Sunday, October 16, 2011

Here's the Skitch: A Brief Run Though of the History of Fashion Illustration.

Oscar de la Renta's new perfume ad

Go back to my first blog post and you'll find a list on my influences and inspirations in fashion illustration. Being as I've always been quite inclined towards fashion, I've always kept track of which fashion illustrators popped up in my reading material (even when I didn't know fashion would be what I wanted to do for the rest of my life). It's always been a pleasure to open my monthly VOGUE and see the dear Rubén Toledo's watercolors splashed on every NORDSTROM add, or even the other day just as I was scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed, there was a David Downton illustration graciously depicting the kind of woman Oscar de la Renta loves to love in his new 'Live in Love' perfume advertisement. I find it quite classic, just like de la Renta's collections are, which in turn seems to be quite refreshing now a days being as an ad like this is rarely seen now. 

It's funny how revisiting classics has become so sporadic these days. I think it's safe to say that photography took over, but just like that, people are always drawn to the classic fashion illustration. I think so because in my opinion it's honest, expressive, fun and elegant. Not that photography isn't all of the above. It is, but I don't think you get the artist's integral signature stroke as you do in illustration. Maybe I'm biased as an artist that focuses on drawing, but that's just how I feel. Being as this blog will fall back on my own illustrations of my takes on specific collections, I thought it was only fitting I do a post that generally talked about the evolution of fashion illustration and my personal preferences on its masters. I believe it’s important I maintain a didactic input to what I talk, write, draw and do on this blog. Not to say I’m a professional on the subject (fashion illustration in specific), but I have shown an interest for quite a while and I feel compelled to share this with my readers as I find it is a joyous and exciting topic. I will do a series of posts throughout the blog on my favorite illustrators and this one that will generally talk about its history and development.

Illustration from Le Mercure Galant
Dürer's depiction of a bourgeoisie and her counterpart (1496-97)

The thing I find most interesting is the diversity of styles, techniques and mediums that range in this category. Throughout fashion illustration's history, its evolution is evident in the different ways every artist expresses him or herself. For example, the illustrations that are dated back to the early 1900's are very structured. Let's say it's like the corsets they used. A simple metaphor if you must. As fashion evolved, so did the lines, colors and strokes. They got a bit more loose and much more expressive. It's as if the corset has been removed and the human figure left exposed to the shape of the garment itself. Like everything in art, it marks a specific period in time, so it clearly works as a historical record of that epoch, those places and their social references.

July 1922 VOGUE 
It's really interesting looking back at the starting points in fashion illustration. Probably the earliest records of them start off during 1520-1610 where an incredible amount of 200 collections of fashion looks made out in etchings, engravings and woodcuts were found (this makes me incredibly happy being as I actually work my art in these techniques and mediums). Many artists took a grand interest in fashion. Dürer and Ingres had many drawings and plates depicting the fashions of their time. Watteau and Holbein as well. Louis the XIV released the early magazines Le Mercure Galant and later on Le Nouveau Mercure in which tons of illustrations depicting the epoques latests trends and styles. France always maintained the top spot in the latest fashions with the help of publications like La Mode Illustrée, Le Journal des demoiselles, and Le Follet. The earliest editions of the VOGUE we know today always had the most current fashions drawn by hand by an artist on them. It's not until the 30's-40's during the Second World War period that editors used their budgets on photography and it started to dominate magazine covers, editorials and other fashion publications. Illustrators had it a bit more rough but it's not until the growth of technology and recent developments in graphic arts that illustration has taken strength anew. Sadly, fashion illustration was once perceived as some kind of lesser art because it was classified as an art that bordered between commercial and fine art. But its fundamental historical purposes can't go unseen and it has just recently been given the importance it deserves in the arts. 

Today, the evolution of this discipline is evident. We can see artists like Graham Rounthewaithe, Liselotte Watkins and Jason Brooks who rely on computer programs like Adobe Photoshop to elaborate their illustrations. Some artists like Rubén Toledo, Zoltan +, Steven Stipelman and David Downton who choose to stick to more classic mediums like ink, watercolors and pencil but with very contemporary silhouettes. Some other venture out even more to three-dimensional features like François Berthoud who uses collage, linocut, monotype and a mix of other interesting textures or Julie Verwhoeven who has drawn over sculptures. Check them out!

Rubén Toledo:

David Downton:

François Berthoud:

Steven Stipelman:

Liselotte Watkins: 

Jason Brooks:
All in all, I'm elated to see fashion illustration take a strong course in the industry. It's the base to any design and concept. As an artist, it's fantastic to see that this type of art can be both fine and commercial because it reaches a general public, thus educating a broad range of people in infinite ways. Some people might disagree on that with me, but I do believe fashion is for everyone and so it must be shared. I do hope illustration in this industry does keep growing as it is a pure and personal expression of the artist in regards to fashion's latest statement.

Other sources: Blackman, Callie. "100 Years of  Fashion Illustration". Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, University of Arts, Laurence King Publishing Ltd. 2007. London, England.

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