Rebelle meets Frederick Watson: fashion illustrator extraordinaire!

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted anything on fashion illustration so I thought it was about time I turn my attention once again to this fascinating and drop dead gorgeous art form! And I’m starting off with a blast from the past: behold the lovely work Frederick Watson, an illustrator based in Toronto who is certainly old hand fashion illustration. Frederick began drawing at the age of seven and turned his attention to the world of high fashion after a sneaking a peek at a mysterious women’s portfolio while working in a department store in his early twenties and has been producing fashion illustrations from the 60’s to this day.

Frederick was kind enough to share some samples of his work with me and some anecdotes of his years illustrating gorgeous clothes and the women who wear them and why he’d love to see the return of illustration to fashion magazines and advertising. His style is definitely old school but I think you’ll agree it’s still stunning!


 
“When I was a small boy many years ago at the age of about seven years I was drawing women’s faces. At the age of 20 years I got a job at the Robert Simpsons Dept Store in Toronto working as a check room clerk. One day a woman dressed in a black suit, bonnet and veil with a large red rose draped over it and came in carrying a large folio. She checked it in and it was partially open. In it were the most beautiful drawings of high fashion I’d ever seen. I was so excited. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. When she returned I told her how wonderful her drawings were and that I would love to draw like that one day. We kept in touch and she helped me to develop my drawings; I learned so much from her!”

 
“There are many artists that I admire. In New York, I met Kenneth Paul Block. He invited me to his home on River Side Drive and we’ve been good friends ever since. Then I met Richard Ely, another fashion artist in New York. He showed his wonderful art and gave me some of his posters which I framed and still admire. Then there’s Richard Cray; I wish I had that much imagination! I’m also influenced by Rene Gruau who’s art work I spent much time studying.”

 
“I love to see very high fashion art of the past. Artist from the old school drew by hand and did not depend on the computer. I consider myself one of the last of the old school artist. There are a few good ones left like Richard Gray, David Downton, Green Hill, Jae Hyed Crawford.”

       
  
” I feel that fashion drawings convey much more imagination than photography. Every magazine has the same beautiful face of a woman on the cover, which I think becomes very repetitive I would like to see some fine illustrations on some of the covers, I sure miss them!”

 

“No newspapers have fashion illustrations any more. Perhaps that’s a sign that I should give up illustration, it’s certainly why I started to paint large fashion art on canvases instead. Glamour – when women wore fine hats, veils, furs, pearls isn’t seen today to the same degree. Jeans and T-shirts and flip-flop sandals are now the norm! I suppose women do not want to suffer for fashion.” (Not always the case Frederick – there are still many of us ladies who will suffer six-inch stiletto heels in the name of fashion, trust me!!)


 
“I do believe that some of the fashion illustration books being published around the world are inspiring young people to see some of the fine fashion illustrator’s drawings and recreate the art form for advertising purposes in magazines. I’m concerned that most fashion advertising is conveyed through photography not illustration, as it was in the past. Most of the fashion houses that I once worked for in Toronto are using photographs instead which I think is a great shame.”


 
“My last advertising commission was published in the 80s for one of the houses called The Irish Shop. These days I am only painting fashion art for a gallery at the David Leonard Gallery in Niagara Falls Casino Plaza. I’m having work published with www art.com and am very lucky to I have had many successful exhibitions here in Toronto!”

I’d like to say a big thank you to Frederick for sharing his work with me. Be sure to check out his Facebook page facebook.com/frederick.watson3 for more info!

Gemma Cairney’s guide to Glastonbury and other festival faves

Although the British weather would often have us think otherwise, summer is  finally here! And it just isn’t summer without the inclusion of a music festival or two; standing in a muddy field listening to our favourite bands seems to have become part of the fabric of British summertime. When it comes to music, festivals, fashion and style, Radio 1Xtra presenter Gemma Cairneycertainly knows her stuff! As the BBC’s roving reporter for Glastonbury she has guided us through three years of the legendary festival and has also presented alongside the equally stylish Miss Chung on T4’s ‘Frock Me’. Outside the studio, she also works as a stylist and has performed her magic on Florence and the Machine and the Pigeon Detectives.

