Muskoka’s Brush with Fame & Fashion

Diane von Furstenberg can make or break a fashion career. Just ask Michelle Vella, a fashion illustrator with sentimental ties to summers in Muskoka. The artist is experiencing skyrocketing Instagram fame thanks, in part, to… yes, the diva of the wrap dress, New York designer Diane von Furstenberg (DVF).

Diane von Furstenberg. Artist: Michelle Vella
Diane von Furstenberg. Artist: Michelle Vella

From her summer studio — a dock on Lake Joseph — Vella perfected her new-found style throughout Summer 2015: un-commissioned, contemporary portraits of fashion icons, including Grace Hartzel, Rosario Dawson, Italian shoe designer Santoni, and Diane von Furstenberg. Vella’s signature “big eyes” and knack for “high art caricature” caught on quickly on Instagram — so quickly, even von Furstenberg took notice. The woman Forbes once called the 68th most powerful woman in the world re-posted Vella’s work in July 2015, then invited Vella to meet up at DVF headquarters in New York during New York Fashion Week (NYFW). Vella’s von Furstenberg portrait is now part of the DVF Art Collection, NYC.

Diane von Furstenberg & Michelle Vella
Diane von Furstenberg with artist Michelle Vella

Commissions also came quickly from Harper’s Bazaar, Art Miami, and Coach. Toronto’s JdJ Jewelbox at the Ritz-Carlton commissioned portraits for their window displays during TIFF which were inspired by actresses Julianne Moore, Salma Hayek, and fellow Canadian Rachel McAdams. Then W Magazine, considered “the who, what, where, when, and why of fashion,” hired Vella to “live illustrate” top models at the magazine’s It Girl luncheon during NYFW 2015. Models and celebs Vella has encountered include Karlie Kloss, Harley Newton, Caroline Vreeland, and Marta Pozzan.

“At the time it was ‘pinch me,’” Vella says. “W Magazine flew me in a few more times to New York and Las Vegas to live illustrate events. They’ve been really great to me.”

Lake Life Series

Artist: Michelle Vella
Artist: Michelle Vella

After her year of jetset travel, supermodels, and emerging Instagram fame, Vella is looking forward to Summer 2016 in Muskoka. Inspired by dock life at her friends’ Lake Jo cottage, the artist has launched a Lake Life series — arresting paintings rendered in bright reds, blues, greens and oranges. The Lake Life series depicts Vella’s idea of Muskoka’s social gatherings—dock parties, socializing under the sun, cruises in classic boats.

Vella’s Studio, Lake Joseph

“The draw to Muskoka is my friends and being by the water,” Vella explains. “In my paintings I want to interpret the social aspects of Muskoka: friends and family together, enjoying lake life, sitting on the dock, regatta games, boating, golf, and the Muskoka social life.”

Vella considers this new series an addition to the niche, high-fashion caricatures she’s quickly become known for. Inspired by the work of Alex Katz — an abstract impressionist the Smithsonian once called a “pathtaking painter” — Vella will spend Summer 2016 mixing her big-eyed portraits with colourful landscapes that include birds, loons, lakes, islands, and inlets.

Rocks on the Docks

Watch for Michelle Vella’s fashion portraits and Lake Life series this summer on Instagram @MichelleVellArt.

© Al Powers,
© Al Powers,

“I have many facets that I can work toward,” says Vella. “It is wonderful to be a working artist doing portraits, murals, live illustrating, wearable art, and now these paintings — it’s… well, it’s wonderful!”

Photos & Illustrations courtesy of



Fashion Muskoka: Michelle Vella’s jetset experience isn’t Muskoka’s only brush with fame and fashion. Supermodel Cindy Crawford and family were featured in the pages of Vogue Magazine in 2015’s iconic September Issue. See An Exclusive Look at Cindy Crawford’s Private Island Retreat

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