Fashion illustration is perhaps not the major art it was in the days before the immediacy of photography took over, when the work of artists such as Erté and Bouché not only graced the covers of magazines such as Vogue but influenced decorative and graphic style. Of the artists working today, David Downton has perhaps done most to put it back on the map – his spare and elegant work, with its uncanny ability to capture the shape of a dress or a familiar face in comparatively few lines, appears on posters worldwide for everyone from Fenwick and Marks & Spencer to the cover of Australian Vogue.
In his new book, Masters of Fashion lllustration (Laurence King, £30), Downton gives his pick of the best artists of the past century in the context of social and fashion development and recounts his own experiences of a decade of drawing in the intimate setting of haute couture shows, often backstage or in designers’ studios. There is also a portfolio of his own work in the book, and a very few of the originals are currently for sale – and going fast – through the Fashion Illustration Gallery.
Downton’s work has appreciated markedly as he has become better known, and these are, happily, both investments and beautiful items for fashion aficionados to own. Originals start from about £2,500, while prints, in editions of 50 or 100, go from £300.
First picture: Dior Couture, 2009 (original); ink, watercolour and charcoal on paper. Second picture: Chanel, 2008; giclée print. Third picture: Chanel autumn/winter, 2009 (original); gouache on paper and ink on acetate.