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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Drawing Fashion at the Design Museum

A new exhibition at the Design Museum explores fashion illustration through the ages: Erté and Lapape in the 1920s, Gruau and Bouché in the 1950s, Antonio Lopez in the 1980s and the modern greats such as Gustafson and Berthoud…

Written by Gavin Mackie

Illustration by Daria Hlazatova

Fashion illustration. You may have noticed we get pretty excited about the genre, particularly with Amelia’s new book on the way. Drawing Fashion at the Design Museum has been hotly anticipated and it doesn’t let down. Put together by Joelle Chariau of Galerie Bartsch & Chariau over 30 years, the show covers fashion illustration from the early 20th century forward. The present installment at the Design Museum is the first time the collection has been shown together.

The quick overview: the show captures the power of illustration to reflect not only the fashion but also the tone of the times, in a way unique to other media forms such as photography. It proves that although photography has become the predominant media from the 1930s, illustration still holds a valid and special place in fashion.


George Lepape

The longer version: split into five eras, the exhibit focuses the viewer to the changing role of fashion illustration and its connection to the culture it is a part of. The first, From Gold to Silver 1910-29, captures the optimism and new worldviews of the early 20th century with bold use of colours, a new vibrancy and a focus on lifestyle in the illustrations. The single figures of Erté, the Vogue and La Gazette du Bon Ton George Lepape covers bring out the new silhoette of the 1920s. Stylised illustrations celebrate the lifestyles that few could afford, but which encapsulate post war enthusiasm. The highlight here: George Lepape’s Chapeaux D’Hiver for Le Bon Ton in pen, ink and watercolour, showing both the original and use in editorial.

Moving forward to 1930-46, the tone of Time & Decay reflects the changing times: the depression, the movement of focus from Paris to America during the war years, the popularity of the cinema and a focus on leisure and sportswear in fashion. This more casual tone is brought through the illustration, with looser strokes, more muted colours and more introspective compositions. This section highlights the talent of Bernard Blossac and René Bouché.


René Gruau

Enthusiasm returns in New Rhythms, New Rules 1947-59, introducing Dior‘s ‘New Look‘ in 1947. The illustrations of Réne Gruau perfectly capture the ‘exagerated elegance’ of Dior’s bold new style. His bold use of colour and line, with a predominance of red, white, back and orchre shine through this section of the exhibit. The timelessness of the illustrations is highlighted by a Vogue Paris cover illustration, first published in the 1950s, republished for the Juin/Juillet 1985 edition, that would look equally contemporary today. Another highlight is a single pink glove, showing a movement from full figure to individual detail and objects of the body.


Antonio Lopez

The true star of the show is Antonio (Lopez), the sole focus of Liberty & Licence, taking the viewer through 1960-89. Anotonio’s bold graphics in pencil and watercolour celebrate the dynamic feminism of the 1970s and especially the 1980s. This is power illustration to the max, matching the era’s power dressing with big shoulders, tight waists and attitudes to match. Hitting the mood of each decade, Antonio’s style adapts through the 1960s-80s, with a focus on form and art.


François Berthoud

The exhibit concludes with The Tradition Continues 1990-2010 and Fashion Drawing for the Future. The illustrations chosen in this section react against ‘the cult of the individual’ and big budget commerciality of fashion and advertising. Matts Gustafson and François Berthoud show new paths forward in terms of form and technique. Berthoud’s Allure de Chanel for Rebel, France (enamel on paper) reduces the figure to positive and negative forms.


Mats Gustafson

Overall, illustrations are more moody and suggestive and are often simplified to form, colour and movement. An Aurore de la Morinere for Christian Lacroix published in Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazine loses the form of figure and clothes to a shimmer of colours, becoming etherial and fantasy rather than any depiction of the body. A dark illustration for Alexander McQueen with the figure walking away from the viewer and displayed alone poignently reminds of the loss of this fashion great.

There is currently a resurgence of interest in fashion illustration and Drawing Fashion celebrates this. With any retrospective, it’s difficult to cover everything and there are a few illustrators missing – notably David Downton who we interviewed recently. The exhibition, however, demonstrates illustration’s power to take the viewer beyond the simple display of clothes and connecting what we wear with the mood, ideologies and changing tides of the 20th century.

Get all the information you need, including the line up of talks associated with the exhibition, in our listings section.

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