This New Exhibition Celebrates The Art Of Fashion Illustration
Before the digital age of Instagram and InDesign, there was fashion illustration, the revered medium through which artists captured the very best of fashion. Drawing live from catwalk shows, illustrating editorials for printed publications or sketching looks for new collections, the most pioneering artists worked closely with designers to bring their creations to life – often launching the careers of muses and models, too.
To coincide with London Fashion Week, Gray M.C.A, a collective that uncovers rare and dynamic 20th century fashion illustration from private international collections, presents
Drawing on Style, a new exhibition celebrating the art form. Assembling works from artists such as Antonio Lopez, Jason Brooks, René Bouché, Bil Donovan and even Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, the exhibition will showcase works that have graced the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and The New York Times.
Ahead of the exhibition, we talked to illustrators Bil, Jason and the show’s curator Connie Gray, about the history of the art form and what fashion illustration means in today’s digital age.
Drawing On Style runs 14th-21st September 2018 at Gray M.C.A Gallery 8, 8 Duke Street St James’s, London, SW1Y 6BN
Why did you want to curate and host the exhibition?
Connie: There is a really exciting revival in fashion illustration being used as a key tool to promote fashion both in print and on social media, and this is leading people to be increasingly drawn to the original masters who were working alongside the great fashion photographers in the last century. Fashion illustration is an art genre that is rooted in the traditions of fine art painting but at the same time has a freedom to it that is incredibly powerful.
Each artwork in the exhibition is an instinctive interpretation of how an artist sees fashion. Whether it is through the eyes of the original great master Carl ‘Eric’ Erickson who first introduced a freedom of line and gesture in the 1930s, allowing the reader to immediately connect with the couturiers of the period, or the instantly recognisable bold graphic work of the original advertising artist René Gruau, who helped launch Christian Dior’s career in the late 1940s, right through to the 1980s with his work for Martini and Omega. All the artists have this intensely instinctive ability to create lasting impressions of the beauty and style in fashion that captures people’s hearts.
Antonio Lopez, Daniel Hechter Fashion, 1967
Tell us about your career highlights…
Bil Donovan: I have a few milestones in my career. Having my work included in the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, writing a textbook for Lawrence King and most importantly becoming the first artist-in-residence for Christian Dior, Dior Beauty. It involves travelling around the country painting with watercolour on site and live fashion portraits of Dior’s special clientele. At times I have created fashion illustrations for promotion and signage and capturing a client in the couture, but my main role is to capture the beauty and style of the Dior women through Dior Beauty. Yes, I’m blessed! René Grau, Bemberg Textiles Milan
What first drew you to fashion illustration?
Jason Brooks: Since I was a very small boy I’ve loved drawing and painting. I would draw family and friends as well as scenes from my imagination. I was obsessed with American comics and superheroes but also loved the more linear work of David Hockney, Saul Steinberg, Picasso and the artists of the Renaissance. My mother was in her spare time a brilliant dressmaker and has a great sense of style, and her mother was a dancer, so I think their interest in fashion and affinity for dance has also been an influence.
In my 20s, while I was at St Martin’s School of Art in London, I won the
Vogue Sotheby’s Cecil Beaton Award for Fashion Illustration which in a way announced to me what I had been doing unconsciously since my childhood, and crystallised the direction I wanted to move in. I began to work regularly for British Vogue and drew at fashion shows in Paris, London and New York for magazines and newspapers.
Living in Portobello in west London in the ’90s was also a really formative and influential time for me and being immersed in the excitement and edgy glamour of the London fashion and music scene of that era has had a lasting influence. As an artist who loves drawing the human figure, I find the glamour, beauty, diversity and imagination in fashion as a subject impossible to resist.
Colin McDowell, ‘Red Jacket’, 1980s
How do you feel Instagram has changed the way we interact with clothes?
Connie: Instagram is a fantastic tool that allows everyone to feel much more involved in all the different parts of the fashion industry. It seems like couture is no longer a distant, untouchable world. In particular with live streaming, it is now possible to watch the runway shows in real time whether they are in Paris, New York, Tokyo or London, and I think this in turn makes fashion much more exciting and accessible. It is almost as if fashion has become democratised.
For fashion illustration, Instagram gives artists the opportunity to sit in on a couture show and create their own interpretations while watching live. I see stunning illustrations daily on the feeds of some fabulous artists. Their take on a runway look is always different, which makes it so interesting. There is a young fashion illustrator called Lara MacKenzie Lee who has an entirely unique way of seeing and interpreting the couture shows. She deconstructs the clothes and the models into an almost abstract art form that without Instagram she would never have been able to do so spontaneously.
Antonio Lopez, Daniel Hechter Fashion, ‘Variation 3’, 1967
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