Insider interview with famous fragrance illustrator Maurice Vellekoop

The name “Maurice Vellekoop” may not be a household name, but it is likely you’ve seen his artwork. The Toronto-based artist came to fame illustrating Abercrombie & Fitch’s racy A&F Quarterly magazine that chronicled the Kardashian-like exploits of college students across the United States. Supermodel Cindy Crawford tapped him to create the artwork for his beauty book “Basic Face”.

acclaimed illustrator Maurice Vellekoop
acclaimed illustrator Maurice Vellekoop

Maurice Vellekoop illustration for Scent Lodge
Maurice Vellekoop illustration for Scent Lodge

And most famously, Vogue magazine sent him to Europe to cover the couture collections with Andre Leon Talley and Kate Betts in 1994. His hilarious comic book strips of Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani and Naomi Campbell gave a sly insider-look into the rarified world of high fashion. Since then, he’s worked for almost every major style publication from the New York Times Style magazine to Glamour. We’re delighted that he’s agreed to be the official illustrator for Scent Lodge.

maurice vellekoop mineral makeup

A Vellekoop illustration for “mineral makeup” for Cosmetics magazine

A graduate of the Ontario College of Art, Maurice is known for his incredible washes of water colour – a process that involves stretching the canvas and skillfully brushing the surface with a feather-light touch. He draws at a little desk in his charming cottage on Toronto’s Ward Island usually while listening to Maria Callas or John Waters. He’s credited with being incredibly inclusive of all ethnicities and ages in his work. That was in evidence recently when he hosted a large gallery show in London, England.

Some of of Maurice’s most famous artwork came in the late 1990s when he illustrated Plum Sykes’ column “Fashion Fiction” in American Vogue. The monthly piece illustrated the glamorous life of a Vogue editor through an email exchange between friends.

maurice vellekoop illustration

An illustration for Cindy Crawford’s “Basic Face” book

maurice vellekoop illustrations in American Vogue

This comic appeared in American Vogue in 1994.

The Scent Lodge Maurice Vellekoop Interview: In his own words:

“I grew up the youngest of four artistic siblings. The oldest, my sister Ingrid, is an incredibly talented artist who was never quite able to muster the necessary discipline and confidence that make a successful career. She was my idol and inspiration. She drew mostly portraits and caricatures. The middle siblings, my two brothers were obsessed with typical guy stuff: war planes, tanks, cars and motorcycles. Meanwhile, I was more attracted to fantasy and fairy tale, but with tongue firmly in cheek. I drew a lot of princesses and witches. My sense of humour didn’t always register, though, and I identified with the narrator of The Little Prince, who always had to explain his drawings to his family. Once I drew a witch riding a vacuum cleaner rather than a broom. Nobody got it. “Isn’t it obvious?” I said, “She’s modern!”

A Nut At The Opera by Maurice Vellekoop
A Nut At The Opera book by Maurice Vellekoop

“As a young art student I bought a copy of Diana Vreeland’s book, Allure, which influenced me greatly and forever. In it she describes one Princess Berar, wife of the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Here is a quote: “I’m mad about her nose. A nose without strength is a pretty poor performance. It’s the one thing you really hold against someone today. If you’re born with too small a nose, the one thing you want to do is build it up.” Like Diana, I never felt that I was particularly beautiful, and I look for beauty in the offbeat, the original and the bizarre.”

“Cindy’s book was a pleasure to work on. I worked with Sam Shahid, the art director mostly, so I didn’t have much interaction with Cindy Crawford herself. What I remember most is being invited to a small dinner party with Cindy and her people for the book launch. I was asked to bring a friend. At the time I was the proud owner of a pair of Paul Smith shoes, loafers with a cartoonish 1970s platform sole and heel. I asked my most fashionable friend in New York if he wanted to join me for the dinner. He said, “Are you going to be wearing those Paul Smith shoes?”. I said “Yes, of course,” and he declined the invitation!”

“For a couple of years, among other assignments, I illustrated Plum Sykes satiric “Fashion Fiction” page for Vogue.It took the form of email correspondence between a couple of airhead social-climbing fashion victims, and their adventures in the Manhattan beau monde. As with most illustration gigs, I worked with an art director rather than the writer. It was always great fun, as the writing was very funny and the situations were so outrageous. The illustrations more or less drew themselves!”