I asked the lovely Miss Cairnet to share her finest festival moments and her top survival tips!

You’ve been the BBC’s roving reporter at Glastonbury for the past few years; what’s it been like working at Glastonbury?

Mind-blowing! Glastonbury is the father of British festivals and you can feel that in its air. You feel free to do whatever you please and no one will judge you. Nowhere else in the world does it feel so good to be so dirty (in the muddy sense of course). To be asked to illustrate this magic via the TV is a true honour and the only telly job I’ve felt truly represents everything about my real personality. There, I’ve talked fashion, walked a tight rope, screamed, danced hard with the joker and kissed Florence Welch on the lips all with a camera in my face!

What’s been you’re most memorable festival experience?

Well, all of the above were pretty poignant but I think being unofficially recruited (or so I thought) to be my friend’s backing dancer on the Pyramid stage – one of the main stages – one year at Glastonbury in exchange for a ticket. When she asked me, I really thought she meant just ‘sort of’ jump around in the background whilst she sang. But before I knew it, in the lead up to the festival I was attending dance rehearsals and getting fitted for a skeleton outfit! I am no trained dancer, but I learned my steps in time. It involved a lot of shuffling and my body shaking with laughter. That was during my many years of ‘The Blag’!

Who has been the best live act you’ve seen perform, and who are your festival favourites?

I feel guilty to keep referring to Glasto because many other festivals are dear to my heart, but my favourite is Jay Z, who left me a startled, awe ridden, hip hop obsessive when he performed – amongst the controversy – in 2008. You could feel the crowd’s anticipation: ‘Will it work? Won’t it?’ and despite his presence when you saw his face for the first time on stage you could feel his nerves. He aced it and the excitement was INCREDIBLE!

Other festival favourites include Vampire Weekend (my friend cut her lip open last year at Latitude because we were dancing so hard).Florenceand the Machine is just illuminating every single time. (I think it’s because she’s an actual mythical fairy that lives in a tree). Oh and I had the most amazing summer in 2006 where I saw the Strokes three times at three different festivals and fell utterly in love. Oh and that same year I saw Regina Spektor and found her wonderful too … this is a dangerous question; I could go on FOREVER!

Do you have any advice for our readers when it comes to surviving a weekend at a music festival – what are your Do’s and Don’ts?

DON’T wear anything to tight and constricting – you’ll want to roll around.

DO seek out the alternatives to the headliners that persuaded you to get tickets in the first place. There is a lot to be found in comedy/poetry tents.

DON’T believe you’ve fallen in love in two days; it’s likely the ‘free love’ has taken over.

DO meet some of your best friends of the future.

DON’T shoot your load and get too trashed the first night, I know it’s hard, but the hangover WILL leave you feeling guilty.

DO eat some good food. Festivals aren’t talked about because of food, but I’ve got amazing memories of oysters in the woods, amazing Thali, and ostrich burger.

Gemma Cairney will be bringing us all the inside action and gossip from Glasto when she reports live from festival for the BBC this summer and you can catch her show on Radio 1Xtra weekdays from 1-4pm!

SS11 Fashion trend: White

WHITE HOT!!

Monsoon's high street take on romantic white - dress £95

The colour white has long been a key player in our summer wardrobes and on the SS11 catwalks proved no different as we saw designers like Versace, Calvin Klein, Narciso Rodriguez, Nicole Farhi, Yves Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney using dazzling white as a stark contrast to bright colours and bold prints.

We were given plenty of ways to wear the trend too, from crisp, sleek and tailored favoured by Stella McCartney; relaxed, casual and loose-fitting at Calvin Klein or lacy, romantic and boho which we saw at Erdem, Chloe and Emilion Pucci respectively.

