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Bringing Fashion Illustration Back From The Dead
By: Edwina Owens Elliott
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The other day I gave a set of note cards featuring my fashion illustrations to a new friend. She lamented over what she deemed ‘the death of fashion art’ and spoke wistfully of the days, many years ago now, when designers and big retailers, Saks, Bloomingdales, Lord & Taylor, etc. used illustration almost exclusively for their fashion ads. “Everyone looks the same now,” she said. “You can’t tell one from the other.” And I guess that’s true for many because even if like my friend, you knew absolutely nothing about fashion illustration, in time you learned to recognize the print ads of each retailer or fashion house not only by their logo but by their style of art. Antonio Lopez, George Stavrinos, Kenneth Paul Block and several others were fashion art rock stars back in the day. Many of their ads were quite breathtaking. And those full pagers in Women’s Wear Daily or the Sunday New York Times were often masterpieces.
Would it be so outrageous to return to that form of advertising? Fashion advertising in particular? Instead of featuring photography so heavily manipulated and retouched that it resembles an illustration (see BMA’s The Question of Accepting Image Retouching, Dec. 3, 2012), what if a retailer or a designer elected to forego the photographer, the models, the hair and makeup stylists, the sets, props and the Photoshop wizardry, and instead brought in one person — an illustrator — armed with pencils, inks, and a sketchpad or drawing tablet, to interpret their ads?
It’s always been this blogger’s contention that there is room in fashion advertising for both photography and illustration. Having been on both sides of the fence as a fashion illustrator and a photo art director, I really don’t have a personal stake in this issue nor an axe to grind. But the diversity would be refreshing today and trust me; the first one to do it would stand out from the crowd. That is, until everyone else started doing it too. Isn’t that always the way? But in this case even a copycat mentality couldn’t hurt. Different artists would bring different art styles to the page and the diversity would remain, unlike with photography that, to the eye of your everyday consumer, all seems to look the same.
In spite of my photog friends lining up to break my fingers for this, I still believe there is room for both. And it looks as if the stage is being set as we speak for a major illustration comeback. Antonio Lopez, Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco debuted in September and the book, featuring the late artist’s illustrations for Bloomingdale's, Missoni, and Versace among many others, has sold 1000s of copies to date. Think no one’s paying attention?

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About the Author

Edwina Owens Elliott is a graphic designer, art director, illustrator and owner of FASHION+ART, an e-commerce art gallery. She has a lifelong passion for fashion, art, writing, music, movies, books, theater, cooking, gardening, plotting and planning and dreaming big dreams. Find her online here and here.

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