Post War Fashion Illustration at London Fashion and Textiles Museum
Late November 2017, I visited the Louise Dahl-Wolfe exhibition at the London Fashion and Textiles Museum. Dahl-Wolfe was an American photographer famous for her editorial covers with Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Connie Gray from Gray M.C.A also held a talk upholding the importance of fashion illustration during the Post War period. From the early grace of Erikson and Willaumez to the dynamism of Antonio Lopez, Kenneth Paul Block and more, Connie Gray showcased the illustrations which graced fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
From the simple elegance of some, to the graphic and bold Warhol inspirations of others, here are some key illustrators of our time.
1930-40: Rene Bouet Willaumez (1900- 1979)
Wilaumez was a French illustrator. He started working for work Vogue in 1929 at midst of change when photography began to dominate the portrayal of fashion. Unaffected by this, his illustrations thrived and are known to this day.
These early 30s and 40s illustrations demonstrate his clean and light technique. Willaumez captured the couture fashion rather the figures. In both pieces, at least one woman’s face isn’t visible emphasising his diligence in focusing on the design of clothing most. Willaumez is successful at creating weight and depth in his illustrations which make it more authentic and that bit cleaner.
1950: Rene Gruau (1909-2009)
1960s: Antonio Lopez (1943-1987)
Antonio Lopez was a photographer, illustrator and filmographer. He adored street art and street culture with influences such as Andy Warhol who also had a vivid way of working. He also explores trend similar to Warhol, like the emergence of consumerism in the ‘Pepsi’ illustration. Lopez’s illustrations are more artistic than fashion related which separate his work from the other illustrators, pushin
Roz Jennings was not mentioned in the talk, but she is an illustrator I was introduced to previously. She was a well-known fashion illustrator in the 60s and 70s especially for her work with Welsh designer Laura Ashley. Her drawings are graphic and colourful like these which I own. Jennings’ decorative pieces and patterns are bold and eye catching, coordinating with the accessories and shoes. The illustrations are known to represent the ‘Dudu’ look associated with London fashion brand Biba and icon Twiggy.
Laura Ashley’s designs were influenced by her environment, demonstrating classic country styling. She reached for inspiration from past eras like the 18th and 19th century floral patterns and paisleys. Fashionencyclopedia describes Ashley’s style as possessing an “old world charm with individual rustic freshness”. In contrary to this statement, Jennings’ illustrations present a vivid attractive appeal to Ashley’s dresses. Perhaps this was a revitalised way of rebranding Ashley especially after a decline in the 1990s when her designs were perceived as ‘outdated and frumpy’. The figures in the illustrations are simple and appear young with their long bouncy hair. They are continuous line drawings not overpowering the centre of attraction which are the dresses. Unlike other illustrators, Roz Jennings uses illustration in a far more representational way than for illustrative advertising purposes.
Kenneth Paul Block (1924-2009)
Block’s career began from the 50s through to the 90s where he worked closely with Women’s Wear Daily and W Magazine. He explores pose and gesture portraying the women in his illustrations to possess a more important story than the clothes. Like the quote by Rachel Stevens, “its not what you wear, it’s how you wear it”, the movement created in Blocks illustrations visually demonstrates this. His confident use of brush to create marks and paint drips creates a more loose and relaxed interpretation of these women in the foreground almost mimicking their walk. This adds to the overall effect of movement conveyed.
21st Century: David Downton (1959-)
David Downton is more of a portrait artist, but his style reminisces that of delicate old-fashion portraiture in early fashion illustrations . In an interview with Vanity Fair, he says “I like the images to float on the surface of the paper as though they had just ‘happened’”.