One of my favorite steps in the fashion design process (if not the favorite) is the sketching. (I have a strong affinity for inspiration boards as well, but we'll save that for another post).
There is just something about translating an inspiration for a design onto paper that allows for pure artistic freedom without the "rules." Yes, there needs to be an understanding of the human form and an ability to convey how fabric naturally drapes on the body, but for the most part, the mathematical aspects of garment construction (admittedly my least favorite part of the design process) can be tuned out for a while, and replaced with a permission for the imagination to overpower practicality. In essence, the more abstract qualities of a collection - mood, aura, spirit - can be captured through illustration in a way that can't always be conveyed through a ready-to-wear garment. (Above: My illustration for my recycled candy wrapper dress on display at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, October 2008).
Originally, fashion illustration was not only an essential part of fashion communication, but truly the primary means of presenting designs to a mass audience. Photography, retouched or otherwise, allowed for a more realistic visual of a designer's work. As a result, fashion illustration, along with its poetic personal interpretation of the garment, fell to the wayside.
Charles Dana Gibson, 1901.
Fashion illustration certainly isn't dead, although it exists today on a very different plane that in the past, with a much more minor (though not insignificant) role in the visual presentation of fashion. I really believe that as an art form, even separate from its original place as a practical means of fashion communication, it's under appreciated. There exists something incredibly profound and beautiful in these works that enables the viewer to see beyond a piece of clothing, sometimes to an entirely different realm of perception. Take a few minutes to look through FIG's website, or google "fashion illustration" and you'll see what I mean.
Peter Woodruff's illustration of designs by Lavin (left) and Chanel (right). Vogue, July 20, 1929.
Andy Warhol, 1959.
Michael Roberts' illustration of Azzedine Alaia 'Sphinx Dress,' 1990.
Joe Eula's illustration of designs from an early 90s Givenchy collection.