100 Years of Fashion Illustration

Click here for Origin and Development of Fashion Illustration.

From Commercial Art to Fashion

David Downton was born in 1959 in Kent, England. He studied in Canterbury and Wolverhampton where he got a BA in illustration/graphics. David Downton’s career in illustration started in 1984 when he moved to Brighton a couple of years after graduating from college. His very first job was creating a cover for a magazine called Which Computer. For 12 years, he worked as a freelance illustrator and accepted different types of projects that included illustrating menu cards, children’s books, cookbooks, romance novels, ads, packaging, and at times, fashion. His work as a fashion illustrator began in 1996 when an art editor that he had previously worked with asked him to draw at the couture shows in Paris for the Financial Times (Tyler, 2011, pp.152). In fact, if you find his old drawing in children’s book, you will see how he was able to translated his children’s book style to a unique fashion illustration method. He is now a world renowned fashion illustrator even in countries outside the U.S. Australia, UK, Middle East, and China. (Horyn, 2007, pp.19)

A Work That’s Never Finished

David calls his method of drawing “a work in progress.” He initially creates numerous drawings on layout paper and then looks at the best features of each drawing as he does them. He then combines the best features of each drawing into one drawing and refines it until he gets what he is looking for. Once that is accomplished, he starts to “deconstruct” the illustration by eliminating unnecessary details (Downton, 2010, pp.80). He continues working on the drawing until a spontaneous look is achieved or as he calls it “controlled spontaneity.”

The materials that he uses for his drawings vary depending on several factors: his mood, his inspiration, how appropriate the material is for the subject at hand, and the result that he wants to get. Some materials, like Rotring ink and Dr. Marten’s black ink, are chosen because of their colour. He likes the black colour of the Rotring ink and the velvety violet colour of Dr. Marten’s. For small scale illustrations, he uses watercolour or gouache to apply colour. Black Indian ink on paper or acetate is what he uses for pure line drawings.  He uses cut paper collage to achieve a flat saturated colour while lines are applied using an acetate overlay. He also uses oil stick and acrylics on some occasions (Cumming, 2004, pp.147).

Finding Meaning on Undrawn Lines

One of the most outstanding influences of Downton on the fashion industry is how his “incomplete” style have been adapted to photography. Downton’s drawings seem always incomplete. The face, for example, will never be drawn in full. There is always a “missing element”. These missing elements provides the sense of mystery to Downton’s work. This served two critical purposes:

1)      A marketing tool by picking the interest of the viewers to participate in “filling in the blanks”

2)      An artistic recognition for its ability to provide an image with multiple complex depths (Stipelman, 2005, pp.

This is the same strategy used by some of the greatest photographers in the world. Photographers are known for depths and calculated exposure. They believe that the things that are hidden in a photograph are just as important as the images that are exposed.

Downton claims that his favourite artists can be clearly seen on his work. As an artist, he was very much inspired by the works of Picasso, Matisse, Boldini, Francis Bacon, and Euan Uglow to name a few. Although he wasn’t particularly interested in fashion when he started out, he did greatly admire the work of famous fashion illustrators like Rene Gruau, Eric, Tony Viramontes, Tom Keogh, Robert Bouche, and Antonio.  Among the present fashion illustrators, Mats Gustafson, Berthoud, and Jason Brooks are those whose work he also admires.

Downton’s style is one of the most, if not the most, recognizable in the world of fashion to date. His illustrations are both classic and modern and show emotion, fluidity, elegance, and beauty. His work has markedly influenced the resurgence of interest in the old ways: fashion illustration. It also has established him as the deserving successor to the great fashion illustrators of the past.

The Awards and Recognition

Since he started on his career as a fashion illustrator, David has had numerous achievements throughout the years. His drawings from the shows have appeared in several magazines and newspapers such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, The Times, V Magazine, the Telegraph Magazine, and The New York times to name a few. He has many commercial clients which include Harrods, Bloomingdales, Tiffany & Co., Chanel, Dior, L’Oreal, Top Shop, the V&A Museum, and the British Fashion Council (Packer, 2010, pp.79-81). His commercial projects range from reports from couture shows to invitations to even costume drawings of a movie. David has also had solo exhibitions of his work at the Conningsby Gallery in London in 1998 and 1999 and at the Couture Voyeur show in the London College of Fashion’s Fashion Space Gallery in 2006. In collaboration with Erin O’Connor, he also had some exhibitions at the Rootstein Gallery in 2002 in New York and The Joyce Ma Gallery in 2003 in Paris.

In 2007, while working in the fashion industry, David was inspired to create the only journal in the world that is focused solely on fashion illustration, Pourquoi Pa? A Journal of Fashion Illustration.  His goal was to celebrate drawing in a world that is highly digital and mainly point and shoot when it comes to images. This journal is ad-free and a limited edition with only 1500 copies. He is currently the Editor-in-chief of the magazine. After releasing two issues of his fashion journal, David decided to create a book about fashion illustrators. Working closely with the designer Karen Morgan, he was able to publish the book Masters of Fashion Illustration in 2010. This book looks through the lives, careers, and portfolios of fashion illustrators from the start of the 20th century until the late 1980s. Some of the artists included in the book are Rene Bouche, Tony Viramontes, and Andy Warhol. It also includes a portfolio of his work that shows how he was influenced by these artists.

Aside from fashion illustration, David has also had accomplishments in painting portraits. He has particularly focused on the world’s most beautiful and iconic women. In 1998, he began planning a book of portraits of the world’s most amazing women and started his portfolio with a portrait of Marie Helvin. Dita Von Teese, Erin O’Connor, Paloma Picasso, Linda Evangelista, and Carmen Dell’Orifice are some of the women whose portraits have been painted by him. In addition to this, he was also commissioned by the Australian Vogue to create four illustrations of Cate Blanchett for the magazine’s cover (Packer, 2010, pp.79-81).

Some of his accomplishments may seem minor in comparison to the others previously mentioned. Nonetheless, they are a testament to the respect and fame that he has established through the years. These include designing the Christmas window display for Brown’s South Moulton Street Store, being featured on the cover of a special edition of Jane Austen’s Emma, creating the cover of 100 years of Fashion Illustration by Cally Blackman, and drawing the debut imagery of the perfume Live in Love by Oscar dela Renta.

Because his work has garnered great admiration not only from the fashion industry but from all corners of the globe, the London College of Fashion made him a Visiting Professor in their institution. He was also given an honorary Doctorate by the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.


Click here for Origin and Development of Fashion Illustration.


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