“I guess illustration naturally has the advantage on photography because the possibilities are so much more boundless. Of course, many photographers employ humour, but the illustrator who has a gift for wickedly precise observation, and an inclination for subtle exaggeration gives that extra zip of juiciness that makes her work memorable!”

a Maurice Vellekoop opera illustration
a Maurice Vellekoop opera illustration

“I treasure a picture I have of me with the great Andrea Martin, someone I had adored since childhood as a lifelong SCTV addict. It was at a Casey House benefit I had done a poster for, and Andrea was the evening’s host.”

“A big thrill was meeting Isabella Rossellini at an art opening. My friend, producer Jody Shapiro had given her a copy of my book A Nut At The Opera, which apparently she had enjoyed. She was very gracious and as compelling and gorgeous as she appears in print and on film.”

“Another book-related one: I fulfilled a lifelong dream by briefly meeting my childhood icon Carol Burnett! It was the late 90s and FIT had announced a major retrospective of Bob Mackie, another towering, hugely inspirational figure. Mackie designed every single outfit for the long-running variety show, and I knew he and Carol were great friends and that she would be at the opening. This time I left the Paul Smiths at home and my New York friend and I excitedly hung around the entrance awaiting Ms Burnett’s arrival. I felt just like one of those fourteen year old audience members who plucked up the courage to ask Carol a question during her opening Q and A, as I pushed myself forward through the crowd of photographers and press. Beet-red with mingled excitement and embarrassment, I handed her a copy of my 1997 book Vellevision, and said, “Ms Burnett, I wanted to give you a copy of my book, look, you’re on the cover!”. She flashed her famous smile and said, “Aren’t you sweet, thank you!” passed the book to her assistant and went in. I was aglow…”

early Scent Lodge sketch
early Scent Lodge sketch

“If an illustration is for a magazine I am presented with an article and most often left to come up with sketches based on the content. The first idea is almost always the strongest but there is usually some back and forth and refining. When the art director gets approval from the editor for the revised sketch, I go ahead and produce final art. After more than thirty years in the business I still work with ink, watercolour and gouache on paper. I never did learn photoshop!” 

a Maurice Vellekoop illustration for Scent Lodge
a Maurice Vellekoop illustration for Scent Lodge

The whole experience of covering the haute couture fashion shows in Paris was like going inside a tv set, like that kid in Willy Wonka! Hectic, non-stop and surreal. Kate Betts had been assigned to be my guide and more or less art director. She was calm and considerate and infinitely patient, explaining this mad, rarefied world to me, a total novice. I only met Gianni Versace to say hello. I must say Christian Lacroix was the highlight of the whole experience for me. I got to visit his now-closed atelier with Kate and Andre Leon Talley, where the atmosphere was highly charged but professional and respectful. In the early 90s haute couture was pretty sedate, non-experimental and “tasteful”, often with classical music accompaniment. As the lights went down at the Lacroix show, and Divine’s You Think You’re A Man blared out over the leopard-print runway, the audience was thrown into a wittily inventive world of primary-coloured fantasy and far-flung allusion. By far the most exciting show of the week for me! (Btw M. Lacroix follows me on Instagram and sometimes comments with a row of black heart and star emojis!!)” 

  • Trisha Pedros
    September 18, 2020 at 7:38 am

    Wonderful article! Very talented man! Love all the artwork posted. Most excellent, thank you.

  • Cynthia M Sacks
    September 17, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Wow — what a fascinating interview. Love his distinctive style. such talent.

  • Mariola daher
    September 16, 2020 at 7:17 pm

    Such a wonderful article .. love his art work 😍

    • Velma
      October 4, 2020 at 12:58 am

      Brilliant work! Every scene captures the eye and the expression just create a great story.

  • Roberta P MacQuarrie
    September 15, 2020 at 3:11 pm

    I love his illustrations. It is so amazing that he is the illustrator of Scentlodge. His illustrations add fun, glamour and intimacy to this site!

  • Heather Schell
    September 15, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    Bravo! Such an excellent and riveting article! Oh! to be at a table while Dave and Maurice swap stories would be divine!

    • daniel
      September 18, 2020 at 12:49 am

      such a great illustrator and what an awesome article, very talented 🙌🙌🙌🙌 bravo @daniela27

  • September Dee
    September 15, 2020 at 10:28 am

    What a great article! He is fascinating and his illustrations are such fun. Love the colours and the humour. I’m so glad he is the official illustrator of Scentlodge!