Brisbane-based illustrator Kerrie Hess has legions of fans worldwide who swoon over her creations. At once elegant and whimsical, a blend of chic inky lines and soft watercolour splashes in bonbon shades, Kerrie’s art celebrates impossibly glamorous women in dream settings — and just begs to be displayed above velvet sofas or in luxurious boudoirs.
Given Kerrie’s fondness for rendering fashionable gowns and enchanting scenes, it’s little surprise to learn that Paris has been an enduring influence on her style — professionally, and also personally. Here she talks more about her love of the City of Light …
Can you explain why you love Paris so much?
I visited Paris for the first time when I was twelve years old with my parents. I remember being there in my denim cut-off jeans and bomber jacket, looking at girls my own age in little black dresses and ballet flats! I think it was during this trip that I fell in love with both fashion and the city for the first time.
What’s your most treasured Parisian memory?
I have quite a few. I think painting recently on the Carrie Bradshaw balcony from Sex in the City at the Plaza Athénée was a special moment. We filmed a video for the hotel of painting in all different spots and that one was pretty amazing!
Holding my first solo art exhibition in Paris was also really special. It was in 2012 at Le Meurice in the music room (above), where both Dali and Picasso have also exhibited, so that was incredibly special and was a turning point for me from just doing commercial work to also original paintings.
You lived in Paris for a while — how did your time there shape you personally?
I think my two years in Paris really made me fall further in love with life’s little details. There is so much attention to detail in Paris, from how flowers are wrapped at the local florist, to a little pink and gold chocolate wrapper, and I love noticing all these little details. I think the idea of owning fewer but better items also rubbed off on me in Paris. My wardrobe was so small it had to!
How do you think Paris has influenced you as an illustrator?
I can definitely see that the shapes, curves and style of both Paris architecture and couture come through in my work. I’m a fan of movement and anything that isn’t made up of straight lines and this is really the essence of everything in Paris. Attending shows for Paris Fashion Week has come through in my work, too. Ironically my favourite show during couture week has always been Ralph & Russo which is an Australian brand but with a very old-world sensibility. Elie Saab and Dior are also always inspiring.
What’s your favourite Parisian feature or location to illustrate?
It’s a cliché but it has to be the Eiffel Tower! I also love Haussmann-style buildings in general.
Which is your most beloved Paris illustration?
A black and white sketch called Cafe de Flore (above). It was a simple sketch that I did when I was living in Paris, of a woman in a black dress set in the Left Bank. It sold out in a matter of days as an Art Print at both A3 and A2. We have it currently in limited numbers at A1 as well as as a phone case. I think it might just be the simplicity of it.
Where in Paris do you best find creative inspiration?
I think my favourite spots for this are Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Le Marais. These parts of town both still have that feeling of the old Paris. Especially on the Left Bank where you can still feel the history of so many artists having lived there.
I also love wandering around the Louvre. But I do find inside overwhelming, even for an artist! I find the outside structure more calming to wander around and appreciate. For viewing art I tend more towards the smaller galleries.
Do you shop for art supplies when in town?
I usually pack my own art supplies when visiting Paris and just pick up little random pieces from the many little art supply stores in and around Saint-Germain. I like to travel with a few watercolour tubes, and a tray of dry pan colours, as they are light and travel well.
Speaking of retail therapy … What are your favourite fashion addresses?
My favourite shopping street is Rue Saint-Honoré, for Chantal Thomass (no.211) and Longchamp (no.271), as well as the original Chanel store on Rue Cambon, which is close by.
Le Bon Marché is my favourite department store in Paris, and I also like to pop into Tara Jarmon for silk dresses and Merci for quirky finds.
And what about beauty shopping?
I never leave Paris without one look through the huge Sephora on The Champs-Elysées, but for perfume I prefer Annick Goutal (14, Rue de Castiglione 75001) for a quieter, very Parisian experience. ‘Petite Chérie’ by this brand makes me think of Paris!
What’s the best Parisian souvenir you’ve ever bought?
I happened to walk into Chanel, the day I landed in Paris for my exhibition, and most of the shoes had just gone on sale. I bought a black pair that I wore to my exhibition opening that night and now I always think of that moment in time when I wear them.
Is there anything else you like to buy when in Paris?
Salted caramel macarons from Ladurée (I like the smaller boutique in Saint-Germain). And a flower ice cream from Amorino.
Which brings us to the subject of food … What’s your ultimate Parisian breakfast?
When I lived in Paris I just loved finding a little cafe to have coffee, a baguette with jam and butter and a croissant to people-watch! I think Le Bonaparte (42, Rue Bonaparte 75006) was my favourite for this.
Where’s your favourite place for lunch?
I love a picnic in Place des Vosges in the summer, or the duck confit at Les Philosophes (28, Rue Vieille du Temple 75004) is amazing. It’s also a great place to have a little rosé on the terrace in sunny weather, too.
For afternoon tea you’d head to …
I love Le Dali in Le Meurice for afternoon tea. It’s just a beautiful setting in which to relax and enjoy cake and tea.
And for apéro …
Most cafés on Rue Montorgueil, just north of Les Halles, are great for apéro and for the people-watching!
What’s your favourite dinner spot?
Definitely The Cristal Room … It’s part of the Baccarat Museum in the 16th arrondissement. It’s always been my favourite place for a special dinner in Paris.
And what do you like to do if you’re on a budget?
Picnics in summer are a must! Nutella crêpes and mulled wine from street vendors in winter to warm up. Just strolling around the little back streets discovering, is my favourite way to spend a day in Paris and you really don’t have to spend much money at all to do this. You can also head out to the Clignancourt flea market on the weekend, and shop for vintage furniture pieces, or even just window-shop. You can easily spend a whole day here.
What’s your favourite season in which to visit Paris?
I actually like visiting in August when half of Paris has gone to the beach! It’s really quiet, sunny and you feel like you have the city almost to yourself. You just have to accept that your favourite restaurant might be closed. It used to be my favourite time of year when I lived in Paris, too.
What do you always pack for Paris?
A trench coat, sketch pad and ballet flats.
What’s your favourite place to stay when in Paris?
My last stay was at Pavillon de la Reine which is a little boutique hotel hidden behind Place des Vosges, my favourite park in Paris! I love little unique hotels so this one really suited me. I would definitely go back there again.
The next time you’ll be in Paris, you plan to …
Hold a meet-up for the Paris students currently doing my Online Masterclass in Painting. I was able to fit in a meet-up in London when in Europe a few months ago, but just couldn’t squeeze it in when in Paris. I really love connecting in person with as many people as possible doing the course who are all learning about painting in watercolour together. We currently have students from 23 countries around the world studying painting with me.
For more from Kerrie on the City of Light, read her recent blog, How to Spend 48 Hours in Paris.