A Brush with Fantasy –
with fashion illustrations by Hayden Williams
It would seem that the fantastical world of fashion illustration is a world that has sadly been forgotten. In the Golden Age of fashion illustration, illustrated magazine covers charmed the readers into their sensational visions, but today these symbols of fashion and fantasy barely make the pages of the magazines. COAD Charms of a Dandizette celebrates the wonderful and sadly forgotten world of fashion illustration.
There is a delightful and indescribable emotion evoked by the spectacle of beautifully dreamy and fabulously glamorous fashion illustrations. A glance at the visions of David Downton, Jean Phillipe Delhomme or Gladys Perint Palmer is instantly breathtaking. The contrast of whimsical brushstrokes juxtaposed against the accuracy of the garment’s design makes the impact of this art form almost haunting. Many find themselves lost in the illustrator’s world of colour, technique, style and imagination. The illustrated Vogue covers of the golden age have a collector’s value and are beginning to find their homes in frames displayed on the walls of fashion and art aficionados. It’s a wonder why these tokens of art, fashion and fantasy no longer grace the pages of the magazine covers and pages the way they once used to.
There was a time when the world of fashion moved a little slower and the rapid turnaround of fashion design, production and the associated media happened over a lengthier period. Today collections are created to deadlines, fashion bloggers and journalists go toe to toe to relay the latest stories and have a number of media platforms to choose from to access the public in the quickest form. Fashion resides in a breakneck world and those not on its heels risk losing their relevance. It was only inevitable that the presence of fashion illustrations in our glossies would grow scarce after the development of the click and snap nature of photography.
‘Illustration is still extremely popular with designers and the public alike,’ says David Downton, ‘but remains generally under the wire.’ What a treat it would be today to purchase a magazine that only featured fashion illustration. No doubt this would be a magazine that would sit proudly on the coffee tables of fashion lovers amongst the Valentino and Vogue collectors books, but it seems almost impossible to imagine that magazines with purely illustrated images ever existed.
During the Golden Age of fashion illustration, Vogue publisher Condé Montrose Nast was the custodian for illustration, he invested in a team of Vogue illustrators that would illustrate every Vogue cover from 1910 till the beginning of world war two. Condé Nast’s admiration of fashion illustration was enthused by La Gazette du Bon Ton, the French fashion, lifestyle and beauty magazine published from 1912 – 1925. The French publication centred itself around the creation of fashion illustration and employed some of the best illustrators of the art deco era, Paul Iribe, Gearges Lepape and Pierre Brissaud to name a few. Each edition would feature ten illustrated couture designs, seven of which were the illustrations of couture designs and the remaining three, which allowed the illustrators to envisage and illustrate their own designs merely to excercise and display their own illustrative minds.
Many of La Gazette du Bon Ton’s illustrators worked on the covers at Vogue including Helen Dryden and George Wolf Plank, but the end of La Gazete soon rendered these artists without a place to execute their fashion fantasies on the page. Nast required illustrators to portray the garments in their most realist form in order to provide the reader with the most accurate vision of the design, while the illustrators naturally longed to implement their artistic freedom. Sadly, fashion illustration began to contradict its very existence, a world that seemed to survive off the imagination, fantasy and art desired the utmost realism and truth.
Carl Erickson and Rene Bouet were illustrative pioneers for creating illustrations for which realism was the essence, it was not long before the two set the bar for this fashion illustration form. Inevitably Edward Steichen’s colour photograph in 1932 would provide the industry with exactly what it wanted. By 1936 Vogue sales proved that the photographic images that replaced the illustrations on the covers sold more copies.
Since the golden age of fashion illustration its presence in the fashion publication has fluctuated. The works of the Puerto Rican major fashion illustrator, Antonio Lopez became a fixture in Vogue and other high fashion magazines throughout the sixties and seventies, even though both decades were particularly dominated by photography. During this period magazines such as Honey (the first British magazine to feature black models), Jackie and Petticoat all featured fashion illustration, nevertheless, on the whole the art form struggled in and didn’t see its next surge till the eighties. An advert illustrated by Jean-Philippe Delhomme for Barneys New York inspired an enthusiasm around the medium once again, La Mode en Peinture 1982, Condé Nast’s Vanity 1981 and Visionaire 1991 created opportunities for a new generation of fashion illustrators.
Today the presence of the fashion illustration is out of the ordinary and merely peppers the pages of the fashion magazines – what was once the super glue of the magazine is now barely a garnish, decorating the white spaces of magazine editorial. On the upside of this, the fashion illustrator of today is no longer constricted to the magazine and works in a number of different mediums. Gladys Perint Palmer, a Central Saint Martins graduate and one of the last students of Muriel Pemberton, the inventor of fashion education, says, ‘depending on the illustrators style depends where they will find their work.’ Gladys is the proof in the pudding that fashion illustration, even though it isn’t celebrated in the fashion publication, is indeed still sought after. ‘I am on a heavily impending deadline,’ she says, ‘I am currently working on a book titled From Eve to Yves. There is plenty of work. I am swamped.’
Albeit, it is a shame these little slices of art are absent from the fashion magazines, but at least the occasional glimpse, in an ad campaign or on the cover of a book, is a moment that remains just as special and fantastical as the last.
This articles was written in 2010 – the fabulous illustrations of Hayden Williams have inspired its update.
Be charmed, stay inspired!x