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Helen Downie

Artist, UnskilledWorker

Despite having no formal training, the Instagram artist’s portfolio now boasts commissions for the likes of Gucci and Vogue.


Discovering painting at the age of 48, Helen Downie rose to industry-wide fame in just two years despite having no formal training. With an Instagram following of over 200,000, Downie has been commissioned by industry heavyweights like Gucci and Vogue.

After being expelled as a 15-year-old for wearing bright pink moccasins and a pink cardigan to convent school, Downie began cutting hair nearby at UCA Epsom University in hopes of enrolling. In 2013, upon the recommendation of her son’s friend, Downie began posting her fashion-inspired portraits on Instagram, quickly garnering the attention of the fashion world.

In late 2014, Downie completed a residency with Nick Knight for his fashion film website SHOWstudio as a guest illustrator, creating tribute pieces to Alexander McQueen’s most iconic works. Her art was included in an acclaimed exhibition launched to coincide with the opening of McQueen’s "Savage Beauty" show at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In 2015, the artist was invited by the Italian fashion house Gucci to make a series of portraits inspired by the work of Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele . This collection of over thirty paintings was the subject of an exhibition at the Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai, alongside the work of alongside the likes of Jenny Holzer and Glen Luchford .

Today Downie's Instagram monniker @unskilledworker has a following of over 280,000, with her unmistakable portraits having been prominently featured in articles and reviews in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, i-D, W magazine and many other publications.

Along with other influential Instagram artists, Downie will have her own room in @JPPM.FR’s Instagram-only “Digital Museum” for the 31st annual Hyères Festival. 

The artist launched her first solo exhibition in London in 2017 and in 2019 has work display at DMUSEUM in Seoul and the Museo ABC de Dibujo e Ilustración in Madrid. Her paintings are collected nationally and internationally and have been exhibited at galleries across the world including London, Hong Kong, Seoul, Madrid, Italy, Tokyo and Shanghai.

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What is The BoF 500?

The people shaping the global fashion industry, curated by the editors of The Business of Fashion, based on nominations and on-the-ground intelligence from around the world.