To button up or not to button up? Which button/s to fasten? How many millimetres of sleeve should show? With its many rules, classic men’s tailoring can seem pretty serious and humourless — but not when it’s viewed through the eyes of fashion illustrator and artist Fei Wang. He is also known as Mr Slowboy, the name of the main character that apears in his work and is modelled after himself.
Based in the UK with his wife, baby daughter and a cat named Fatty, the Beijing-born artist recently released his first book, Mr Slowboy.
Published by Hong Kong-based Victionary, it comprises 142 delightful illustrations by Wang, including personal pieces and commercial work for classic brands such as Barbour, Drake’s, Dunhill and Lock & Co Hatters. Clad in dapper styles with an impressive level of detail — thousands of tiny squiggles depict the fuzziness of wool, for example — the gents in Wang’s world go about their daily business in humorous and light-hearted scenes.
A 2018 illustration for Drake’s, titled Like Father Like Son, features a father and son, both smartly suited and scarfed, going home feeling broke while carrying a just-purchased chess set and gaming console, respectively.
Reflecting the pandemic-wrought, working-from-home (WFH) paradigm, a personal work from 2020 sees Mr Slowboy dressed in a variety of stylish striped pyjamas and smoking slippers, with the occasional saucepan on his head.
A personal take
Connecting with The Peak via video from his home in North London, the 41-year-old shares, “For me, it was like curating a small exhibition in book form. It’s an archive of my development.” As befits his pen name, Wang has a relaxed demeanour and an unhurried manner of speaking. But this in no way translates to carelessness.
For our interview, he traded his WFH-ready loungewear for a slightly dressier ensemble “to maintain a certain formality”: A Brooks Brothers striped shirt topped with a Drake’s light yellow wool cardigan. Even though his bottom half is out of sight, he tells us that he is wearing corduroy trousers and knee-high socks.
Mr Slowboy first appeared on Chinese tech platform WeChat in June 2015, a few months before Wang moved to London. Back then, he was still living and working in Beijing, where he was the head of art and creative director at OgilvyOne Beijing for 11 years.
Reflecting on why he started sharing his style-centred illustrations online, he says, “The idea was to share style tips with my friends. I never thought it would reach a broader audience. It was quite casual and personal. I think that’s a reason why people liked it. 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 among those selected to go on an overseas tour to showcase the traditional art. The stops included Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Singapore.
Several years later, he returned to our shores to do a three-year diploma course in graphic design at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, following up with an additional year of study in 2006 to get his Bachelor of Arts degree.
Wang has “many vivid memories” of his time in Singapore, including those of a particularly strict lecturer who would throw unsatisfactory work out the window. With a smile, he says, “Looking back, I actually appreciate (his strictness) because it taught me to focus on the details.” Wang also holds a Master’s in illustration from London’s Camberwell College of Arts.
Old meets new
Used in tandem, Wang’s background in fine art, and professional experience in graphic design and advertising give rise to a unique, timeless style. He does all his work by hand, using mediums such as coloured pencils, watercolours and gouache paint.
His sensitivity to details is informed by his experience with classical Indian miniature painting, where tiny accents and outlines are rendered by a single-hair squirrel brush. The way he approaches composition, and the abundance of white space in his works are influenced by Chinese painting.
Ukiyo-e, the art of Japanese woodblock printing dating back to the early 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 employs this in various works, including one for heritage outerwear specialist Mackintosh. The horizontal image comprises three panels, each depicting Mr Slowboy battling wind and rain while clad in different Mackintosh coats.
It’s a format that finds new relevance in our digital age. On the Mackintosh website, the triptych ran as a single image that perfectly fit the required dimensions. On the brand’s Instagram account, the three panels appeared as individual images, but in the same row, just like an actual triptych.
What’s old and what’s new? What is fine art and what is commercial design? These are questions Wang will continue to explore as he shifts his artistic focus from commercially driven to more personal.
He muses, “Fine art can be fun; it doesn’t have to be stereotypical. It can be ironic, and it can be about fashion. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
This article was first published in The Peak.