London Fashion Week opens today as does “Drawing on Style” an impressive exhibition celebrating the work of influential fashion illustrators from René Gruau to David Downton …
With fashion shows largely taking place behind closed doors over the past year, contemporary fashion illustration has taken on a whole new meaning. Its creation is simplistic and entirely in line with the current appetite for individuality. The genre of fashion illustration not only strips things back, but also brings to life the latest seasonal trends through a simple line, brush stroke or splash of colour and instantly provokes a visual reaction.
The exhibition “Drawing on Style” presented by Gray M C A, at Cromwell Place, London, celebrates rare and unseen fashion illustrations from post-war 1940s to the present day. With over 85 drawings on show, many have remained in private collections or artists’ estates and are displayed publicly for the first time. Standout illustrations include work by René Gruau, who epitomised the glamour and sophistication of 1950’s couture and René Bouché, particularly known for his work in Vogue between the 1930s and 1960s, and his original work for Elizabeth Arden from 1949.
“It’s an honour to be included among my peers in Drawing on Style 2021,” says David Downton, one of the exhibitors, “and a special thrill to be showing alongside Gruau, Eric, Bouché and Vertès, giants in the field. These extraordinary artists were pioneers of the concept that fashion drawing could be a fine art as well as a decorative one. We all owe them a debt.” Original works from Downton’s book Drawing Carmen, published to coincide with the 90th birthday of fashion icon Carmen Dell’Orefice, will be on display within the exhibition.
Gladys Perint Palmer
Further contemporary highlights include illustrations by one of the most influential fashion illustrator-journalists of her generation, Gladys Perint Palmer. Covering fashion collections, her witty and spirited drawings were a breath of fresh air in the too often serious world of fashion. Perint Palmer has also illuminated advertising campaigns for Chanel, Dior, Estée Lauder, Geoffrey Beene, Lancôme, Missoni, Neiman-Marcus, Oscar de la Renta, The Metropolitan Museum, Valentino, and Vivienne Westwood. When asked, how long it takes to do a drawing, Perint Palmer replies, “a lifetime. Sometimes seven minutes”.
Italian master Andrea Ferolla is renowned for capturing the elegance and beauty in Italian society with his charming, romantic paintings and drawings defined by quick, sophisticated strokes. He graduated from the University of Rome with a Masters in art history and is a professor of Graphic Design in Rome. His body of work is filled with imaginary characters – malicious women, contemporary dandies and animals with distinctive personalities. Regularly published in magazines Ferollla’s illustrations are also used in the collections of bags and scarves edited by Chez Dede, the brand he founded with his wife and partner Daria Reina. Ferolla is also artist in residence at Rome’s Hotel Eden (Downton, of course, is the artist in residence at Claridge’s hotel in London).
Steven Stipelman was born in New York in 1944, and studied art at the High School of Music and Art and then fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology. His first major job as an illustrator was at Henri Bendel in New York, where he did all the fashion advertising for newspapers and catalogues. In 1965, he went to Women’s Wear Daily and was sent to cover all the international collections. He would also cover gala parties and receptions, reporting on who was wearing what, where and when. Now in his 80s, Stipelman still does fashion sketches of socialites for Women’s Wear Daily, often working only from descriptions. He has also illustrated the creations of fashion designers such as Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and many others.
Florida born, Robert Melendez studied fashion illustration at Parsons School of Design, on his sister’s suggestion, and honed his skills in life-drawing classes. He was a leader in the field of American fashion illustration during the mid to late 20th-century and revered for his skilled draftsmanship. His elegant drawings for Saks Fifth Avenue appeared in The New York Times from 1971 – 1973. Melendez was also a staff illustrator for The Tobe Report 1991 – 2005. His illustrious career included clients such as B. Altman & Co., Bonwit Teller, Plymouth Shops, Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman, alongside regular contributions in The New York Times, The Fashions of The Times magazine.
Kenneth Paul Block
Another staffer at Women’s Wear Daily was Kenneth Paul Block (1925 – 2009), who was always impeccably dressed and something of a Dorian Gray character. His graceful strokes captured the gloved, gowned and glamorous women of the late 1950s. His work then evolved into a more fluid style. Block said, “I was never only interested in the clothes. I was more interested in the women in the clothes.” Blending illustration with caricature he drew society swans such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Babe Paley and Gloria Guinness.
Carl Oscar August Erickson
Carl Oscar August Erickson (1891-1958), also known as Eric, was an American fashion illustrator. From 1925 to his death in 1958, he collaborated with British and French Vogue. He also drew advertisings for brands like Coty and Elizabeth Arden. President Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth II, Frank Sinatra and Gertrude Stein are a few of the public figures who sat for him. Eric’s drawings expressed his belief that “more is less”. While his drawings appeared deceptively artless, they were painstakingly arrived at.
“When I came into fashion illustration, it was a dead art, real boring, catalogy, very WASPy,” Lopez told People in 1982. “I gave it a transfusion.” Lopez, who died in 1987, began working for Women’s Wear Daily before being fired and going freelance. Whether working for Vogue or Andy Warhol’s Interview or an ad for Bloomingdale’s, Lopez’s work was initially full of long, thin-limbed people before he changed to a more warbly sherbet aesthetic, inspired by psychedelic culture. Translated to his work, it was soon full of motorcycling blondes or lazy, lingerie-clad ingenues for McCall’s. Lopez was one of the leaders of the hedonistic New York (and Studio 54) fashion crowd and was instrumental in introducing Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange to the world.
Need to Know: “Drawing on Style 2021″ runs from September 15 – 26 at Cromwell Place, London. Accompanying the exhibition will be a ticketed series of in-person curated evening talks with artists such as David Downton, Ali Mahdavi, Jason Brooks, Andrea Ferolla and Gladys Perint Palmer. All events will also be live streamed for those unable to join in-person and the exhibition will also feature an online viewing room. Prices for prints will range from £450 – £15,000. The exhibition will also be available to view on www.drawingonstyle.com.
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