Before fashion-photography superstars such as Helmut Newton, David Bailey and Patrick Demarchelier, fashion magazines relied on their own illustrious illustrators to parade the modes of the day. And, somewhat surprisingly, in recent years this art form has been radically reappreciated.
An exhibition by Mayfair’s Fashion Illustration Gallery (FIG), hosted at Christie’s South Kensington, is running from December 13 to 19 and features works from fashion illustrators such as Gladys Perint Palmer (including work for Ungaro, first picture, £2,500) and David Downton (including for Angelina and Joyce, second picture, £4,000, and Audrey Hepburn for Vanity Fair, third picture, £10,000).
“The genre of fashion illustration has been overlooked for too long,” says William Ling, founder of FIG. “We believe the best illustrations of fashion reflect something of the way we are and want to be. Handcrafted works by the world’s best fashion artists can be both beautiful and moving.”
Ling’s wife Tanya is a fashion illustrator, and he started FIG in 2007, when “I made it my business to create a gallery that exhibits artists who work in the field at a level I was interested in. Rarely a day goes by without an enquiry from a new collector because, while the works by our artists are of museum quality, they remain for the time being affordable – which makes them highly collectable.”
Fashion houses also take the art of fashion illustration seriously. This show is being held in partnership with Issa London, the company whose dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore for her engagement announcement. Camilla Al Fayed, chairwoman of Issa London, says, “Illustration has long been appreciated by the fashion world as a form of expression that captures the essence of dressing and the brand.”
In this digital world, what do fashion artists hope to communicate to a modern audience? “I try to convey the energetic hurly burly of the atmosphere backstage at shows,” explains artist Marko Matysik. “I use everything close to hand – watercolours, oils, charcoal, lipstick – and sometimes I incorporate objects from the show itself. A stray button or feather is never safe when I’m around. It’s the DNA of a show, and I’m ready with a glue-stick to preserve it for posterity.”
Could make a rather chic Christmas present, no?