Fashion Illustration History- The Evolution

Being a legitimate art form, fashion illustrations are featured in publications, marketing campaigns, and posters to raise brand awareness and showcase collections. Most importantly, they provide artists with a platform to express their individuality. Before digital photography, the legendary glossy publications we still yearn for today were packed with the illustrated visions of the era’s eminent fashion designers

As gatekeepers of new aesthetic trends, fashion illustrators have immortalized the groundbreaking styles of history’s most influential fashion houses. They have also encouraged the high-end fashion industry to keep working with artists and their work. Here’s all you need to know about fashion illustration history.

Fashion Illustration History- Overview

During the reign of Louis XIV in France, the first fashion journals appeared, marking the birth of a new art form: fashion illustration. In particular, the stencil painting method originated in the pages of “The Journal des dames et des styles,” a publication that attracted many artists and illustrators. Artists abound in the history of fashion illustration, which is intertwined with the history of society and the habits of the moment.

Fashion Illustration History Dates Back to the 16th Century

The first examples of fashion illustration date back to the sixteenth century, when a newfound interest in the clothing and accessories of individuals worldwide had arisen due to travel and discovery. Several books depicting the proper attire of various social classes and cultures were published to calm the public’s fears of the unknown and prevent further social turmoil brought on by these revelations. More than two hundred collections of woodcuts, engravings, or etchings featuring plates of persons dressed in clothing indicative of ethnicity or social standing were released between 1520 and 1610. These were the earliest examples of fashion illustration as we know it now. The pictures most likely made their way to tailors and their customers, who were inspired to create new garments.

Artists like Jacques Callot (1592–1635) and Abraham Bosse (1602–1676) of the 17th century used cutting-edge engraving methods to capture period fashions in exquisite detail. Le Mecure Gallant, The Lady’s Magazine, La Gallerie des Modes, Le Cabinet des Modes, and Le Journal des Dames et des Modes, among others, are among the earliest fashion periodicals, initially appearing in France and England in the 1670s and beyond. Many more magazines and journals appeared at this time because of the rising number of educated women interested in style. Beginning in the late eighteenth century and continuing until the early nineteenth century, depictions of men’s fashions were just as crucial as those of women’s.

More Developments in Fashion Illustration in the 18th Century

In the later part of the 18th century, the fashion plate flourished in Paris thanks to periodicals like Horace Venet’s Incroyables et Merveilleuses. Georges-Jacques Gatine (1773-1824) engraved this collection of fashion plates from his watercolor drawings of Napoleon I’s era’s fashions. Due to France’s status as the fashion industry’s gatekeeper, fashion illustration was in high demand domestically and internationally. More than 150 fashion publications with accompanying fashion plates were first published in the nineteenth century due to the increased interest in and access to attractive clothing. These meticulously rendered images of clothing and accessories both documented emerging styles and taught readers how to sew in general. Expert artists like the Colin sisters and Florensa de Closménil brought these stories to life through their pictures.

Full-Colored Prints Replaced Hand-Colored Prints in the 19th Century

In the 1860s, couture clothing became a trend. Artists were employed by fashion businesses to work closely with the couturier, sketching the latest looks while they draped the fabric over a live model. Additionally, they made pictures of each design in the final collection to be forwarded to customers. Full-color printing had mostly phased out hand-colored prints by the end of the nineteenth century. The trend of showing two models on fashion plates developed so that garments could be seen from all sides and copied more easily. In the nineteenth century, illustrators prioritized realism and precision. They followed established iconographic standards to convey meaning to their audiences.

Spontaneous Growth in Fashion Illustration in the 20th Century

This post would be incomplete without exploring fashion illustration history in the 20th century. At the turn of the twentieth century, fashion illustration grew increasingly graphic and relied more on the artist’s personal style. Charles Dana Gibson’s (1867-1944) rough sketches of the modern American woman, with her upswept hair and shirt-waist, defined a type and offered a funny, occasionally sarcastic commentary on contemporary American life.

The genre of fashion illustration as we know it now emerged in the early 20th century. As the distribution of trending designs developed into a lucrative industry, the act of drawing itself evolved into a profession. Once the domain of creative individuals, the fashion business is now mass-producing items at an unparalleled rate to meet the demands of retailers. Shops like these gave birth to retail therapy as a national habit. Paul Poiret, the Parisian couturier, commissioned CDs from musicians like Paul Iribe for a special edition release (1883-1935). Iribe debuted pochoir-printed figures in 1908. The approach was based on traditional Japanese screenprinting techniques and involved hand-applying many layers of color through separate stencils. Poirot, already well-received for his jewel-tone palette and clear graphic line, has now connected his new, exotic shapes without corsets with the high society of the art world.

Fashion Illustration History- Top Illustrious Artists of the 20th Century

Gazette du beau ton, a French high fashion journal that ran from 1912 to 1925, was a hub for a generation of young artists who were granted complete creative control over their work. Each edition included up to ten full-color pochoir plates and multiple croquis design concepts. Several illustrious artists, like Charles Martin (1848-1934), Eduardo Garcia Benito (1892-1953), George Barbier (1882-1932), Georges Lepape (1887-1971), and Umberto Brunelleschi, contributed to the acclaimed magazine and Iribe was among them (1879-1949). They combined the contemporary geometric simplicity of Art Deco with the traditional Japanese woodblock prints to create the plates for the Gazette.

