By HAYLEY McKENNA
“I put my hands on my hips and said, ‘I AM 16!’ … like, what an arsehole.”
This was how a defiant Angie Réhe told her mother she wanted to leave her Victorian country town of Rochester, to move to Frankston to do an art program at TAFE.
Réhe, now a successful fashion illustrator, lives in the eclectic suburb of Northcote and has freelanced for companies such as Jimmy Choo, Harper’s Bazaar and The Washington Post.
On a rainy Melbourne Wednesday morning, Réhe sits in a café in High St, sipping coffee and wearing a stylish fur coat, every bit an inner-suburbs native. She reflects on how Frankston was the “centre of the universe” when she was a teenager studying art.
“To me the city was where the possibilities were and the country was where there were no possibilities,” Réhe says.
Réhe’s art and textiles teacher at Rochester Secondary College, Kay Fenton-Branson, suggested her gifted student attend the TOP Art program at TAFE in Frankston to complete her final year of school, doing what she loves.
“While all my sucker friends were doing maths and chemistry, I was doing painting and drawing, photography, and it was fantastic because I knew I wanted to get into the fashion course at RMIT,” she says.
Fenton-Branson thought her student was “so talented” she needed to go to Melbourne to pursue her artistic career.
“I would say to her, ‘Angie don’t waste a minute, get to Melbourne. Try and do the very best course you can’,” Fenton-Branson recalls.
While studying, Réhe’s first job was in Frankston working at the local 7/11 when she 16. She would finish at 3am and run home.
“[If] Mum knew, she would have had a heart attack,” Réhe laughs.
Moving from the country to the city meant that she could explore her newfound freedom. In between her TAFE classes, Réhe would spend her days drawing locations in the city such as the Arts Centre and the Botanic Gardens.
While at school, she started selling clothes she had made to a local shop, which she says were “awful”.
After completing her studies in art and fashion, Réhe worked for many fashion labels including Australian brand Gorman in senior design positions. But after the GFC hit she chose to become a full-time fashion illustrator, as there was no one she was interested in working with in the fashion industry.
“I was just really sick of it and some freelance work came my way,” Réhe says.
“I didn’t quite know what I was doing but I just knew what I didn’t want to do more than I knew what I wanted to do. Because I didn’t honestly think it would be viable, drawing, but it was all I could kind of make myself do.”
Réhe admits she works more hours as a freelancer than as a designer, but says it doesn’t feel like it when you do something you love.
“There’s time where I have all these multiple jobs on and I don’t know how I’m going to make the deadlines. Then all of the sudden you reach them and you’re totally strung out and you look like Nick Nolte when he was arrested.”
“I wait for work to come to me,” she says.
Her working times vary, sometimes she can be up until three in the morning, or she might work all through the night. But whatever time she finishes, she “roll[s] on down to the bedroom and get[s] into bed”.
Réhe also teaches fashion illustration classes at Billy Blue College of Design and Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). She also runs her own classes with courses varying in length and level.
Billy Blue College of Design student Christina Hewawissa went to Réhe’s fashion illustration classes as an aspect of her course, the Bachelor of Branded Fashion Design.
“Her teaching style is very hands-on and personal which I love because with illustration and all design subjects you really need direct feedback in order to improve,” Christina says.
“She really helps to impart her knowledge of the fashion industry on us and help as much as possible because she’s had so many experiences in different fields.”
Réhe also runs fashion illustration workshops for museum exhibitions around Australia, with her next workshop next week as part of the National Gallery of Victoria’s The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture Exhibition. All are booked out.
Réhe believes that while social media allows her to gain freelance work, professional illustrators are having to compete with amateur illustrators who work for free.
“There’s a difference between liking to draw and being an illustrator,” Réhe says.
“Actually being an illustrator is about doing it for work and getting paid.”
As a result, she sometimes gets offered jobs with no pay, but is offered “exposure” through social media that could allow for more people to hear about her work.
Angie puts on a knowing accent of the type of responses she would get: “We don’t have any budget but it would be really great exposure.” “We’ll be sure to tag you [on Instagram],” she mimics.
“I keep meaning to do a really beautiful drawing of an arse bending over so I can send it back saying, ‘now that’s exposure!’ That’s my bare arse,” she laughs.
“I’m quite rude in my reply because it’s this bullshit of expecting me to do it for free.”
Angie leaves the coffee shop and walks down Northcote’s High Street, disappearing amongst the metropolitan crowd.
But underneath the cool exterior and the stylish fur coat, there’s still a country girl at heart.