                

Romantic vs Minimalist

From Chloe, to Erdem to Dianne Von Frustenberg, designers had us falling hard for the romantic and sexy allure of white, mixing it up with lace, crochet, embroidery, ruffles and sheer, floaty layers. 70’s influences were rife on the SS11 catwalks and when it came to the white, romantic vibe we saw cool, hippy and bohemian girls in white maxi dresses and skirts, embroidered waistcoats, delicately ruffled tops and lace work peasant tunics.

 

Personally, I fell in love with the soft, relaxed and boho looks put together by Alberta Ferretti and Emilio Pucci – the layering, details and movement of garments were gorgeous! The most striking interpretation of the trend was at Dolce and Gabbana, whose beautiful all-white collection was filled with lace and broidery Anglaise. You can get the look for less on the high street at New Look, River Island, Miss Selfridge and Next. Accessorise with stacks of bold silver bangles and necklaces and team white trousers with an embroidered waistcoat and tan wedges.

In contrast to this soft, romantic feeling, we were also given a new take on white in crisp, tailored and minimalist styles. Chic, sleek and seductive with a nod to the glamour of the sexy 70’s, the white trouser suit is this years sleek alternative to a party dress, with the white blazer promising to be a key investment for your summer wardrobe!  

For the Calvin Klein Collection, Francisco Costa embraced minimalism like no other this season with long dresses and wide-legged trouser suits sashaying down the catwalk. Stella McCartney also gave us the ultimate chic summer statement with covetable tailored suits and waistcoats in luxurious silks, long jackets and flattering high-waisted, tapered trousers. The look is relaxed, cool and seriously sexy – the best places to find fairly affordable high street versions of this trend would be Zara and Warehouse.

How to wear the look

The easiest way is to invest in a white blazer and maxi dress or skirt; pair white trousers (if your lucky enough to have the pins to pull them off!) with a crochet/lace waistcoat and opt for plenty of accessories in silver or earthy tones. To really embrace the trend wear head-to-toe white, like below!

Warehouse sleek white Jacket £85 Trousers £55 Hat £16

Black Swan DVD review

Out now on DVD, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, much like its subject matter, is thrilling and darkly majestic, featuring an incredible performance from Natalie Portman as its tormented protagonist. 

Set in the brutal yet beautiful world of ballet, Daren Aronofsky’s psycho-thriller leads us on an intoxicating and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a principal working at a New York ballet company, as she grapples with her dual role as the swan queen.

In a career defining performance, Natalie Portman excels as the troubled Nina Sawyers, whose life is consumed by dance. After years toiling in the chorus, Nina is finally given her chance in spotlight when the company’s chauvinistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) chooses her as the lead in a new version ofSwanLake, replacing his bitter has-been star, Beth (Winona Ryder).

Graceful, delicate and innocent; Nina perfectly embodies the role of the white swan, yet the ballet’s principal must also capture the essence of the evil Black Swan. This demands a wild, alluring and sensual sexuality which Nina lacks, yet the company’s newest member Lily (Mila Kunis) effortlessly embodies.

For Nina to dance both sides of the swan queen, she must let go of her inhibitions and embrace her sexuality (to achieve this, Thomas demands relentless training and masturbation). As Nina attempts to embrace her dark side with reckless abandon, her initial rivalry with Lily morphs into a twisted friendship.

In her unrelenting pursuit of perfection, Nina becomes so absorbed with her character and performance that artistic breakthrough fuses with mental breakdown, and Aronofsky’s distorted use of mirrors become powerfully symbolic of her fracturing mind and personality.

 As her paranoia intensifies, the realms of fantasy and reality dissolve and we become complicit in Nina’s terrifying hallucinations. Her reflection continues to stare back after she has turned away, paintings writh and shriek before her eyes, she imagines horrific self-harm, embarks on a sexual tryst with Lily and begins sprouting feathers.

