Meet @Drawbertson by Steffi Kammerer | 3rd June, 2016 | Personalities
What he puts down on paper is both elegant and nuts – and so is he. For many people in the fashion world, his Instagram feed is how they start their day, stars like Beyoncé and Pharrell Williams are among his biggest fans. Donald Robertson is addictive. And his story reads like an Internet fairy tale – of a father of five who found his medium at 50.
Whether it’s ET, the Queen, Kanye West or Jackie O. – he always comes up with something. He sees walnuts and turns them into the heads of Anna Wintour, Yves Saint Laurent or Iris Apfel (he once painted a necklace on her jacket when she came to his studio). The unlikely combination of Kermit the frog and Hermès becomes Kermès with a Kelly bag. He paints the Louis Vuitton pattern on milk cartons and shopping bags, puts Coco Chanel on a box of Cocoa Puffs and transforms ripe bananas with brown spots into leopards. A Comme des Garçons ketchup heart topped with a Pharrell Williams hat cut out of toast – the idea came to him in a restaurant. Likes, likes, likes! And of course shared by Williams.
„Days without ideas? No, never.“ Donald Robertson
Days without ideas? “No, never,” says Donald Robertson. Is that something you can learn? His advice is to listen to the voices in your head. And if there aren’t any? Just be patient.
Once he’s had breakfast he sets off for the office. Because Robertson has quite a day job too – he is creative director at Estée Lauder. He is constantly moving between art and commerce. “I love the extremes,” he says. Right now he’s working on a good old-fashioned book, a best-of Instagram. The publisher is still a secret. “I like the idea of shifting into reverse for a change.” Robertson is a pro. He knows exactly how branding works – and that goes for marketing himself too. He has spent half his life inventing advertising campaigns or designing the look of magazines like Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan. Yet he used to be a real stick-in-the-mud when it came to social media. But all that changed when he discovered Instagram in 2012. He was 50 at the time, and it was the beginning of a second life – as @drawbertson, who has fans all over the world. Yet in fact he was only doing what he’d always done – except that it was no longer just his family and colleagues who got to enjoy his exuberant ideas.
He was soon approached by British designer Giles Deacon, who asked whether he could use the pouting lips he’d seen on Robertson’s Instagram feed. When Deacon’s new collection was presented, a stunned Donald Robertson was sitting in the front row: all the models were wearing dresses with the lips he had painted. And a little later, Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke was pictured on the cover of the British edition of InStyle wearing one of them. Last June, he and his wife moved from New York to L.A. with their five children. “The city was buzzing.” Like in the ’80s, when he arrived in Manhattan and the world revolved around glossy magazines. “These days it’s all about YouTube, and L.A. of course is YouTube Central.” The New York Post called Donald Robertson “Instagram’s Andy Warhol.” Others might shy away from the comparison. But not Robertson. “It’s catchy!” he says. Besides, Warhol started out as an illustrator in New York as well. “Andy Warhol would love Instagram. He was using Instagram before Instagram even existed.” Today Robertson has a good 170,000 followers – and an extremely lucrative second career. And he achieved it all with just a few pencils and his iPhone. Sometimes he can hardly believe the way big names like J. Crew and Bergdorf Goodman suddenly started approaching him. Even Mitford, the fashion-obsessed giraffe he invented, has been turned into a book.
Right now he’s working with Stacey Bendet, the founder of the Alice & Olivia label. The two of them have collaborated before – and it was a huge success. He had done a picture of Stacey – simply because he had discovered her on Instagram and thought she was cool. Stacey turned Robertson’s drawing into a blouse. Then Beyoncé posted a picture of herself wearing the blouse – even now, you can hear the exclamation mark in Robertson’s voice as he tells the story. “What a crazy world!” he laughs. “And it all happened without lawyers and without meetings.” A few months ago he posted what his son had asked him on the way to school: “Dad, why are there only old white guys on our money?” Besides #hitdabrakes and #uhhhhhh, he posted a five-dollar bill that he had painted a picture of Oprah Winfrey on. @drawbertson posts half a dozen things a day. So does he ever have Instagram-abstinent days? No way! “Never,” he says. “I haven’t got that much time left. If I was 20, I’d take a week’s vacation. But I’m an old guy. These are my fifteen minutes. And I intend to make the most of them.”