Origin and Development of Fashion IllustrationCredit: dutchuncle.co.uk


In his book entitled, “Fashion Illustrator”, Bethan Morris narrated the evolution of fashion illustration from simple sketches of artists to digitally-mediated creations present in most magazines and print ads. According to him, fashion illustration dates back to the 17th century, when Wenceslaus Hollar made basic drawings of people’s clothes at that period (Jones, 2007, pp. 79-83). However, it is only in the 18th century when fashion illustrations are published in different circulars such as newspapers and magazines. Since then, fashion designers have been able to influence people – especially women – when it comes to their dressing preferences and style. One example of which is The Gibson Girls, an illustration made by Charles Dana Gibson, wherein the women are portrayed as elegant, refined and confident. Morris says that after the picture is released in Time and Harper’s Bazaar, women have begun to imitate the appearances of the Gibson Girls (Whitaker, 2007, pp.114).

With the emergence of fashion labels such as Coco Chanel, fashion illustrations have become more commercialized. It has then been used not only to depict the most popular fashion trends of the season but also advertise different clothing lines and product labels (Whitaker, 2007, pp.114). Illustrators have also employed different techniques borrowed from prevalent art movements such as nouveau art, art deco and cubism. More importantly, the changing social milieu of their time has had a significant impact on the kind of illustration drawn by designers and artists.

Most of the developments in fashion illustration have occurred within the 20th century. Morris says that illustrators have reached the peak of their careers in the early 1900’s, as fashion illustrations have increasingly been published in fashion magazines such as Vogue and product labels like Topshop. Moreover, he says that most of the illustrators, such as Carl Erikson, started depicting the subject of their illustration around a physical environment, thus allowing a person to deduce observations of the social milieu during their time (Whitaker, 2007, pp.114).

However, publication of fashion magazines have declined in the 1920’s due to the First World War. This has consequently compelled illustrators to shift to the film industry, which is one of the most productive sectors at that period. This has also allowed illustrators to expand the scope of their work. From dominating print media alone, they now have the opportunity to influence people’s fashion style through film and television.

This trend has continued until the post-war 1950’s, when economic growth and technological advancement allowed fashion designers to produce clothes made from synthetic cloths, such as Velcro and plastics (Watanabe, 2009, pp.179-181). According to Morris, drawing the texture and quality of these fabrics has been a difficult challenge for illustrators. Moreover, fashion illustration has been gradually replaced by technically-mediated forms of representation, which can capture these qualities more realistically.

In the 1960’s, modernity has dominated in not only themes and concepts but also the manner of depicting fashion designs (Whitaker, 2007, pp.114). This has further encouraged the use of technology – such as photography – in presenting more realistic depictions of fashion designs. This shift is compatible with the dominance of youth culture, which is characterized by a change from refined to liberated fashion designs.

The preference for photography has persisted in the 1970’s, which has compelled fashion illustrators to adopt techniques from realism (Jones, 2007, pp. 79-83). For instance, illustrator David Remfrey has portrayed women as powerful and independent, which is reflective of the increasing liberation of women in the Western world. Moreover, Morris recounts that most of the patterns and designs employed in clothing lines are inspired from Pop Art and Psychedelia, both of which are products of the increasing influence of modernism among fashion illustrators and designers (Whitaker, 2007, pp.114).

Finally, fashion illustrations have resurfaced in the late 20th century as designs became more attuned to self-expression and ‘fine art’ (Connor, 1997, p.216). Fashion illustrator Zoltan has used mosaic and found objects [that is, objects that originally have no aesthetic value but are used in creating fine art] to depict various designs, patterns and fabric textures. While technological advancement has displaced fashion illustration in the mid-century, the same factor has been instrumental in its re-emergence during the 1990’s (Stipelman, 2005, pp79-81). Illustrations are made using computer programs and are digitally reproduced by fashion magazines. Because of this, illustrators are able to manipulate the intensity of color, quality of texture, size of the object and other details, which enables them to improve on their drawings.

Based on this short narration, one can see how fashion illustration has emerged, developed, declined and resurfaced within the century. As previously stated, technological advancement [specifically in photography] initially rendered fashion illustration useless, or at the very least dispensable. This is because photography is able to depict designs more realistically as compared to fashion illustration. However, technology has also helped illustrators to improve their designs and artworks, which makes fashion illustration competitive relative to photography and even electronic advertisements.

Jason Brooks, one of the more popular fashion illustrators at present, affirms the previously mentioned observation (Jones, 2007, pp. 79-83). According to Caroline Foulkes, Brooks says that fashion illustration became too “old-fashioned” compared to photography. Despite this underrated perception of fashion illustration, he points out that these artworks are gradually gaining “commercial viability”.

Eva Stoner, a representative of Pearce Stoner, agrees with Brooks and says that more and more illustrators from their agency are being hired by fashion-related companies. According to her, this is because fashion illustration is cheaper in terms of costs (Breward, 1995, pp.59). Bob Manning from the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design agrees with her and mentions that photographers need several stylists and technical assistants to bring out the desired feature of the picture. This means that the host company will have to pay more workers to come up with a good photograph, as compared to an illustrator who only needs pens, papers, and if necessary, a computer program to produce his picture.

Furthermore, Brooks emphasizes that fashion illustration allows the artist to be more creative, thus exhibiting his personality and making his work unique over others. What happens in photography is the opposite – that is, photographers’ works are hardly distinct from one another (Tatham & Seaman, 2003, pp.89). Manning also says that fashion illustration offers a more refreshing approach to depicting fashion designs. He notes that any fashion design actually starts with an illustration and is either manipulated digitally or actualized through photography.

In this sense, Brooks, Stoner and Manning highlight the fact that fashion illustration will not become obsolete in the near future. Improvements in technology, cost efficiency and usefulness to fashion designers are one of the main reasons behind the continuing existence of this art form (Ribeiro & Cumming, 1997, pp.232). More importantly, the process employed in fashion illustration allows for personalization on the part of the artist, since he can depict the design without logistical, temporal or financial limitations. He can draw his work in any way he would want it to appear.

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