Specific decades in the history of fashion produced extremely talented illustrators, artists such as Paul Iribe, George Barbier, Georges Lepape, Thayaht, Christian Bérard, René Gruau or Lila De Nobili who recreated their personal interpretations of iconic garments from the 20th century, turning at the same time into inspirations for many fashion and costume designers. As the years passed, photography took the place of fashion illustration, but contemporary artists including Ruben Toledo or Pierre-Louis Mascia, have revived the interest in this form of fashionable art.
A recently opened exhibition at the Fashion Space Gallery at London College of Fashion presents over 60 works by 13 talented emerging artists, the youngest generation of fashion illustrators.
Selected by curators Polona Dolzan and Ligaya Salazar, the illustrators included - all from different countries and all focusing on both men and women’s wear - express themselves in a variety of media.
While the exhibition juxtaposes minimalist drawings such as Richard Kilroy’s to multi-dimensional ones like Eugenia Alejos’, that combine fabrics with drawings, the most interesting point is the variety of approaches, styles and mediums - from pen-and-ink sketches to aquarelle techniques, digital manipulations and 3D collages - these young artists use to illustrate fashion or pay homage to recent collections and contemporary designers, including Thom Browne (Tara Dougans) and Boudicca (Jarno Kettunen).
Some of these illustrators - Artaksiniya, Zoya Smirnova, Lesley Barnes and Sabine Pieper among the others – also work in other fields, including textile and fashion design, photography and animation, proving that fashion illustration is currently being produced by a generation of creators, makers, thinkers and innovators.
How many portfolios did you see before coming up with this line up?
Polona Dolzan and Ligaya Salazar: We were very open when we started looking at what's out there. We only had the very ambiguous intention to find out what is going on in the field of emerging fashion illustrators; we wanted it to be very intuitive, so numbers were quite high in the beginning. Once we started to deliberate and decide what and why we chose certain works, themes started appearing. As we both share a keen interest in the field of fashion in all its manifestations, seeking out young talent in fashion illustration was an absolute joy. Choosing only 13 was difficult, but in the end the story they collectively told about the things that are happening in the field made it slightly easier. We were very happy that all the chosen illustrators were so enthusiastic about showing their work as part of this exhibition. Truly an honour.
Which are the aspects that fascinate you the most about the artists involved?
Polona Dolzan and Ligaya Salazar: The way a lot of illustrators apply existing techniques to new media and their different backgrounds - there's animators, art directors, fashion designers and graphic artists. Some wouldn't even refer to themselves as 'fashion illustrators'. Also, the decision to include a lot of personal as well as commercial work relates to our fascination with their attitude to the way they work on personal projects, they are almost sacred to them – understandably!
What did you discover about contemporary fashion illustration while selecting these artists?
Polona Dolzan and Ligaya Salazar: What is so inspiring about these artists is the way they work, their meticulous processes and inventive use of all media. Whilst a lot of the work is visually very different, it is the strength of the personal language that is clearly visible in their commercial work, but is uncompromisingly theirs. Another interesting discovery was the mutual respect for each other’s work, one in particular even runs his own fanzine dedicated to fashion illustration and has commissioned his peers for it.
Do you feel that fashion illustration has changed in the last few years with the Internet becoming more widespread and with many illustrators starting their own sites?
Polona Dolzan and Ligaya Salazar: It definitely makes the work more widely accessible; hence it has been easier for our selection to include an international spread. Interestingly, craft still takes centre-stage, but it's the subject matter that seems to have changed. There aren't merely beautiful silhouettes and impeccable beauties, there is determination and clarity in subject matter - from depicting unconventionally beautiful models to painstakingly drawing out each and every sequin with a pencil or a felt-tip or boldly using spray-paint on canvas to evoke movement. There seems to be also more interest in menswear than perhaps in previous decades. First and foremost, though, technology and ease of communication has allowed an interesting mix between digital and hand-drawn to emerge that cleverly deceives the viewer and paves the way to newer things. Some illustrators are now active in the realms of animated editorials and using gifs to bring their drawings to life, something that could very soon compete with fashion film perhaps.
Do you have a favourite famous fashion illustrator?
Polona Dolzan: I personally treasure artistic influences on depictions of fashionable people that you could call 'fashion illustration', Otto Dix's striking portraits of Berlin's ‘20s avant-garde somehow come to mind; Yves Saint Laurent's signature colourful style is a particular favourite, then again Yohji Yamamoto's croquis style drawing evoke a different beauty altogether.
Ligaya Salazar: I am probably a little more old-fashioned or maybe nostalgic as the first ever fashion illustrations I encountered and to this day love are those of futurist designer and artist Thayaht and Art Deco illustrator Georges Lepape. Today’s favourites definitely have to be Richard Gray and Julie Verhoeven.
As you said, the boundaries between different disciplines have blurred and fashion illustrators are also fashion designers, film directors or photographers, so are you featuring in the exhibition also other works that use different artistic mediums?
Polona Dolzan and Ligaya Salazar: We tried to show the work in a stimulating way, not to detract from how awe-inspiring it is, but to do it justice. Of course there is a lot of illustration, but there are a few surprises in store. We definitely had a play with what the genre is perceived to be and what all it can be.
Will it be possible to buy any of the works exhibited?
Polona Dolzan and Ligaya Salazar: The Fashion Space Gallery is a not a commercial gallery, so the work isn’t for sale per se. Quite a lot of the work on display is original and deeply personal, so we aren’t even sure that the illustrators would sell those anyway. However, I am sure most illustrators would be open to hear from anyone who would like to buy work from them or their galleries or perhaps even commission them to do work.
Will there be a book/catalogue accompanying this event?
Polona Dolzan and Ligaya Salazar: We are very excited to be collaborating on a limited edition publication with Slashstroke Magazine that accompanies the exhibition. The editor and art director have worked closely with the illustrators included in the show to create an interesting piece of print, which plays with the ideas that connect this diverse set of works and hopefully will provide a glimpse into the personal processes of these illustrators. Hopefully, along with impressions from the exhibition, the magazine will serve as a reminder that there is so much more out there yet to be harnessed.
Go Figure: New Fashion Illustration is at the Fashion Space Gallery until 14th July 2012. Featured illustrators: Richard Kilroy, Artaksiniya, Tara Dougans, Hannah Muller, Jarno Kettunen, Rosie McGuinness, Zoya Smirnova, Lesley Barnes, Eugenia Alejos, Cristian Grossi, Laura Laine, Ingela Och Vi, Sabine Pieper
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos