Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fashion Illustration - A Time-Traveling World Tour

For as long as there have been fashion designers, there have been fashion illustrations. Fashion drawings range from very technical garment renderings to abstract works of art. Cultural changes as well as technological advances have produced many artistic mediums for fashion illustrators, and the changing styles of garments themselves too have had an impact on the way the artists choose to illustrate.

Let's start at the turn of the century:

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, fashion illustration was as stiff as society. It consisted of figures draped in the elaborate costumes of the time period's upper class amidst classical backdrops with foliage. High fashion magazines used these to create industry standard fashion plates until around 1924.

The image on the left shows fashion illustration from the McCall Magazine in August 1907.

Charles Dana Gibson:
This man is notable for his creation of the Gibson girl. His pen and ink illustrations reflected the women of the Victorian age in a new way.

Other notable fashion illustrators near the turn of the century include:
  • Adolf Sandoz
  • Charles Drivon
Paul Poiret changed the face of fashion as it had always been and made it into a new art form around the same time as technology allowed for colorful printing techniques as opposed to the hand colored engravings of earlier fashion illustration. The new fashion styles and use of colored printing made way for a new style of fashion illustration.

The figures are far less stiff in pose, and much less detailed and realistic than it's predecessors from earlier in fashion history. The image above is an illustration for Poiret from 1908. The drawing style imitates the changing attire of the time.

Leon Bakst was a fashion illustrator who's artistic style greatly differed from the stiff, detailed, and non-emotive drawings from before his time. As a costume designer, his designs were exotic and his figures showed exaggerated movement. His costume illustration to the right uses rich color and gesture to render his designs.

The 1920s and 1930s:

By the 1920s, many prominent fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar commissioned beautiful fashion illustrations to grace their covers.

Also in the 1920s came along one of my personal fashion heros:

Coco Chanel

Coco completely transformed fashion, first with her hats and then with her first couture collection in 1916. Through the 20's her career bloomed with her revolutionary "men's wear as women's wear" concepts, favoring comfort, versatility, and usability over archaic styles, while creating a chic, modern, style.

Coco Chanel's look was followed by a more casual attitude toward fashion in the United States. The twenties brought about the flapper trend, a boyish look that was reflected in twenties drawings, featuring the hip speakeasy culture and women's liberation. Fashion Illustration was also greatly influenced by the art deco trend in art and architecture that surfaced in the twenties.

In the 1930s Hollywood glamour took a hold on the United States. Body conscious and romantic looks gave way to more curvaceous figures in fashion illustrations. At the same time, more literal menswear trends surfaced in women's clothing such as pleats and suiting fabrics. This naturally affected the fashion illustrations of the time but there was no major change in the style of illustration until the 40's.

World War II and Fashion

The war made everybody ration and spend consciously. While new sillhouettes prompted new fashion illustration during the great depression as a result of less money for elaborate garments, the second world war made the idea of elaborate gowns atrocious, especially due to the scarcity of fabric and skilled sewers working to create military goods instead of commercial attire. Naturally, fashion illustration too was at a decrease while fashion itself was at a low point.

DIOR: A fashion savior

At the end of the war, Dior designed the New Look, which was an optimistic and feminine collection to contrast the depression of the war. His contributions to fashion illustration are great, with his use of watercolor and guache as well as other mediums to create great works of fashion art during his career (examples above).

Through the forties and fifties a notable fashion illustrator was Alfredo Boiret, who worked for famed designers such as Dior, Chanel, and Balmain, as well as publications including Vogue and Glamour, in addition to several advertising campaigns.

The 1950s fashion illustrations showed the changing silhouettes and general attitude of the decade. Dior's architectural shapes and new collections kept him the most famous designer until 1957, and fashion illustration stayed relatively the same in that time.

By the early 1960s however, pop art and new ultra-modern styles became popular as the counter-culture became main stream. Pop art inspired illustrations became the norm with more whimsical and abstract illustrations as well, rich with color.

The most notable fashion illustrator is much better known for his pop art, but long before his Campbell Soup Can print was created, he was known in the 50's as a shoe illustrator, mainly for magazine advertisements. His style was loose and abstract.

From the 1960s through 70s the pop art style, largely influenced by Warhol of course, was highly influential in fashion illustration.

Other fashion illustration, however, remained similar in style to that of the 50s. Famous illustrators in the 60s included Constance Wibaut (pictured below), and Rene Gruau (pictured below right).

Unfortunately for fashion illustrators, fashion photography became more common in magazines, especially for the covers, replacing the illustrations that were once commissioned for the popular publications.

By the 1970s and 80s neon colors became the rage. Though fashion illustration was less popular, it was just as innovative.

Antonio Lopez was an illustrator from New York who studies at FIT whose designs were popularly commissioned in the 70s (work pictured at right and below).

From the late seventies on, fashion has branched out incredibly, with each designer having his or her own distinct style. From Betsey Johnson's iconic exaggerated scrawled figure to Gladys Perint Palmer's colorful mixed-media simplicity, fashion illustrators each have a distinct style that often draws from the illustrations of the past.

With more colleges offering fashion illustration as a part of the curriculum, if not as it's own major, more fashion illustrators are learning industry standard ways of drawing the elongated fashion figure and developing it to fit their personal style. Furthermore, with computer technology such as photoshop and illustrator, computer generated croquis are used not just for precise technical sketches but also for expressive fashion illustration, and as the technology becomes even more powerful and more illustrators become used to it, the fashion illustrations of the future will surely take advantage.


100 Years of Fashion Illustration by Cally Blackman

The End <3