(This entry was originally posted in the spring, but with my recent focus on returning to my roots as a visual artist, I thought I'd revisit the subject of fashion illustration, a life-long crush of mine).
Recently my mother brought over a box of drawings I'd done as a child. Most of them were mixed media (as in magic marker on lined manilla paper with some crayon experimentation thrown in), and I even discovered a few Fashion Plate etchings. (Remember those, fellow children of the '80's? My cousin Lisa had a set and I practically dove for them every time I went to her house). Almost all of them were stick figure-esque images of women wearing extravagant gowns embellished in lace, ruffles, bows and flowers. Perhaps these sketches were early indications of my deep rooted love for fashion (or maybe just silent cries for help feverishly sketched by a child-of-hippie-parents dressed in denim overalls with grass stains on the knees). Regardless of my motivation to create them, it was fascinating to look though them and realize that even as a 5 year-old, my brain had some sort of propensity for communicating fashion through drawing.
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.