Sunday, 30 March 2014

Fashion Diaries: Illustrators through the decades


Fashion Illustration is the communication of fashion designs through drawing. The main focus is the fashion figure for draping the clothing onto. Not all designers are good illustrators, therefore some of them hire the services of an illustrator.
Fashion Illustration has been around for nearly 500 years. Ever since clothes have been in existence and there was a need to translate an idea or image into a garment there has been a need for fashion illustration. Not only do fashion illustrations show a representation or design of a garment but also served as a form of art.
The 20th century is not only considered the century of fashion - but also of fashion illustration. Beginning with the upswing of designer fashion, came the break-through for fashion illustration. One of the main reasons for this success can be found in the endless possibilities of technique and style that is available: exaggerated contouring and contrasts, minimalism and reduction to the point of leaving things out and exaggerated emphasis to caricature.
Illustration gives freedom to portray fashion as the artist wishes. Unlike fashion design, there are fewer boundaries in which you can express your artistic point of view opposed to your flawless sewing skills.

To bring out the individuality of each style, the illustrators experiment with elements of different art movements like art noveau, the art déco, expressionism, impressionism, even surrealism and Dadaism, cubicism, abstract e.g. Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979). The Russian-born artist, who lived and worked in Paris, had acquaintance with Picasso, Léger and members of the Dada movement, which strongly influenced her work. Typical for her style is an uncomplicated, color-drenched simplicity.


Illustrators, such as Eric (1891-1958) and René Bouet-Willaumez (1900-1974) emphasize the characteristics of each creation with color, one accents detail, the other the entire design. A master of stylization and exaggeration is Cecil Beaton (1904-1980), who drew backgrounds conspicuously and details imaginatively. René Gruau's (1909-2004) style was completely different. Characteristic for his style are sharply contoured figures in ink and less monochromatic color areas. He created almost all the advertising for his good friend Christian Dior and defined the image of the house. In contrast to Gruau, who considered himself also to be a commercial artist, contemporary fashion illustrators consider themselves solely as artists, e.g. Antonio Lopez (1943-1987) and Ruben Alterio (*1949). With their work they primarily would liked to influence trends. It was with them that Pop art found its way into fashion illustrations and in contrast, Mats Gustafson (*1952) was the minimalist, who emphasized reduced figures and silhouettes.


Charles worth started the idea of presenting garments in miniature form. He essembled paper dolls on which we stuck garments constructed on paper. The style was realistic drawing. Since he could not draw he hired an illustrator. Charles Worth is famous for his fashion plates that he presented whenever he had a new collection. His fashion house, the house of worth continued to run under his sons after his death. Below is an add of perfume by Worth, published in the Vogue magazine in the 20’s. The style of illustration is simple, and the figure is nude, it is however the background and the cloth draped on the figures arm that is very eye catching. The print is very nice and the background has a faint, white lined print of bubbles or clouds.   


1900 – 1910

Paul Poiret (1879-1944) is considered as the first designer to have come up with fashion illustrations as a means of displaying his designs in graphic form. His colorful and exotic designs at the beginning of the 20th century required an elegant and expressive visual presentation. Poiret engaged the multi-talented Paul Iribe (1883-1935), who had already made a name for himself as caricaturist, designer and stage designer. The illustrations were simple and elegant, reflecting the style of that decade.



 The rendered figures were generally flat. The hairdos were kept simple as well, unless there was a very elaborate headdress. The faces of the figures were simple and plainly drawn because more focus was given to the garments themselves. Backgrounds were illustrated with care so that not even the minutest detail was overlooked. Look at how the chair and the painting are rendered. Even the pedestal in the other illustration is well rendered with the details of the piece perched on it. Figures drawn were all fair skinned due to the popular belief of nobility. Also notice how the illustrator has given an Oriental feel to the illustration by drawing bare trees in the background and the vertical painting. Oriental style heavily influenced the illustrations at some point, being the new rage in fashion. The sketches were simple and whole, giving full details in a clear visual form. Trimmings were very prominent in the illustrations and the figures were usually seen in a setting that the upper classes enjoyed, like a tea party, evening balls or at luxury with friends or pets. The lifestyles were luxurious and carefree. Illustrations of this time were inspired by the Art nouveau style, which was Secession in Vienna and Jugendstil in Germany, Fauvism, Analytical Cubism and Expressionism.

