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From Hashtag to High Fashion

San Francisco illustrator Jayde Fish found instant fame in the fashion world when the creative director of Gucci clicked on her Instagram feed.

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Jayde Fish.

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Illustrator Jayde Fish works from her home studio in her curio-filled North Beach apartment, which she shares with her husband, artist Jeremy Fish.

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Created for her first solo exhibit in December 2016, Fish’s meticulously crafted ink-on-paper illustrations were based on her recent study of the tarot and inspired by Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele.

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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Sharing Michele’s affinity for folklore, astronomy, and fairy tales, Fish included subtle allusions to his work: In one of her drawings, a Gucci print became a robe.

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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Fish’s illustrations were used in Gucci’s Spring 2017 ready-to-wear line, Magic Lanterns.

Photo: Courtesy of Gucci

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Photo: Courtesy of Gucci

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It’s no secret that Instagram is more about aspiration (and jealousy) than dream fulfillment. It’s a vehicle for stoking desire, not sating it. But every once in a while, the social media gods grant a wish or two. Last spring, artist Jayde Fish began posting images of her most recent illustrations tagged with the name of one of her muses, Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci. #AlessandroMichele was both a virtual shout-out to one of her inspirations and a direct line to the designer, who clicked over to check out Fish’s feed as a result. “I remember one day seeing he liked several of my posts in a row. I took a screenshot,” says Fish, 32, who lives in North Beach with her husband, the artist Jeremy Fish, and works full-time as an artist, producing pieces for local exhibitions as well as commissioned illustrations and graphics for companies like Anthropologie and Facebook. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing.’ The world is so small.” Soon, another bit of digital fairy dust traveled from Florence, Italy, to San Francisco: Gucci emailed, offering to buy 17 of Fish’s drawings. 

Of course, Fish isn’t the only fashion fan to see her social media regimen produce results. Gucci in particular has been generous in its recent interactions with creatives online.

“Today creativity is often born and finds its voice in digital media,” Michele says, calling it “a vital source of visual culture.” When his first collection hit stores in 2015, he even launched an Instagram initiative in which new and established artists were invited to create pieces using Gucci’s most iconic patterns.

But Fish is the first to have been plucked from Instagram and delivered straight to the front row of Gucci’s Milan runway, which is exactly where she sat last September to finally witness how the designer had transformed her illustrations into rich embroideries and prints for a collection the brand calls Magic Lanterns. Florence Welch recited poetry by William Blake, walls sparkled with thousands of pink mirrored sequins, and Fish sat speechless, crying “happy tears.”

This spring, Gucci shoppers can see the results for themselves. The Chariot, an allegorical illustration inspired by the 17th-century map Carte de Tendre, has become a printed crepe de chine shirt, skirt, and scarf. Teeming with animals and mystical symbolism, it depicts a person seated on an aquatic chariot, rowed by two monkeys, in a voyage through the land of love.

Another illustration, Death, was developed into a duchess satin skirt and scarf showing Adam and Eve lying prostrate before a massive urn covered by a moth and two cranes. Her foxes are embroidered on the shoulders of a sequined jacket, and her owls rest on the chest of a colorful mandarin top.

The piece that stands out above all is a navy cardigan with one of Fish’s endearing monkeys embroidered in green on the back, a pierced red heart on its chest surrounded by crystal rays. The monkey is actually based on her cat and has special significance for her. “I wouldn’t say I take tarot cards or fortune-telling literally,” she says, “but a friend told me she had a vision of my monkey character—he was taken out of my illustration and was on display in a sacred space.” A year later, that monkey is literally on the backs of women around the world.

Her illustrations may meld so well with the label’s eccentric, whimsically romantic style because she considers herself a bit of a Gucci girl: Her closet contains both vintage and new pieces. “I was enthralled by it,” she says, reflecting on the first time she saw Michele’s collection two years ago. “I don’t currently have any pieces that feature my work, but I just recently viewed the runway pieces in person and got to try them on,” she adds, calling the experience a dream come true. 

Might Fish, inspired by fashion since her childhood in Stockton, have plans to start her own line? She won’t rule it out, though she currently has her sights set elsewhere: She’s hoping to design wallpaper, murals, and sculptural pieces in the future. Meanwhile, for those without a Gucci wardrobe budget, a small line of T-shirts, pullovers, posters, and more bearing her illustrations is on offer at Upper Playground in the Lower Haight—most pieces retail for under $30.

But don’t expect esoteric depictions of flying monkeys or mysteries of the occult. Picture instead Little Biggie—a diminutive version of the famed rapper—with a kitty-cat jacket slung over his shoulders, smoking a cigar, and wearing a golden crown. Fashion, like Instagram, favors fun along with the sublime.

 

Originally published in the March issue of San Francisco 

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