The flair q&A

Chesley McLaren

Signature style, that' s an enduring FLAIR quality. All while making a mark with elegance and grace. And when you can do that with real pen and ink (remember those?!), you're on to something. Please meet the ever-classy Chesley McLaren, who embodies a Gig always-favorite element in her work: Paris!

Tell me about your business or specialty.

I never really thought about it as business, it was just what I did - Drawing & Designing. I have ventured back and forth between the two since the beginning of my career, and have established a signature style with a French accent (so to speak).

How'd you get to where you are now?

Dreaming big, working hard, riding the ups and down, believing in myself and throwing caution to the wind, which I would not necessarily recommend!

I fell into illustrating when a friend recommended I show my drawings from my clothing collection to Bloomingdales for their Vivre la France campaign. It was a huge success and from there Henri Bendel came calling and I was referred to as “The French Illustrator in New York!” With paintbrush in hand, I have created hundreds of drawings for fashionable clients: store campaigns, murals, window designs, advertising, mannequins, limited edition prints, package and product design, magazine illustrations, book illustrations and animation. Clients include Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, The Carlyle Hotel,Laura Mercier, Vogue, Random House and many more. With needle and thread and the assistance of a pattern-maker and sample-makers, I have shown my collection Demoiselle by Chesley Mclaren in New York and Paris.

How has the pandemic affected your work or business? Any new ideas or approaches…or lessons learned so far?

Covid forced us to stay put and slow down, which agreed with me. I spent my days in the studio working on my own projects. I created a new collection with handkerchief linen called The Chemise. It was a pleasure to do it on my own. I had forgotten how I love the humming of a sewing machine. And, finally, I created a collection of notecards which I always wanted to do with my artwork. The first two collections sold right away, and I hope to grow them to five collections.

What surprises you in your work, now or in the past?

How I never tire of creating something new and fresh. Drawing and designing inspires creativity, it can be endless. New ideas come about, no matter how long I've been working the craft.

What drives you crazy?

Too many people in my studio! I like to work alone but designing a collection you need people around – pattern-maker, sample-makers, assistant, clients… I prefer less-busy when I work.

Who inspires you? (it can be anybody you know, or don't know)

Matisse, Picasso, Calder, Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix, the ruffles of Louis the IXV, the 60’s Jean Shrimpton and Napoleon’s uniforms.

You're a trailblazer - what are some highlights in your career to date?

Selling my collection beyond my wildest dreams and appearing in Bill Cunningham’s Sunday New York Times column (the famed fashion photographer and writer) was paramount. Other favorites include:

  • - being invited by the Chicago Art Institute to chronicle an exhibit of Drawing & Design.
  • - shooting my collection in Luxembourg Gardens and the streets of Paris with a great photographer and crew for a day.
  • - celebrating the launch of my first book Zat Cat, A Haute Couture Tail (Scholastic Press) at Saks Fifth Avenue.
  • -being sent to Paris to sketch the Couture shows for Spanish Vogue and the beautiful spread they created in the magazine.
  • - being commissioned to create Vivre la France for Bloomingdales - I had no idea there was such a thing as an Illustrator for hire!

Words of wisdom or thoughts?

Be careful what you wish for, you might actually get it. And then what?


Chesley McLaren is an Illustrator and Fashion Designer. As an illustrator, with her “Artiste coat” and easel in hand, Chesley has sketched portraits at Chanel, signed prints at Louis Vuitton and presented her work at The Chicago Art Institute. In addition to her illustrated books – Zat Cat, A Haute Couture Tail (Scholastic Press), When Royals Wore Ruffles (Random House) and The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot (Harper Collins), Chesley has created windows and advertising artwork for Saks Fifth Avenue, murals for Bergdorf Goodman, animation and package design for Laura Mercier, mannequins for Ralph Pucci and silk scarves for The Metropolitan Museum of Art. As a designer, Chesley created a made-to-order collection based on the frock coats and ruffles of Louis the XIV, jackets inspired by Napoleon and Jean Shrimpton, the chic icon of the 60’s. Her collection Demoiselle by Chesley McLaren was featured in Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily, British Vogue and So Chic, Paris. The collection is no longer available except for a few sample pieces. She is hoping to launch a small collection of simple and distinctive pieces Chemise by Chesley McLaren soon.

(published 2022)