1910 – 1920

Perhaps the major highlight of this decade was the discarding of collared dresses and adoption of V necklines. The silhouettes were no longer S shaped or hourglass figures, it was much flatter and much straighter than before. Illustrators took inspiration from the Art deco style. After the World War I when fashion picked up again, women went on to enjoy sports etc. Fauvism, Analytical Cubism, Dadaism (after 1914), Futurism were the art movements of that time to have inspired the illustrators. Illustrations were more colorful and bold.


Two very important art styles were Cubicism and art deco. Illustrations started becoming more abstract. When the world war happened, it brought about the death of fashion. In the troubled times, people could barely think of fashion.

1920 – 1930


Also referred to as the flapper age. When fashion picked up again after the war, it came back with a bang, more bold and striking. Illustrators explored more horizons; they were open to experimentation and creativity. Jazz heavily influenced music and cabaret too. Androgyny was all the new rage, illustrators made shorthaired fashion figures with thin, almost boyish figures, smoking cigars and enjoying music. The illustrations above show women with flat busts. People started traveling more, and in the upper circles, tan was regarded as the new chic and necklines went plunging to new depths even at the back. Some illustrators no longer made fair skinned figures and colored their illustrations tan. The hair was cut shockingly short and the boyish look still prevailed. The illustration on the left above is showing a woman playing water sports. It speaks volumes of the time and life people led at that time. The lines are thin and rigid, almost straight, especially in the illustration on top right. Also notice the heavily rouged cheeks and lips and the revealing v-neck at the back and front. The colors blend together nicely. Gauche seems to be the major pick for illustrators in this decade. Another thing worth noting is the use of prints in the dresses.


 Art deco was still a big source of inspiration for illustrators. So were cinematograph, social revolution, new technology, sports, and Russian constructivists: Varvara Stepanova and Lubov Popova. Illustrators also drew inspiration from Non Figurative abstraction, Cubism, Futurism, Bauhaus, Constructivism. The lines in the above illustrations are not as rigid, they have harmony and smoothly bend. The colors are subtle and in harmony.    


The illustrations above also appeared on the vogue covers in the 20’s. Notice one thing that is common in these three paintings, the look of orientalism. The swirl in the flowers, the print on the dress and the painted face reminds one of the geishas. The one on the right has features of the Orient, the eyes and the cheekbones.
1930 – 1940

People started traveling more, in the upper circles, tan was regarded as the new noble and necklines went plunging to new depths even at the backs. A lot of sports became popular which liberated women to new heights. They now wore modern clothing in the form of skirts till the knees and shorts. The newest craze was sunbathing and as a result, bathing suits became backless and clothes were much skimpier. Notice the crimping effect in the hair in almost all these illustrations and the heavily rouged cheeks. Also worth noting is the red colored mouth in all these illustrations. Thin, penciled eye brows and the look of pure sophistication. Colors are again, simple bold and contrasting, the first illustration has fluorescent rainbow colors against a black background, and the second one is black and white while the third is red and green. The silhouette is no longer flat and straight; there is a defined bust.


Lines are more fluid in the illustrations of this decade. The illustrations above follow a red, white and blue theme with polka dots. The third one is in warmer hues of orange against a black background, which is really contrasting. It makes the illustration stand out.

1940 – 1950



This decade saw the World War II and again the fashion industry declined. A more sober and practical style was seen in the illustrations. They were muted in colors, were less gay and more serious.  Women adopted the masculine look, preferring practicality and utility to fashion. Illustrations were barely seen and the ones that were had simple sketching with inks and colors. After the world war, the illustrations were dull and somber as the fashion industry suffered dearly. The hair was worn with crimps and curls in buns and with side partings and secured with pins. Headscarves and hats often adorned with flowers, plumes and feathers were worn.

1950 – 1960


This decade saw the transition from the masculine silhouette to the feminine look ( new look by Dior). Art Deco style began to fade away. Musical influences were Bop and Big Band Art that influenced illustrations were non-representational abstraction in America, cut outs of Matisse, and individualistic style. Women wanted to look prettier after all that time they spent in dull boring clothes. They wanted jewelry, nice hairstyles and pretty feminine clothes, with gathers and layers, etc. Prints were once again in fashion. Hair was wavy or curly with the tips flicked outward. Short hair was preferable. Loose clothing was still worn.


