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The Vanishing Greatness of Illustration

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Illustrations… those beautiful and inspiring visualizations that come as drawings, paintings, photographs, or other kinds of art with the idea to deliver sensual information in the most fantastic way possible by providing a visual representation graphically. This kind of information is what makes the fashion world not only magical but possible. Without it, we could not speak about anything in this industry, from designs to magazine covers and editorials; graphic design could not come any more glamourous and dreamy than the fashion illustration.

For over 500 years, the fashion illustration has been with us, amusing our eyes and wowing our imaginations. Ever since there have been ideas that need to come alive there has been a need for fashion illustration. And these inventions are not only functional, but they present themselves as a kind of art, a dazzling and small part of somebody’s essence that comes from the deepest desires and aspirations of the authors and collaborators.

Today’s technology has allowed the industry’s creative teams to find a great bunch of options to express themselves, in such new, easy, and unexpected ways that you do not need to be a master with the pencils or the oils to perfectly communicate your idea. From photos to computer-based collages and graphic design software such as Adobe Illustrator, anyone can easily and successfully graphically place any thought on a piece of paper or a computer screen. Thanks to that fantastic technology, there has been a massive decline in fashion illustration, which began in the late 1930s when Vogue began replacing its celebrated and iconic illustrated covers with photos.

According to Laird Borrelli, author of Fashion Illustration Now: “Fashion Illustration has gone from being one of the sole means of fashion communication to having a very minor role. The first photographic cover of Vogue was a watershed in the history of fashion illustration and a watershed mark of its decline. Photographs, no matter how altered or retouched, will always have some association with reality and by association truth. I like to think of them [fashion Illustrations] as prose poems and having more fictional narratives. They are more obviously filtered through an individual vision than photos. Illustration lives on, but in the position of a poor relative to the fashion.”

The real fashion illustration has become a kind of haute-couture of representative ideas. Some time ago, great designs came with fantastic images; a lot of hard work had to be done in order to prepare those magnificent pieces that could be classified as art. But these days, design students do not even bother to learn how to draw because of the availability of simple software that in some cases comes with templates which can be easily transformed. Mediocre designers feel like they do not need to find a way to cleverly express their ideas in the the most appropriate way possible. Neither design companies nor magazines feel the need to hire magnificent illustrators; they only need somebody who can run the appropriate software. Which is the natural course of the industry – it has to save money and make everything faster, and in the end it all become disposable work.

So, is it OK for new creative minds to put aside this kind of work? It should not be. Finding the best and most personal way to create and sketch can give an unexpected character and uniqueness to your personal work. Some computer-based designs lack the personality and emotions that can only be brought to life when you can feel and enjoy what you are doing, finding your own voice. When you design a t-shirt by hand, that special stroke that you have is so great that no computer or other human being could possibly reproduce it, and the outcome could be so magnificent that your work could become iconic pieces.

The products of craftsmanship and handmade work are so distinctive and beautiful that they should be appreciated and valued, and thus should never be forgotten or replaced by new technologies. And, although it seems that the art of illustration is dying, it is only becoming more exclusive and more appreciated by connoisseurs and therefore nowhere near extinguished. It has only found a more exclusive and demanding clientele, which places it in the same category as art. From the biggest and most exclusive fashion brands to magazines like Vogue, the industry continues to work with the most renowned illustrators to create special projects that become the epitome of exclusivity and fantasy. The illustration has earned a coveted spot in that marvelous world of luxury.

It is a shame that the fashion illustration is not what it used to be, that hand drawing has been replaced by computer-based techniques that sometimes lack personality and emotion. But this new wind that has come to the industry has forced the creatives of the field to work as artists, pushing the few who dare to work in this ultra-competitive world to try their best to create masterpieces full of emotion and uniqueness that go beyond the imagination and what we could possibly say in more than a thousand or a million words.

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About Jose Aponte

  • Prince Dmitri Yusupov-Luksiev

    One great fashion illustrator in the recent past was Antonio Lopez. He had a very handsome lover called Juan and they shared a duplex studio in Carnegie Hall which they filled with Art Nouveau objet d’art spenidng every last cent they had on these treasures. Antionio worked for the New York Times and Saks Fifth Avenut with adds of voluptuous illustrations in black and white line drawings of such detail it boggled the mind but of course it was Spanish Art and hardly design since the fashions were lost in the detail and what came out was a Bunuel-Cocteau-Picasso mixture of ideas that one wondered what Saks was selling. Antonio was great friends with Tzaims luksus, Bill Cunningtham, Andy Warhole, Grace Jones and Halston and was last seen at an art opening at Parsons School of Design when Bill Cunningham took their picture toghether: Antonio, Grace and Tzaims…that photo is still in Bill Cunningham’s collection unpublished. Antonio died of AIDS many years ago but not before publishing his book: ANTONIO’S GIRLS. One should look it up and see what his work was like since it came before any kind of computer technology but surpasses anything done today. Other fashion illustrators of note at that time was a girl at Women’s Wear Daily: Sandra…who did quick croquis as did Eugenia Sheppard’s favorite illustrator and critic: Joe Eula. Joe Eula also died of AIDS as did Halston. Halston couldn’t sketch anything but made it big commercially by getting the right financial backer to start up and then sold out to Norton Simon and ended up the way of all flesh.