Sunday, February 23, 2014


Alexandra Compain-Tissier, Bill Cunningham, 2011; Les Inrocks magazine; watercolor

If photography is the “quintessential medium” for portraying the art of fashion, what role does illustration play?

This question, posed by art expert Stephen Heller in his introduction to Ilustration Now! Fashion, is more than adequately answered in the next 400 pages of this bold new book.

Published by TASCHEN, the colourful coffee-table tome shows how art, fashion and journalism fuse in the field of illustration. The book also emphasises that artists, using a variety of media, have a secure position in portraying fashion design - which photography can’t replace.

“Fashion illustration requires the unique ability to wield pen or brush in such a way that it not only captures nuance through gesture but also can readily transform the graphic representation of a garment, accessory or cosmetic into an object of desire,” says Heller.

The 90 illustrators featured in the book do this and more; they display their own artistic talent as well as “interpret” the work of fashion designers. Readers will immediately want to know more about the illustrators as well as the history of their “craft”. The book, edited by the Brazilian-born graphic designer Julius Wiedemann, provides that information as well.

In an in-depth essay that follows the foreword, historian and author Adelheid Rasche traces the evolution of fashion illustration from the 1600s to the present. “It wasn’t until the 17th century that fashion trends began to spread internationally,” Rasche writes. “Because of France’s commercial and cultural supremacy, the nobility and upper middle classes across Europe tried to keep pace with the French royal court.”

Travellers to France were able to gape in person at the luxurious materials around them, while those who were unable to visit the country “had to rely on letters and journalism for information, but above all on visual images”.

These images came via etchings and copper engravings and could be considered as the first fashion illustrations in the early 1600s, according to Rasche. More than a century later, the first fashion magazines “established illustration as a recognized facet of the fashion trade” and two very different styles came into vogue: the flamboyance of Paris and the “simple, rational tastes of the British bourgeoisie”.

Samantha Hahn: Marc Jacobs
NY Fashion Week, Fall 2012
New York magazine/The Cut
The first popular illustrators were from France and Britain, Rasche recounts, but in the 1900s international competition came with the creation of American magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Some illustrators did enjoy popularity on both sides of the Atlantic, although demand for their work would decline from the 1950s on, as photography gradually took over.

Still, fashion illustration remained “a dynamic means of expression embracing a whole range of artistic styles,” says Rasche. Readers will tend to agree with her assertion that the selections in the book “convincingly demonstrate the sheer creative scope” of the sector.

The illustrators, featured alphabetically, all manage to convey fashion’s “allure” through a variety of techniques, including collage, computer graphics and watercolour. They come from different countries, and work for a range of magazines as well as for famous designers, and the book gives an insight into their creativity.

Istanbul-born Cem Bora, for instance, uses collage to evoke the designs of clients such as Comme des Garçons and Balenciaga, while French illustrator Carlotta utilizes pen, gouache and other media for her economical, cartoon-like sketches. “Fashion is the reflection of life, and for me an illustration can nail an era,” Carlotta says in the book.

Lisa Billvik, Untitled, 2011, Catwalk Studio; pencil  
Some striking images also come from a diverse group of Swedish-born, Stockholm-based artists such as Cecilia Carlstedt, Lina Bodén, Molly Bartling, and especially Lisa Billvik and Maria Raymondsdotter - whose artwork emanates a sense of fun.

Meanwhile, Zé Octavio, Catarina Gushiken and Furia, all from São Paola, Brazil, bring colour and energy to the selections, just like the talented German illustrator Sabine Pieper and the Cuban-born, New-York-based artist Ruben Toledo.

“For me, style is content,” Toledo says. “I let the clothes, the woman, the mood and the style form the composition. Clothing tells a story, and my focus is to listen and communicate that story through art.” - L. McKenzie and J.M. De Clercq