1960 – 1970



Major influences and inspiration was Neo Realism and Cinema. This decade also saw the origination of alternative style. Emergence of Teenage styles in fashion was also born. Illustrators also got inspired from Cool jazz (Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz,) Rock and roll music. Abstract expressionism was also reflected in the fashion figures of the decade. The women still wore their hair short, with waves and curls and one style that still prevailed from the previous decade were the sleek shoulder length hair flicked outward at the tips. While some illustrators liked outlining the silhouettes, others kept them outline-free. Popular mediums were pencils, inks, gauche and watercolors.

Influences and inspirations also included street styles, youth culture, rock music, space exploration, and new technologies. This decade saw the rise of Fashion photography, which caused the decline of fashion illustration. Music influences were rock and roll. Art influences were Abstract expressionism, Op Art and Pop Art. Another thing I noticed is the posing of the figures. Previously the poses either depicted some scene of the elite class, at the beach, or ball, or dining but in the 60’s due to the advancement in photography, poses became more model-like as though the figure was posing for a fashion photo shoot. It became more stylized.

1970 – 1980


The Style during the 70’s was diverse and this decade saw the end of monolithic style trend. The first illustration tells one major thing about this decade, the mini skirts. Notice how the skirt length is shorter than the knees and in the late 70’s, skirt lengths reached an all time high. The second illustration has cheerful color knits. Knitwear became very popular in the 70’s; there were tunics and blouses made out of knits. The clothing was fluid and loose. As photographers became advanced and fashion photography gained momentum, illustrations began to fade away. They vanished from the magazines that were now replaced by photos with models posing in them. The musical influences were Disco, Glam, Pop and punk rock. Art influences included Conceptualism, emerging of Body Art and Performing Art, Emergence of Installation Art. Blazers and platform heels were very much in fashion.

1980 – 1990

Music influences were Break dance. Disco, Pop, Techno, House, Euro-Dance
Art influences were Conceptualism, Photo-realism, Trance Avant-Garde and development of Installation Art. The power suit was all the rage in the 80’s. Shoulders were padded and wide. Leggings and headbands were popular and the silhouette was somewhat wider at the shoulders and narrow at the feet. Fitted pants and fitted skirts were adopted like in the illustration (top, left). The color black was given preference; jewelry and undergarments were given special attention. The music and movie icons like Madonna, David Bowie, and Michael Jackson heavily influenced this decade.


1990 – 2000



Grunge look was extremely popular and bright colors were worn. The three illustrations on top depict bright colors. Yellow and orange were particularly seen in the mid 90’s. Notice the wide flared jean bottom in the illustration on the right. White denim also became popular. Major influences were the pop girl band Spice Girls, Princess Diana and Super models like Kate Moss and Linda Evangelista. 

In the illustration below, right, we see the mid-less top, which became fashionable due to the new craze of body piercing. Youngster got their bellies pierced and wanted to show them off. T-shirts were still popular along with sarong like tied skirts. Music influences were Grunge, Hip Hop and Rap.
Art influences were Conceptual Art, Digital Art, and Media Art.


  2000 – 2010

This decade has so much variety in terms of illustration. The first illustration is watercolors and gauche. The lines are fluid and not outlined. In fact there is partial outlining. See the darker outline at the arm, which is at the same time giving a shadow. Also notice how the lined print of the figures’ pants move. It is a good example of gamines and sophisticates. The other two illustrations are from the same artist, Tanya Ling (2008) she had used strong curve lines and has not restricted herself to a stereotyped illustration. It is creative and imaginary, with pink hair. These illustrations are not completely colored either. There are parts that are left uncolored as to present a better or vivid picture, or perhaps as a unique style.

The illustrations below are form Ruben Toledo for the store Nordstrom. Toledo is a Sensualist. His work is photo realistic and beautiful. He’s illustrated meticulously all the intricate details and the intricate black and white print. In keeping with the realistic look there is no outline of the illustration. It is a detailed and beautiful work, with the most realistic rendering I have ever come across. The third illustration is by Kat Hayes (2007). This illustration has been outlined and some areas have again been left white. It is a flat form of painting.





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