Sunday, 27 September 2015

100 years of Fashion Illustration

What is it about fashion illustration that makes my heart leap? There's something about it that I find just captures the essence of fashion, breathing life into clothes so perfectly, perhaps even more than photography. 100 Years of Fashion Illustration by Cally Blackman documents the changes in fashion illustration, from the thin art deco lines of the 1920s, to  the computer-led graphics of the noughties. What I love about these images is their ability to conjure up the entire feeling of the era in which they were published. Take Barbara Hulanicki's Biba girls; their oversized lollipop frames and doll-like eyes just scream the 60s. Whilst Celia Birtwell's drawings (below) have that unbounded sense of freedom and effervescence, like two Chagall figures gliding off into the night.

The book shows just how central illustration was to the fashion industry. These images were found on magazine covers, on dress patterns, in advertorials and on billboards. Fashion illustration dictated what what women should aspire to, it captured the whole feeling of the new season. Flicking through these pages, it seems that it was not merely the clothing that represented how women should spend their money, but the girl on page. She is often hidden under hats, glancing away, or completely absorbed by the letter or book she's reading. In short, these women, rather than staring out blankly from glossy magazine spreads, are shown to live their lives in these new fashions, whilst we are left to imagine the exciting goings-on in their lives.

My growing obsession for Mad Men has made me appreciate fashion illustration even more. Once considered to be simply adverts for products, many images of fashion illustration are now admired as museum-worthy works of art. Some of my favourites include Rene Grau who is known to have inspired David Downton, as well as Barbara Hulanicki's illustrations for her Biba designs.

Will the heyday of fashion illustration return? I really hope so! Instagram seems to be the best place for searching out talented illustrators who hark back to those good old days but are also creating something new and exciting. Some of my favourites working at the moment are: Kelly Marie Beeman, Drawing Feever and Unskilled Worker. Let me know any illustrators you are following at the moment, I would love to discover more. 

Have a great Sunday! Xx

Illustration credits: (
1) Bill Baker, 1966 (2) Celia Birtwell, 1970 (3) Marcel Vertes, 1940 (4) Rene Gruau, 1967 (5) Tod Draz, 1950 (6) Alfredo Bouret, 1957 (7) Rene Gruau, 1954.


  1. I'm beginning to think that your book collection and mine must look pretty similar - I have this one too. And it's a great favourite for all the reasons you mention.

    1. Great minds. Although it's becoming a bit of a problem - most of my big artsy books are now taking up residency in my chest of drawers/ wardrobe!