Fei Wang, fashion illustrator and artist, fuses fine art and commercial design

To button or not to button? Which button(s) to close? How many millimeters of sleeve should show? With its many rules, classic menswear can seem quite serious and humorless – but not when seen through the eyes of fashion illustrator and artist Fei Wang. He is also known as Mr Slowboy, the name of the main character who appears in his work and is modeled after himself.

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Fei Wang (Credit: Drake’s)

Based in the UK with his wife, baby daughter and a cat named Fatty, the Beijing-born artist recently published his first book, Mr. Slowboy. Published by Hong Kong-based Victionary, it features 142 delightful illustrations by Wang, including personal pieces and commercial work for classic brands such as Barbour, Drake’s, Dunhill and Lock & Co Hatters. Dressed in dapper styles with an impressive level of detail – thousands of tiny squiggles depict the fuzziness of wool, for example – the men of Wang’s world go about their daily lives in light-hearted, humorous scenes.

A 2018 illustration for Drake’s, titled Like father, like son, features a father and son, both well-dressed and scruffy, returning home feeling broke while carrying a newly purchased chess set and game console, respectively. Reflecting the work-from-home (WFH) paradigm caused by the pandemic, a personal work from 2020 sees Mr. Slowboy dressed in a variety of stylish striped pajamas and steaming slippers, with the occasional pot on his head.

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A PERSONAL TAKE

Login with The top via video from his home in north London, the 41-year-old shares: ‘For me it was like putting on a little exhibition in book form. This is an archive of my development. As befits his alias, Wang has a relaxed demeanor and an unhurried manner of speaking. But this does not in any way translate into negligence. For our interview, he swapped his WFH-ready loungewear for a slightly dressier ensemble “to maintain some formality”: a Brooks Brothers striped shirt topped with a light yellow wool cardigan by Drake. Even though his lower half is out of sight, he tells us he’s wearing corduroy pants and knee-high socks.

Mr. Slowboy first appeared on Chinese tech platform WeChat in June 2015, months before Wang moved to London. At the time, he was still living and working in Beijing, where he served as art and creative director at OgilvyOne Beijing for 11 years. Reflecting on why he started sharing his style-centric illustrations online, he says, “The idea was to share style tips with my friends. I never thought it would reach a wider audience. It was quite casual and personal. I think that’s one of the reasons people loved him. It’s not like a textbook, but like a friend sharing ideas.

Wang’s interest in art began at a young age. As a child, he studied Chinese painting. At 12, he took part in a competition where he was one of those selected to tour abroad to present traditional art. Stops included Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Singapore.

A few years later, he returned to our shores to complete a three-year degree course in graphic design at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, followed by an additional year of study in 2006 to obtain his Bachelor of Arts. Wang has “many vivid memories” of his time in Singapore, including those of a particularly strict lecturer who would throw unsatisfactory assignments out the window. With a smile, he says, “Looking back, I really appreciate (her thoroughness) because she taught me to focus on the details. Wang also holds an MA in Illustration from Camberwell College of Arts in London.

OLD MEETS NEW

Used in tandem, Wang’s background in fine art and her professional background in graphic design and advertising result in a unique and timeless style. He does all of his work by hand, using mediums such as colored pencils, watercolors and gouache. His sensitivity to detail is informed by his experience in classical Indian miniature painting, where tiny accents and outlines are rendered by a single-haired squirrel brush. His approach to composition and the abundance of white space in his works are influenced by Chinese painting.

Ukiyo-e, the art of Japanese prints dating from the beginning of the 17th century, also makes its presence felt in his work. The triptych has three panels that can be sold alone or together, and was a popular format in ukiyo-e. Wang uses it in a variety of jobs, including one for traditional outerwear specialist Mackintosh. The horizontal image comprises three panels, each depicting Mr. Slowboy battling the wind and rain while dressed in different Mackintosh coats.

It’s a format that’s finding new relevance in our digital age. On the Mackintosh website, the triptych presented itself as a single image perfectly adapted to the required dimensions. On the brand’s Instagram account, the three panels appeared as individual images, but in the same row, like a veritable triptych. What’s new and what’s old? What is fine art and what is commercial design? These are questions that Wang will continue to explore as he shifts his artistic focus from a business orientation to a more personal one.

He thinks: “Fine art can be fun; it doesn’t have to be stereotyped. It can be ironic, and it can be about fashion. That’s what I try to do.

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