Ottawa artist makes 'surreal' foray into Italian fashion scene

Ottawa artist Christopher Griffin didn’t know who Stella Jean was when he received an email from the fashion designer asking if she could use one of his images in her next line of clothing.

In fact, he almost trashed the email.

“Immediately, I thought it was spam. It turned out to be a legit company with 163 locations across Italy,” said Griffin, who’s now letting Jean’s fashion house use an image of a monkey he came up with while in Costa Rica in 2012.

“I probably did 100 sketches on that trip. So it’s kind of surreal to see [her use] my work. Like, I made it, I created it, and to see it on the runway — it was surreal, is the best way to describe it.”  

The sketch eventually made its way into a painting Griffin called “The Conservative Party of Canada.”

When he asked the designer how she found his work, Jean told him she wasn’t satisfied with the images her staff had come up with. So she searched online herself, Griffin said, and the moment she saw the painting, she realized it was exactly what she had in mind.

Griffin said Jean then invited him to Italy for Milan Fashion Week to see their collaboration.

On the pages of Vogue

The monkey design features prominently in Stella Jean’s “Resort 2018” collection, and has made the pages of fashion magazine Vogue internationally. 

Stella Jean

Italian designer Stella Jean discovered an image of a monkey by Ottawa artist Christopher Griffin online, and knew immediately it was what she wanted for her upcoming collection. (Stella Jean/Vogue New York)

“Vogue New York picked up the story. So I made the pages of Vogue. You know it’s a big deal in certain circles. And I’ve ended up in Vogue Brazil since then,” said Griffin.

The Rome-based Jean is a prominent name in Italian fashion, said Griffin. She received her own break from Giorgio Armani, the king of Italian style. 

“Giorgio Armani chose her to share his runway, which was unprecedented a few years ago. And that’s what skyrocketed her to the status she has now,” said Griffin.

Despite the boost in visibility, it’s not exactly a big financial windfall for Griffin. He said he’s not making any money, having agreed to lend Jean the image for free, and even had to pay his own way to Milan. 

However, Griffin said he has been invited back to Italy for a possible future collaboration.

“It’s exciting and flattering she’s interested in something like that,” he said.

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