While perusing the large, beautiful body of work by fashion illustrator Bil Donovan, it’s hard to believe that one of his teachers once told him, “You don’t have what it takes… you can’t draw”. But the young Philadelphian became obsessed with pursuing his passion, sketching everything in sight and getting a job straight out of school as the in-house illustrator to avant-garde fashion designer Giorgio di Sant’Angelo. Three decades later, his watercolour sketches have been requested by the likes of Carolina Herrera and Thom Browne; his work is in the costume collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and he’s been the artist-in-residence at Dior for almost a decade. It’s safe to say he has succeeded in his aim – and his teacher has since apologised.
Donovan doesn’t accept private commissions, except the occasional donation for a charity auction, but the demand for his work has led him and his partner, Ken Nintzel, to make select prints available online. “We started small,” he explains of the venture, “but we have been very busy.” The prints are a range of limited and open editions (from 10 to 150) and come in a range of sizes, all unframed. His fashion works include studio and runway sketches such as his 2011 piece New York Fashion Week (from $200), of models in Ralph Rucci’s Spring Chado collection, and are complemented by a stylised depiction of Audrey Hepburn (from $200) and his brush-and-ink Landmark Series of famous sites such as Grand Central Station (from $275).
In addition, the illustrator’s work is, fittingly, available in wearable form. Friends who own a silk mill in Como, Italy, that produces pieces for Prada and Hermès approached Donovan about immortalising some of his works in silk, and he jumped at the chance. The resulting square and rectangular scarves, in a variety of sizes, are priced from $125. But Donovan’s favourite piece overall remains one of his fashion illustrations. “It’s a drawing I did for designer Ralph Rucci live in his studio. It’s called Figure in Orange [from $200]; I think it’s exquisite.”