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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

The House of Viktor & Rolf: Illustrating Fashion

Barbican Gallery , 26th June 2008

Written by Lucy Barrett

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The second in the series of the Barbican Fashion Lates, presented by the Fashion Illustration Gallery (FIG) hosted presentations and an informal discussion with three of the world’s most renowned fashion illustrators.

While I entered the small, grey, less than fabulous conference room on the building’s 4th floor the tight corridor outside held an array of individuals holding out all hopes for absent ticket holders in order to gain a much wanted seat at this sold out event. As usual though it was who you know, not what you know as a group of Gladys Perint Palmer’s acquaintances were let in without having splashed out a penny on the £3 tickets.

Gladys Perint Palmer, David Downton and Francois Berthoud were the brilliant fashion illustrators who graced us with their presence. Michael Ling from FIG introduced the artists while first discussing if fashion illustration should be classed as art. Of course he is ridiculously biased, making his living from such work. There were a number of plugs for his website as he encouraged us to buy, buy, buy, “now is the time” he said. At the end his children were stuffing flyer upon flyer for FIG in to my hand. Never the less, an illustrator myself, I do agree with him in that of course, all illustration is art. Desirable, museum worthy and collectable it’s as valid an art form as any other.

David Downton went on to state his belief that fashion magazines are richer for including hand drawn images. Without drawings a magazine is purely a catalogue whilst illustrations make you stop and look, whether you like them or not. His view was we have been all the poorer in recent decades for having lost fashion illustrations in couture magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

Downton, close friends with Erin O’Connor and the like, is perhaps most recently famous for his work with Marks and Spencer. Those lovely ink and brush drawings of Erin, Twiggy and Lily Cole adorning many M&S bag’s for life, that’s all the work of Downton. His beautiful brush strokes, selective use of colour and simple lines have made him one of my favourite illustrators, whom I have admired for quite some time. If you’re not so familiar he is definitely worth a Google search at least!

Gladys Perint Palmer works at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Much older than the other two illustrators present, she is still working hard, recently selling successful publications at both the London and New York Book Fairs. She mixes humour, text and image, and her work though perhaps not as beautiful as Downton is far more fun with an air of passion and excitement.

Francois Berthoud began his career in comic strips before he got his big break from Anna Piaggi to combine all his passions within fashion illustration. Not a born presenter, audience enthusiasm began to dwindle at this point as he mumbled his way through a handful of images. Berthoud has done much work for Viktor & Rolf, including Flag Woman 2000 included in V&R’s first ready to wear collection “Stars and Stripes”. His work shows more vector based imagery and is less like the hand drawn work of Downton and Perint Palmer. His illustrations are more graphic and experimental in medium (e.g. the famous x-ray image for V&R where line images of the whole collection are layered on top of one another). Far less of the brush and ink approach.

Afterwards we were all invited to the Level 3 gallery where Tanya Ling was conducting a live fashion illustration performance. Her table was full to the brim with paper, brushes and a rainbow of acrylic paints. She was producing vibrant pieces in minutes, painting from a book of V&R collections. Although the illustrations were not realistic they captured the essence of V&R perfectly each showing energy, flow and life.

As an extremely interesting and thought provoking evening I would definitely recommend any of the Late Night events. I was thoroughly inspired, and began sorting out my paints as soon as I returned home!

The only downside of the evening for me was when I simply enquired how much Tanya Ling would sell her images for “I don’t think they’d be in you budget” replied her husband looking down his nose at me. I may not have been designer clad but I had made quite an effort I thought! He was right though… £1250 a piece.

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