made a big impact on me. I had to buy some clothes there, which obviously was quite different to traditional Chinese clothing. Then in college I got interested in Japanese street style, started reading all those magazines, for example “Street”. My style at that time also got very street, so Nike, Levi’s etc. Now as I am getting older and more mature I am getting more interested in more sartorial brands and tailoring. I believe that your style should be a reflection of your personality so it is quite natural to go more classic in terms of fashion as you get older. So I discovered that I can wear a jacket or a suit only when I was about 27 or 28 years old. Before that it didn’t really suit me.
Do you wear much tailoring now?
Not too much. I have some clothes tailored back from China where there is a tailor I know very well. It is not any of those high end tailors but she is still very good – a typical Shanghai style. She owns a very small tailoring shop in Beijing. The reason I do tailoring though is not because of its prestige but because of my not-perfect figure. I have short legs and short arms and normally need a lot of alterations with ready-to-wear. Now that I also got to know the Italian tailor maybe it’s time to try one of them. They have all the heritage and years of experience and I would love to experience this uniqueness of Italian style of tailoring.
How did you know you needed alterations? Did anyone teach you anything about the fit?
I think it requires a lot of trial and error and actually more failures than successes. I have also read many magazines that actually tell you how clothes should fit. So that would be mostly self study for me. Another reason I know my body shape, proportions etc is because in China we don’t really have many shops of the American or British brands. I did a lot of online shopping then and because of that I had to be really careful with the sizes I ordered. It helped me a lot become very aware of my limits and sizes. I studied different cuts, different sizes to know which one would look good on me.
Obviously in Western Europe and America because of the heritage parents very often show their children how to dress, how to tie a tie or how to wear tweed. In China we don’t have this. My parents do not know how to dress well in European way. They know the traditional Chinese clothes. However the things that I can still pick up from them is the colour combinations and maybe proportions. I guess those things are quite versatile regardless of cut. I am definitely inspired by my fathers uniforms from the Navy, so I like white, navy blue, army green or khaki very much.
You said before that you also have a blog, is that right?
Yes, I have a blog on Chinese app called WeChat. It kind similar to WhatsApp with a little bit of mix between Twitter and Tumblr too. There are also many interesting features available like paying bills, topping up your phone. I have, what is called, public profile, and that would actually be my blog. Almost entirely I use my own illustrations for blog posts because I don’t like using other peoples content. This one for example is about shorts and different ways of wearing them. To make it a little bit funnier and interesting I added some grade scale or index which describes comfort, difficulty or effect on women, haha ;). So it’s not 100% serious, bit more fun to it doesn’t hurt, right? Because I draw those illustrations for the purpose of the blog posts I do publish very often, sometimes once a week or even once a month if I need more sketches.
Right, one can easily note that all of the illustrations have similar style in terms of the appearance of Mr Slowboy. He is a very specific character and you very often draw him. How did you come up with the idea of his look?
I draw some inspiration from Japanese illustrator Hozumi Kazuo, famous mens fashion illustrator renewed for his work for Men’s Club magazine. I also like the old Vanity Fair magazine pictures and Indian miniature painting.
Do you do any other kind of art?
Yes, I also sketch in pencil. At a first look those might look like children’s book illustrations but actually they are a parody of adults life. They are very different to Mr Slowboy. This one for example is about the digitalization of life in current time. This one too is interesting, it is on western world selling goods to Chinese customers overseas.
Is Slowboy always the same person?
At the beginning yes, it was this guy, dressed in a specific way and he looked very much the same on every illustration. Lately as I started doing more commission work I think the meaning is more about the style. So Mr Slowboy would be the style of illustrations rather than a specific person.
I also like to think that it is like Simpson. You know, Mr Slowboy now becomes a specific world. When you get into it, you become a pert of it too. That’s why, for example, when I did illustrations of Jake (ex The Armoury) or Ethan I think they became part of the Slowboy world too :).
Are there any brands that you like and are inspired by?
Yes, one of them would be Brooks Brothers and the other Polo Ralph Lauren, both American haha. They are both very much preppy and ivy so exactly to my liking. Margaret Howell is one of favourite too, Drake’s of course, Beams – the Japanese brand, I like workwear style very much.
We have been talking a lot about menswear brands and clothing. Do you maybe work with any other type of brands?
I think it is nice when other brands recognise and appreciate your work. For example recently some car and watch brands approached me. If their subject or item fit my style or if the project is fashion related I would work with them. I wouldn’t do a project with a brand that either has nothing to do with fashion or if it is completely different from my aesthetics.
And what would you say is the important aspect of the brand when you choose which one to work with?
I’d say style of the brand and their products is the most important. It means that I really have to like them in order to work with them. It also means that the product is simply in a good taste. Does not matter if the brand is big or small. Second big factor is how big the brand is. The bigger the more interested, probably, I am going to be. Meaning their reputation and quality of offering. However it is the second priority. Style and taste are most important.
I’d be interested to know where you draw too. Does it have to be a specific place, does it vary, do you draw in cafes for example?
The only thing I do outside my home/desk are sketches. I don’t do full illustrations there. They serve me as a notebook or inspiration for further work. I did some quick sketches in a tailor shop for example only to capture the moment. My illustrations very often show a specific situation so I need to capture the feeling or a funny moment that I experienced and then use the sketch as my base. For example this past summer when I was at Pitti I lost my sketchbook! All the sketches from Italy including some from my visit to Kiton are gone. So if there is anyone who found it please get in touch!
Then to do the actual illustration I need a lot of stuff, colours etc. So I only do them at home at my desk which is much more comfortable.
Oh no, that’s a terrible loss. Are you planning to go back to find it? 🙂 Do you visit Pitti regularly?
It’s been my second time in Florence during Pitti but first time when I got in to the fair at Fortezza. And I always have my notebook with me now, so hopefully I won’t loose this one.
At the end something I like to ask people I talk to. What does style mean? How do you understand it?
I think style is all about knowing yourself and matching the clothes to express yourself. If you take one specific jacket and ask different people to wear it they would do that differently, in their own way. That would be your personal combination of trousers, jacket, shirt and some accessories.
It is also about knowing what a good product is, what quality means. So if you choose glasses you need to know what glass is the best, similarly with architecture and design. You have to be able to understand why those things are the best, what aspect makes it of high quality. It will definitely help you having good taste. Style might differ but every stylish person has a good taste that is common to others in the same or other fields too. It doesn’t necessary mean that only a person who can afford high quality garments can be stylish.
There are two aspects here, I think. One would be the prestige or exclusivity of the fabric/tailor/brand and the other, more important, would be how this particular item suits me.
Brilliant. Thank you very much Fei for a lovely conversation. Appreciate your time!
Remember to check on Mr. Slowboy’s Instagram account. There are plenty of beautiful and stylish illustrations from this very talented artist, who I consider to be the best fashion illustrator since 1930’s Apparel Arts.
… After few weeks I received an email from Fei in regard to our conversation. He asked if I would like to publish this photo too:
Do you recognise this guy? 🙂
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