It may be springtime, but the moody, overcast day of our photo shoot with Katy Smail feels more like her native Scotland than NYC—not that she minds. Sitting on her stoop wearing a floral embroidered coat, poplin shirt, and jeans from Robert Rodriguez’s Spring 2017 collection, she smiles as she conjures the country of her childhood. “The Scottish side of me is the melancholy and whimsy,” she says, her flushed cheeks and peach smile looking anything but glum. “It has a dense history of fairy tales and dark characters in art and writing. The scruffy and overflowing countryside is alive with texture and feeling.”
As a painter, illustrator, and art director, Smail often invokes these sentiments in her work, which ranges from fashion to children’s books. Whether painting figures or flowers, her work always packs layers of vibrant feminine energy. “I love painting complicated women with many emotions. With my florals, it’s about trying to capture a spirit—there has to be feeling behind it,” she tells us.
Back inside her Brooklyn apartment, it suddenly feels much more spring-like thanks to a bounty of fresh flowers and thriving plants—not to mention Smail’s vibrant sketches and paintings adorning the walls. As she slips into her next Robert Rodriguez look—pinstriped trousers and a poplin wrap shirt embroidered with black flowers—she explains why she decided to make a career out of what was once her favorite hobby. “I turned to art as a respite from the type-A side of me that needs to be the best at everything, as it was actually the only subject that I didn’t do well in. I would go and spend hours on end making art for art’s sake, and it was so nourishing to just do what I loved.” Eventually, a teacher encouraged her talent, and she was well on her way.
That type-A drive finally lured Smail across the ocean to New York. “Where I’m from is so quiet and still, and I just craved the energy of being in the center of a busy city—plus, I wanted to be part of larger network where I could really collaborate.” And collaborate she does. When she’s not working solo on her fine art or specific commissions at her studio, she loves to work with creative teams, which often includes today’s photographer—her husband Fidel Garcia Reichman. “We have a language together and a similar aesthetic,” she says of why they make such a great team.
As for today’s collaboration, they’re working together to showcase Robert Rodriguez’s SS17 collection as Smail leads us through a day in her life. The tailored, feminine collection has lots of subtle, unexpected detailing like cut outs and asymmetry, and Smail is immediately drawn to the modern spin on classics, as well as the element of balance among the pieces. “I’m also attracted to items that feel special but that you can still dress down, as well as the harmony between masculine and feminine,” says. “And, of course, I’m also drawn to the muted palette and soft colors.”
With that, she picks up a brush and begins filling a blank sheet with her signature florals, and suddenly there’s a noticeable harmony between the artist, her complementary wardrobe, and the beautiful work filling the page.