It’s official: fashion illustration is back with a vengeance. From quirky sketches on style blogs to the adverts in glossy magazines, they’re certainly giving Photoshopped models a run for their money in the cool stakes. So, why is everyone going crazy for creative drawings, and which illustrators are going to be the next big thing?
The rise of fashion illustration
If you’ve flipped through the pages of a style magazine in recent weeks, you’ve probably seen Tanya Ling’s eye-catching paintings, which are currently being used to promote the Designer Galleries of Selfridges. Featuring slender brunettes in the hottest pieces of this season’s clothing, with a surreal edge, there’s something charmingly innocent about the images that a polished, digitally-manipulated photograph just doesn’t have.
Similarly, the expressive paintings produced by model Naomi Preizler – when she’s not on the catwalk – have caught the attention of Vogue UK and were recently used by Harvey Nichols to showcase the department store’s Spring/Summer 2012 products. Meanwhile, Natasha Law (sister of movie star Jude), who has worked with Mulberry, was also involved in illustrating the public’s tweets for a Samsung Galaxy Note Twitter campaign last November, which turned social media into sketches. Now it seems we all want to have a go; with the popularity of apps like Draw Something and the more sophisticated Fifty Three, where you can make your own virtual sketchbook, anyone can hone their skills from doodle to masterpiece and share the results with the world in seconds.
On the high street too, it’s proving hard to get away from the power of drawing. A major trend for this season isDia de los Muertos – the Mexican celebration which translates as Day of the Dead – involving colourful costumes featuring skeletons and crudely rendered skulls. Pop into H&M, Urban Outfitters or Topshop and you’re sure to find vests and jewellery bearing illustrated bones and figures.
Another major influence is the continuing trend for all things vintage, making poster art and retro adverts highly collectable. Designers from homewares to cosmetics are bringing back the classic 1920s-30s looks featuring artfully applied lipstick, eyeliner and either drop waists or sophisticated curves. These looks were captured frequently by the top illustrators of the era in magazines, followed by sewing patterns and catalogues, all of which you can pick up at vintage fairs today. The 1920s will be getting a further push into the limelight with Ralph Lauren and Gucci’s Jazz Age-inspired collections for Autumn/Winter 2012 and the much-anticipated film of The Great Gatsby which is due to hit cinemas later this year.
Other designers who have been inspired by illustrators include Bora Aksu, who cited outsider artist Henry Darger as a big influence for next season, and Bill Gaytten, whose recent Dior designs whilst taking over from John Galliano owe a lot to the work of Aubrey Beardsley.
An illustration by Natasha Law for Mulberry; Gucci's Jazz Age collection; Illustration-inspired pieces from Dior and Bora Aksu...
Where to spot stylish drawings
Magazines love illustration at the moment. In recent months they’ve been used to portray New York Fashion Week for Harper’s Bazaar US (Teri Chung), add the finishing touch to articles for Elle UK (Sabine Pieper) and talk about the trends that will filter down to the shops for the Company High Street Edit (using a range of up-and-coming talent in every issue). Juicy Couture hit many publications with a tongue-in-cheek ad campaign from Yeva Babayan, which featured historical figures but no actual products from the brand, which meant that the artwork did all the talking. And Dazed & Confused‘s fashion team developed an entire shoot inspired by the iconic work of Rene Gruau, translating into dramatic make-up and slick clothing, and bringing the illustrations to life for 2012. It seems that most magazine editors have got drawing on the brain right now.
There are also plenty of coffee table books and anthologies available for people who can’t get enough of these images. Tomes like Cally Blackman’s 100 Years of Fashion Illustration are cult buys for industry insiders who then go on to give their input to photo shoots and designs, whilst Amelia’s Magazine and its popular Compendium of Fashion Illustration are also highly recommended. Be warned: you may develop a serious addiction to arty prints and sketches.
Illustrations from Sabine Pieper and Teri Chung alongside a René Gruau-inspired shoot from Dazed & Confused's June 2012 issue
Three timeless illustration icons
● David Downton – he’s the first ever fashion artist-in-residence at Claridge’s, as well as being a widely recognised illustrator for big names like Marks & Spencer, Fenwicks and Harrods. A permanent fixture at catwalk shows with an eye for capturing couture in Paris, his minimalist style is truly beautiful.
● Rene Gruau – having produced classic ad campaigns and artwork for Balmain, Balenciaga and Givenchy, amongst others, Gruau is a real legend. Christian Dior chose him to draw his Bar dress, which symbolised the start of the New Look in the 1940s.
● Antonio Lopez (known simply as Antonio) – a really versatile illustrator with many different styles of work, from painterly to Pop Art, Antonio was a chameleon who could adapt every bit of his images to the client. Pick any of his pieces at random, such as his vibrant colour block images for Elle in 1967, and they’d probably look great on your wall.
Iconic illustration from some sophisticated pens: fashion greats David Downton, Antonio (his 1967 image for Elle) and René Gruau
Three new pens to watch…
● Katie Rodgers – a professional illustrator from the US, Katie’s Paper Fashion blog documents her evolving work and the things that inspire her. You wouldn’t believe that she’s only been doing this as a full-time job since January, as she has already garnered plenty of high-profile commissions including one from accessories designer Kate Spade.
● Rachel Wilkinson - a recent graduate with real talent, she’s put pen to paper backstage at London Fashion Week with Mark Fast, as well as producing some sharp street style portraits. Look out for her experimentation with boldly applied inks, which add a real punch. Rachel’s Tumblr is certainly worth a visit.
● Jason Brooks – he’s big in the fashion illustration world, but not yet a household name to the public, though you’d definitely recognise his sleek graphic work, with promotions for Hed Kandi, Virgin and Martini under his belt. Jason is also included in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s illustration archive.
Not only are fashion illustrators hot property now, but they’ve been just under the radar for decades, creating cutting edge art that is in high demand for good reason: it’s bold and covetable. Their drawings and paintings don’t have that sterile fake appearance that screams Photoshop; they seem fresh and clever, and sometimes a little bit funny. We want to be the girls in these catwalk images and we want to wear their beautiful clothes. Long live fashion illustration!
Three new fashion illustration talents, each with their own distinctive style: Katie Rodgers, Rachel Wilkinson and Jason Brooks