That fashion should have fallen out of love with illustration when it fell in love with photography was inevitable. But not as inevitable as the fact that the romance would, eventually, resume. If the 1930s to 1970s is widely considered to be the golden age of fashion illustration, we are witnessing its second coming. Courtesy of a new book, Drawing on Style, we can scope out the achievements of both, from the mid-century master-minimalist René Gruau to his modern-day equivalent, Tobie Giddio.
The pressure on the purveyor of the fashion image to make the real unreal, to mythologise rather than memorialise, was always going to ensure that illustrators — footloose and fancy-free compared with even the most fantastical of photographers — would have their moment in the spotlight once again. Unforeseen was that Instagram — now fashion’s best-loved means of mass communication — would give certain practitioners, such as Gucci’s favourite chronicler, Unskilled Worker, an unprecedented level of fame.
Drawing on Style is published by Gray MCA, graymca.co.uk
Gucci Cruise 2017 by Unskilled Worker (2016), pictured above
No label is hotter than Gucci at present — all colourful quirkiness and faux-vintage mash-up. And there is no one better at capturing its recent reincarnation than the London artist Helen Downie, better known as the Instagram sensation Unskilled Worker. “For me it is not so much about fashion as such,” she says. “It is about the choices people make about how they are going to look.”
Red Dress, New York by René Bouché (c1956)
It’s a red dress, it’s a black hat, but it’s also a woman, a couple, a city, a moment in time, immortalised. I want that dress, but I also want to be her, or, at the very least, to know a little more about her, then decide.
Model in Grey Tailleur by Carl “Eric” Erickson (c1946)
Clothes at their most fashionable are often an exaggeration, designed to sculpt the waist, elongate the leg; accentuate the right curves, diminish the wrong ones. An illustration has the potential to take things farther than tailoring ever can, as demonstrated by this masterly nip-and-tuck by Eric, an inspirational figure for many later illustrators. The camera never lies, but pen and ink can, consummately.
Woman with hat by René Gruau (1960s)
An image that shows little, and evokes everything. The rim of a hat, a glove, vermilion lips, a whisper of blush. Glamour at its most reductive and, by extension, iconic. The best work by the fleet-of-foot Gruau made fashion photography appear pedestrian.
Red Legs by Antonio Lopez (1967)
Lopez, born in Puerto Rico, turned illustration sexy, capturing the warp-speed world of 1970s and 1980s fashion — and his friendships with everyone from Grace Jones to Tina Chow — on the pages of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. Lopez did power women, not to mention boobs and buttocks, like no one else. He lived as fast as he drew, and died at only 44.
Carolina Herrera S/S 14 by Tobie Giddio
Is this a work by one of the Italian futurists? Giacomo Balla? Do its charcoal lines depict the tyre-marks on a racing track, a whirlwind in the Midwest? In fact, courtesy of that merest suggestion of a head, they coalesce — just — into a dress. If anyone is still asking if fashion illustration is art, here is their answer.