If fashion illustrators are having a moment, Donald Robertson is the man of the hour. The Canadian-born New Yorker is a creative director at Estée Lauder by day, but the 146,000 people who follow him on Instagram are far more familiar with the fashion-inspired artwork he creates at home. The industry, too, has taken note: In less than two years, he has racked up collaborations with J.Crew, Bergdorf Goodman, Alice + Olivia, Colette, Smashbox Cosmetics, Brian Atwood, Story and more.
Robertson has now taken his artistry to the world of publishing with his first book, "Mitford at the Fashion Zoo." Mitford, a gangly giraffe turned fashion industry darling, is a recurring character in Robertson’s Instagram posts. He first drew Mitford – who is an avatar of sorts in his signature black frames – as Anna Wintour’s intern. The leggy giraffe was an immediate hit with his followers. Shortly thereafter, he partnered with Viking Press to bring Mitford and a cast of fashion world fauna — Zap Possum, Shark Jakobs, Mikael Boars — to book form. His wife Kimberly Gieske wrote the story and Robertson illustrated it.
"Mitford at the Fashion Zoo" will go on sale on Aug. 10. In celebration of its release, Robertson will roll out over 25 Mitford-themed items in collaboration with brands like Warby Parker, Rolex and J. Crew at Story the same day. We spoke with Donald Robertson about the connection between the fashion industry and wildlife.
What was your inspiration for "Mitford at the Fashion Zoo"?
My wife Kimberly wrote it off my Instagram feed of cartoons I did of Mitford the giraffe as a fashion intern. Lawyers suggested we make famous fashion folk into animals. You gotta love a lawyer!
You are a father of five. How did being a father influence your decision to write a children’s book?
The book isn't for children. Please don’t tell Viking [the publisher]. It’s for all the childish adults who work in fashion and the magazine business. You know who you are.
You have worked in the fashion industry for decades, but recently you've become quite the social media maven. How has Instagram shaped your career?
I went from being a worrier to a warrior. I prefer the latter. Instagram gives you the power to be insane, not safe!
The book follows the misadventures of Mitford, an awkward giraffe and fashion outsider who is thrust into the limelight when he lands his dream job. Is there any aspect of this story that may be autobiographical?
Why would you say that? Because I came from deep Canada and ended up working in New York, in fashion at Condé Nast for 100 years... and because I wear black glasses? I think we are all Mitford at some point in our careers.
You are seemingly making a connection between the fashion world and wildlife. Tell me, what do the fashion industry and, say, zoos have in common?
New York Fashion Week is coming up. Ask anyone who has covered this event if it's zoo-like! And ask if people dress in animal prints and herd around! Ask if there are any sharks in the crowd! Or if the girls look like gazelles. It's completely a zoo but the open kind that don’t use cages.
It might be too early to ask, but could you imagine a sequel for "Mitford"?
Book two is "Mitford and the Fashion Time Machine." I want to send Mitford back in time to London in the '60s. My daughter Drue already suggested Mick Jaguar and Jean Shrimpton cameos! The best period for fashion ever, I think.
What are you working on now? What’s your next project?
I’m first going home to Canada to launch "Mitford at the Fashion Zoo" at Holt Renfrew in Toronto. Then I am doing a huge collabapalooza at Story downtown on 10 Ave. I am setting up with Rachel Schechtman and my friends from Smashbox Cosmetics and we are creating a zoo-like atmosphere for New York Fashion Week. Come by, say hi. It’s awesome.
This interview has been edited and condensed.