Neil Gilks x The Sleep Shirt

The Central Saint Martins grad & Parsons director talks about his Valentine’s Day drawings

For Valentine’s Day 2021, we wanted to do something a little different, so we asked Neil Gilks to draw some of the pieces from our latest collection. Neil is a fashion illustrator, the BFA Fashion Program director at Parsons School of Design, and friend and Central Saint Martins classmate of our founder Alexandra, so he also agreed to answer a few questions for us.

The Sleep Shirt: What was your approach to illustrating The Sleep Shirt’s Spring 2021 collection? Was this different from your usual process?

Neil Gilks: “Before starting any session in the studio I tend to have a general direction or approach for that day. This varies in its success as I often find myself creatively deviating and giving over to the moment. In working on this project, there were certain objectives in capturing the collection and the brand identity – an important aspect of my work is in the suggestion. So with the economy of my line and the desire to create an essence of The Sleep Shirt Spring line, it was a balancing act of expression and attitude.”

TSS: We celebrated Valentine’s Day with your illustrations. Did you mark the occasion? 

NG: “In all honesty, I made a Valentine’s card for my husband – a drawing of our cat – and we headed separately into our respective studios. Love for us is respecting the creative needs of the individuals within the relationship. Two artists in one household requires the hours apart.”

Discover an illustrated take on our Spring 2021 women’s sleepwear collection

TSS: You seem to use mostly pencil or pen in your illustrations. How and when did you develop your illustration style?

NG: “The style is ever developing with its approaches and results varying – I find it necessary to continue to challenge myself with technique and medium rather than relying upon what I do well. I see no point in churning out the same stuff – it would be quite a shallow exercise and grow tiresome real quick. However, I realized this just the other day: whether I am drawing naked men, nail varnish, interiors, portraits, ice creams, clothing, beards or my cat, I am always considerate of my fashion illustration training of composition, expression and narrative.”

TSS: What else are you working on right now?

NG: “I draw daily; my artistic practice serves that dedication. Immediate projects need me to mail out a number of pieces that were recently acquired by some fabulous followers – I have a number of purchases I need to commission and portraits to complete.... but TBH, I get so hungry for drawing that I often get wrapped up working away in the studio and fail to achieve my to do list.”

TSS: Where and how are you spending lockdown? Any survival tips?

NG: “My husband and I are beyond lucky – we purchased a cottage in upstate New York a couple of years ago as a weekend getaway. In March, we will have been up in the Catskills for a year, escaping the city during the pandemic. 

My day job is co-directing the largest fashion design degree globally (the BFA Fashion Program at Parsons); it been an intense year of work and commitment, not taking a day’s break in 2020, but I am extremely fortunate compared to many. What has been incredibly important is the escape to my studio for respite. Even on the longest and craziest of days, my practice has been the best of escapes, KEEPING ME SANE.

This year, I have sensed the biggest growth in my personal artistic productivity and development, which is surprising given the constraints and demands of my day job.”

TSS: What are you most looking forward to after lockdown?

NG: “I have learned so much about my own needs and priorities this last year. I am excited to cut some of the crap out of my city life, work and act smarter, focus, and invest my energies in what I believe in. These 12 months away have allowed this opportunity to measure life and consider how I want to conduct myself moving forward. This I am very grateful for.”

The Sleep Shirt donated 10% of all sales from February 9-14 to Rainbow Railroad, a global organization that helps LGBTQI people escape persecution and violence around the world