The Roles of Magazines in the 20th Century’s Fashion Illustration

Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, two American fashion magazines read by a large audience, reported on events in the social world and discussed the latest in apparel and cosmetics. Between 1915 and 1938, Harper’s Bazaar and Erte were bound by one of the longest exclusive contracts in publishing history thanks to Harper’s Bazaar’s agreement to print only Erte’s work. From its inception in 1910 until the start of World War II in 1939, every issue of Vogue featured an illustration on its cover. American illustrators Helen Dryden (1882–1972), George Wolf Plank (1883–1965), Georges Lepape (1887–1971), and F. X. Leyendecker (1903–1974) all contributed to the early covers of Vogue (1876-1924). European artists such as Eduardo Benito (1891-1981), Charles Martin (1884-1934), Pierre Brissaud (1884-1964), and Andre Marty (1890-1965) joined them after World War One.

American designers began looking elsewhere for inspiration when the economy tanked after the 1929 stock market crash, decreasing their reliance on Paris. In the years between the wars, the American clothing industry achieved enormous advancements in mass production, including the standardization of sizes and the improvement of large-scale production procedures. For cheaper versions of haute couture looks, middle-class ladies sought out the services of professional dressmakers, while aspiring home seamstresses benefited greatly from the patterns published in magazines like Vogue and Women’s Journal. During severe supply shortages and limitations, women during World War II found it difficult to preserve any semblance of a fashionable lifestyle.

Vogue’s primary mission was to educate its audience about the fashion industry. Due to the advent of photography, illustrators were no longer required to create a photorealistic depiction of the apparel being worn. This allowed for more creative license in their depictions of the latest fashions. “The artists were only interested in generating humorous drawings and decorative effects…they were bored to death by anything like a duty to portray the spirit of contemporary fashion properly,” the magazine publishers reportedly whined. Magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar helped keep fashion illustration alive by publishing the work of artists like Christian Berard (1902-1949), Eric [Carl Erickson] (1891-1958), Erté [Romain de Tirtoff] (1892-1990), Marcel Vértes (1895-1961), Rene Bouché (1906-1963), and René Gruau (1908-2004). The postwar fashion rebirth owes much to Dior’s “New Look” from the late 1940s. It was, in many respects, an outdated fashion that looked backward rather than forwards, but it was also a metaphor for the return of happier, more optimistic times.

The Rise and Fall of Fashion Illustration

By the 1950s, fashion magazines were devoting a larger portion of their resources on photography for editorial spreads. As a result, illustrators were relegated to working on lingerie and accessory pieces, or in advertising campaigns, while fashion photographers became A-listers. While many teen publications appeared in the 1960s, featuring fashion art as a cheaper alternative to photography, the trend quickly died out. Instead of dictating, their job was to serve as a source of motivation and ideas. Covers were infrequently illustrated, and artists like Rene Bouché, Alfredo Bouret (1928-2018), Tod Draz (1943-1987), and Tom Keogh were frequently included in editorial illustrations. After beginning his work at Women’s Wear Daily, Antonio Lopez (1943-1987) became the only artist to appear regularly in Vogue. It was not until the 1980s that fashion illustration, which had declined for much of the century’s second half, saw something of a revival. La Mode en Peinture (1982), Vanity (1981) by Condé Nast, and Visionaire (1980) were among the publications that gave a voice to a new generation of artists (1991). Advertising campaigns are largely responsible for this renaissance, especially one run by Barney’s New York between 1993 and 1996, featuring clever graphics by Jean-Philippe Delhomme.

Notable Fashion Illustrators

This fashion illustration history section highlights top illustrators who have a lasting impact on fashion illustration.

Georges Lepape

Georges Lepape was a pioneer in the field of fashion illustration, having been born in Paris in 1887. His greatest work, “Los Cose de Paul Poiret,” the designer’s second advertising brochure, was commissioned by the man whose name could sound familiar to us: fashion designer Paul Poiret, who saw one of his exhibits in 1919. His work evoked the Russian ballets of the past and those of the Orient, the Far East, and Japan. The people shown inside the catalog take the reader by the hand and show them a world of romanticism, full of real-life situations that are nevertheless shrouded in mystery and beauty. As his notoriety grew, he began creating commercials, covers, catalogs, and even fabrics for some of the world’s most prestigious fashion publications.

Kenneth Paul Block

After founding the American fashion industry weekly Women’s Wear Daily in 1954, this illustrator from New York City remained its owner until the publication folded in 1992. Kenneth Paul Block attended Parsons School of Design and graduated in 1945, all the while captivated by the dance and cinema of the day. His early works for Fairchild Publications were fairly methodical and straightforward; nevertheless, he soon began painting stylish and beautiful women, fusing elements of portraiture and illustration to give his subjects a sophisticated look. His drawings of  Gloria Guinness, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Babe Paley are some of his best-known works. You had to read his magazine to stay on top of the latest fashions.

Antonio Lopez

Born in Puerto Rico in 1943, Antonio Lopez is a member of the Boomer generation. His family eventually settled in the United States, where he earned a degree in fashion illustration from the prestigious Traphagen School of Fashion. His illustrations were a breath of fresh air among the tables that depicted characters dressed in bourgeois garments of haute couture. He contributed to publications like Vogue and the New York Times and designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Versace, and Missoni. His models were usually his friends, and he sketched them in real life. His models were usually his friends, and he sketched them in real life. He captured them in humorous and striking stances, with ideals of beauty that were far from being met.

The Bottom Line- Fashion Illustration History

Nearly 500 years have passed since fashion illustration first appeared. Fashion illustrations have been needed for as long as there have been garments to illustrate. Fashion illustrations are both a visual representation of a garment’s design and an artistic medium in its own right. Many accomplished artists contributed to these illustrations, like the Colin sisters and Florensa de Closménil. But illustrators like Antion Lopex stepped up their game and deserve recognition in fashion illustration history as important figures in the development of this fashion genre.

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Fashion Illustration History- The Evolution The art of fashion illustration has evolved and changed in many ways. Learn everything you need to know about fashion illustration history.
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