The View Magazine hooked up with Dutch fashion illustrator Milou Neelen, talking about her childhood and gut feeling, how she rolled into the fashion world, painting where it all started, how she works with clients, and much more.
TV: Tell us a bit about you.
MN: I think I was born with the sense of needing to follow my guts. If something doesn’t feel right I shouldn’t do it. I never finished high school so I could start a.s.a.p. on a creative study which became graphic design. I always want to try new stuff, get bored really quickly, so when I started painting I also worked on loose pieces of fabric, plexiglass, wood or use gold leaf for example. One day while I was working in a coffee bar and was trying to figure out if this creative interest was just a hobby, I got a call by ELLE magazine if they could use one of my paintings as an illustration with an article! Soon after I started working as a graphic designer for Scotch&Soda which I did for almost three years and started freelancing full time two years ago. I love it! And I’m very fortunate, it’s going really well. I am happy to say that I can do my favorite hobby as a job. Recent clients include Love Stories where I design all the packaging, lingerie patterns and a lot more, Tommy Hilfiger where I design kids fashion prints, illustrations for ELLE magazine, and I’m trying to make the time to design some printed stuff for myself.
TV: How did you get in touch with creativity for the first time?
MN: My parents always stimulated creativity, let us draw for hours, and whenever we wanted to learn something new they would help us. I would spent hours and hours cutting pictures of fashion items from magazines, make sets and glued them on A4 papers. I would write from which store every jacket and pair of shoes were. My father still has tons of these files ;p I didn’t really care about biology or mathematics, only tried my hardest for the creative lessons in high school. Even if I worked during the day at a coffee bar to pay the rent, I had to make something during the night.
TV: Have you always wanted to become an illustrator and graphic designer? Or did you tried other things, and this felt the best way for you to express yourself?
MN: I tried many different things. Did workshops to become a video jockey, fashion stylist, fashion designer and more. Out of curiosity, but also to cut interests and start focusing more on one direction, which turned out to be painting. I’ve always had a big interest for fashion, that’s why I also did one year at the Artemis Styling Academy, but it felt like the wrong direction. After a couple of years of painting I got a call on my 25th birthday by ELLE magazine if they could use one of my paintings as an illustration with an article. That’s when I started doing more commissioned illustrations, especially for ELLE magazine. Which was perfect because of the big interests in both fashion as image.
TV: You have worked for fashion brands and publications, can you share about how that came along?
MN: I actually still forget to ask who dropped my name at ELLE magazine those five years ago! Shame on me..have to give a big thank you to that person! Working for ELLE for a couple of months made my portfolio better and more commercial, that’s when I got a call by HTNK if I wanted to work for Scotch&Soda as a graphic designer within the design team, where I worked for almost 3 years. Really loved working there, Scotch was growing but the team was still small and intimate, there was a lot of creative freedom and possibilities. I learned a lot there, also working for such a big and commercial brand helps you in many ways. I was actually talking to one of my friends about this earlier today, but whenever I try to get in touch with someone or a certain company it never works out the way I have in mind ;p but whenever I let go and just let things happen, things come my way. So I’m completely going with the flow.
TV: Share us a bit about how the process goes. You get briefed by the client on what they want, then what?
MN: I am very lucky to be asked because of my signature style, so a lot of times the briefing is very open so I can fill this in with my ideas. I ask a lot of questions, interests, their ideas and why. I make one or more mood boards, discuss these and get started. I never start with a super clear idea, I try different things until a design feels right.
TV: Where do you get inspired and how does it influence your style?
MN: There is no clear answer, it might be something I’ve seen last year, a painting, some sort of type font which suddenly sticks in my mind, like I need to do something with it. Most of the time try to incorporate this sudden interest in whatever I’m working on at the moment to get it out of my mind and onto the paper.
TV: What is a typical Milou Neelen illustration/graphic?
MN: Difficult to say about your own work, but important for me is that everything is hand drawn, I love to see the damages in the lines because of your brush. I think there’s always a mix between cheerful and cool, feminine but edgy, commercial but personal.
TV: Exciting projects you can talk about?
MN: My favorite ongoing project/client is Love Stories Intimates. I’ve been freelancing for this lingerie brand since the beginning, starting with designing the logo. From patterns for the lingerie to packaging, special gift cards, wall paintings and everything in between. Love it and so much more cool stuff coming! For the full month of May I will be visiting San Fransisco & Portland, where I’ll probably think of a couple of exciting projects to work on when I get back ;p
TV: When not illustrating/designing, how do you spend your time? Any hobbies, drinking wine, bungee-jumping?
MN: Haha.. bungee-jumping. I found this puppy last year in Ibiza, or she found me ;p where I’m spending a lot of time with. Normally would not dive into nature during the weekends, but since I got Laika I’m doing a lot of walks at beaches or forests which I love. Also good to clear the mind since I always have to many ideas going on in my mind and find it difficult to simply doing nothing. Working is really my hobby.. And traveling, favorite hobby in the world.
TV: Thanks Milou!
Check out all her work on the website.
Interview has been minimally edited to keep authenticity.