Changing face of drawing fashion

Drawing – as in the traditional art of applying pen to paper – maybe a dead medium in certain design disciplines, yet surprisingly it has remained a major force in fashion design. The advent of photography changed the role of the medium, but it has evolved to represent a brand’s history and identity.

‘Drawing Fashion’, a new exhibition at London’s Design Museum, sets out to explore this through a rich collection of fashion illustration from the 20 and 21 century collected over 30 years by Joelle Chariau of Munich’s Galerie Bartsch & Chariau who is a leading experts in this field. Working with fashion historian and writer Colin McDowell, the duo have put together a rather impressive exhibition that charts the evolution of fashion drawing through art nouveau, deco, pop, until the present day.

Originally used as a tool for advertising and showing people how to dress, illustration was forced into finding a new identity with the onset of photography. When Vogue replaced illustration on its cover with photography in the 30s, fashion illustration was forced into exile. This, though, was a short lived absence, and soon illustration found its place evolving alongside photography – adding what the new medium couldn’t offer which is visual luxury.

Gathered under one roof, these illustrations – some are more art than fashion – are not only a wonderful overview of the changing ‘fashions’ in fashion drawing, and a glimpse into the style of the time, but also a reminder of the impact it has had on fashion photography itself.

The exhibition includes drawings from the house of Chanel, Dior, Comme des Garcons, Poiret, Lacroix, McQueen and Viktor & Rolf. Also on show are rare works by key artists at the height of their careers. These include drawings by art deco illustrator Georges Lepape – who incidentally also drew programmes for the famous Ballets Russes.

Others include Rene Gruau, one of the key figures in this area who represented fashion as art. Working in the 40s and 50s, Gruau was a favourite of the haute couture world. His illustrations fused art and fashion, highlighting something unique in the way fashion can be portrayed which had a profound impact on fashion advertising and marketing.

Most evocative are drawings by Antonio (Antonio Lopez), a regular on the cover of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, always capturing the spirit of these decades. There are also drawings by current leading artists in this field including Aurore de la Morinerie, Mats Gustafson and Francois Berthoud.

In the rather fickle world of fashion, it is comforting to find an exhibition that places something as seemingly trivial as fashion illustration in a wider context through film clippings of the artists at work, and rare magazine covers that help breath life into these pieces.

‘Drawing Fashion’ is on at the Design Museum until 6 March 2010.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

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