Meet Bijou Karman, the US artist tapped by Salvatore Ferragamo for its pre-autumn 2021 collection

To celebrate the launch of the Tuscan Wildflowers collection, the brand worked with six artists worldwide

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To celebrate its pre-autumn 2021 capsule collection, the Italian house of Salvatore Ferragamo reached out to six artists around the world.

Called Tuscan Wildflowers, the collection is based on the flowers of the Italian region of Tuscany, of which Florence is the capital. It is an area close to the heart of the brand, as it was in Florence that the company was founded in 1927.

Ferragamo approached French painter Lucas Beaufort, Spanish sculptor Diego Cadezas, and Brazilian painter and illustrator, Marina Papi. Also involved was Boree Hur, the South Korean painter, and the Italian collective Art Media Studio.

The final name on that list was Los Angeles fashion illustrator and artist with the poetic moniker of Bijou Karman.

Named after the French word for jewellery ("my parents wanted a unique name and went into a French dictionary and landed on Bijou," she explains) it seems fitting that Karman would have an eye for design. And her colourful, vintage-inspired images are both exuberantly upbeat and beautifully executed.

The project Ferragamo enlisted the artists for is called Dream to Travel. Hatched during the most static days of the pandemic lockdown, Ferragamo decided that if we could not travel in body, we could certainly travel in mind, and asked the artists to pay homage to eight locations scattered across the globe.

Capri, Forte dei Marmi, Marbella, Cannes, Miami, Las Vegas, Hawaii and Rio de Janeiro were all chosen, and each artist was assigned one or more places as a theme. To showcase each location, Ferragamo also created a limited edition series involving its Studio Bag, now covered in illustrations of wildflowers, and with a strap spelling out a place.

While the French artist Lucas Beaufort was given Cannes, and Brazilian Papi was given Rio de Janeiro, as the sole American in the group, it was only logical that Karman was handed Miami, the desert town of Las Vegas and the island of Hawaii.

“We each did different pieces, so we weren’t collaborating with each other, but I think we all brought our own distinctive style to the piece, in terms of different elements and different concepts," Karman explains over Zoom from Los Angeles.

“Ferragamo assigned me the three locations, but I did my own research on the local wildflowers in each, which is something I was already interested in. I have done a series of wildflowers local to California before, so I already have my websites and references I can look at and find that sort of thing. And it’s always really interesting to me, I just love to know about that sort of thing and I love to see how distinct how each places plants are, they are also different.”

With research in hand, Karman began sketching out ideas, sharing them with the fashion label as she went.

“I always sketch digitally, but in my overall work process as an artist I do paint by hand as well as on paper and canvas," she explains. "But on something like this with such a quick turnaround, I need to have flexibility with the client, to change things. It is really helpful to be able to work digitally.”

Although Karman works as both an illustrator and a painter, this project called only for her drawing skills. She captured a range of flowers from each location that she placed alongside images of the Studio Bags.

“I specifically was drawing a couple of the handbags so mine are very much fashion illustrations, while some of the other [artists' works] are a bit more abstract, capturing the mood and spirit of the collection," she explains.

"For Miami, I did yellow daisies, and for Vegas, because it is a desert, I did cactus blossoms mixed with some thistle plants, these spikey, beautiful purple plants. For Hawaii, I did hibiscus flowers. They are really specific, and the locations have really different climates so I really wanted to represent each one as if it were a postcard for that location, to really entice you to go there."

For Hawaii, Karman's postcard has a lilac background, on to which she added blowsy yellow and red hibiscus flowers. The yellow bloom, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, the state flower, is synonymous with the island, while the red flower, called Kokio Ula, is native to the region.

For Miami, meanwhile, Karman chose Helianthus debilis, a cheery yellow daisy, that is also known as the beach daisy for its ability to grow in dry, sandy conditions. A native to the region, Karman paired it with another Miami treasure, the palm tree. Karman also added an orange and black tote bag from the collection, with its orange tones echoed in the sunset behind.

For the desert city of Las Vegas, she chose the pink flower of the beavertail cactus, teamed with the long, spiky lilac petals of the Mojave thistle, Cirsium mohavense.

“Ferragamo also brought in the element of the local wild flowers from each location. So it was up to me to do that research and find which beautiful flowers I wanted to draw, and incorporate into Tuscan Wildflowers. I presented my sketches, and then we decided which would represent them best, and then I painted them digitally.”

She also added retro style signs, reworked to read "Welcome" and "Dream to travel", drawn from Karman's exhaustive bank of imagery gathered over the years.

"I have my personal archive of books that I am always referencing [for inspiration], and vintage patterns, vintage quilts, and digital imagery, that I really draw on a lot."

Surprisingly, despite the scale of the project and the amount of work involved, from research to final images, the whole process was crammed into just a few days.

“This was actually a pretty fast turnaround. About a week, or slightly less, from concept to finish," she says. "Working with fashion clients is always a really quick turnaround as there is always so much going on with the seasons and the campaigns."

Despite the long hours, Karman enjoys these kind of assignments, and now adds Ferragamo to a portfolio that already includes the other Italian houses of Prada and Giorgio Armani.

When asked if such high-profile projects are daunting, she is forthright.

“As a fashion illustrator, it means a lot to be able to work with an amazing, globally recognised brand like Ferragamo. It's always intriguing to work with high fashion clients, and with the beautiful inspiration that comes from that. Also to be featured on their platform is really exciting for me."

A self-confessed shoe addict – a recurring theme in her personal work – it is tempting to see this as a natural coming of a full circle. Karman loves shoes and lives in Los Angeles, while Ferragamo founded its name on making shoes for Hollywood stars.

“I love drawing them, and it was such a dream to work with Ferragamo for that reason. I wasn’t drawing shoes specifically as part of this collection, but to be part of their world was really great for me."

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