Although demanding to watch at times, Portman’s award-winning transformation into the swan queen is nothing short of stunning. She endured ten months of gruelling and immersive training to help her deliver a virtuosic performance worthy her ensuing Bafta and Oscar glory. The film’s intricate ballet sequences are delivered and captured beautifully, as Aronofsky’s floating camera tracks his subject’s every movement to thrilling effect.

With costume design playing an integral role, it fell to Amy Westcott to create the company’s elegant attire, with Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy collaborating on the hauntingly beautiful outfits featured the final performance, when Nina surrenders completely to the black swan and performs the role to tragic perfection.

Provocative, powerful and visually arresting, Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a creature of intense beauty; as elegant and mesmerising as it is seething and ferocious.

Exclusive Interview with Janie Bryant: Mad Men’s costume designer Part 2

Read on for the second part of my interview with the extrememly talented women behind Mad Men’s costume design, in which she tells all about the women in Mad Men, working with Christina Hendricks and how to achieve tht that sexy sixties silhouette …  

 

 

 

 

(make sure to check out the complete editorial version of my interview with Janie at http://issuu.com/noirmagazineuk/docs/noirmagazine6 for more on what goes into creating the wardrobe of the most stylish show on telly!)

So Janie, are you a fan of 60’s style, and when did you first become familiar with 60’s fashion?

I think we use fashion to be beautiful and the Mad Men era, the 50s and early 60s, was so ladylike and elegant. The colours, the fabrics – everything about the period is beautiful. I’m a big fan of this era because the silhouettes are so flattering; they take inspiration from art, sculpture and architecture. Mad Men appeals to me so much because the period is elegant and sharp.

How do you go about creating the Mad Men wardrobe?

Creating the wardrobe for Mad Men is a combination of designing and building costumes from scratch, buying vintage, sometimes redesigning vintage pieces and renting costumes from the amazing shops in Los Angeles.

What’s been your favourite outfit used in the show?

There are so many! One of my favourites would have to be Joan’s red Christmas dress from season four. I designed this for her. It was wool crepe, silk satin around the neckline and cuffs and bows. I loved that dress on her but I also loved the way she moved in it during the scene with the conga line at the office Christmas party. Christina Hendricks who plays Joan has an amazing figure. She truly is the sexy bombshell of the office.  

What has Christina been like to work with and how have you gone about her costume design? 

I love working with Christina and we share a love of her character. Christina has an appreciation for her costume and how it informs her characterisation of Joan. She loves the details of the costumes like the scarves tied to Joan’s handbags and the bows on her dresses.    

The jewel tones Christina wears are a fabulous contrast with her alabaster skin and red hair and all work towards portraying her character’s strength in the office. Joan is a very sexy character and her costumes, from the tight sweaters and pencil skirts to the ruby sheath dresses, reflect this along with her poise and self-possession.

Joan wields a lot of power in the office for a woman, how have you reflected this through her costumes?

Joan is one sassy lady. She tells it as she sees it which inspired me to use a lot of strong colour in her palette on the show. This is in direct contrast with the mossy, earthy tones of other women in the office in less influential positions. Joan wears clothes that show us she understands the power of her femininity – clothes that show off that amazing hourglass figure. 

How do you go about shaping that perfectly sculpted silhouettes on Joan and the rest of the female cast?

On Mad Men the actors know all about the importance of great undergarments. The foundations of a costume help to create a beautiful line and it’s amazing how long-line bras and girdles can help create this. It’s not purely about the clothes because the actors use these foundations to help them to fully inhabit their characters. Wearing the proper underwear from the period is part of the creative process and the transformation through costume. It was important for me to give the actors the same experience of getting dressed that women in that period had. There can be discomfort, and of course I’ll help with a little pad of moleskin or other ways to make it more comfortable for them. Christina now comes into my fitting room and announces “I love my bra, I love my girdle”!

Both Peggy and Betty have grown more independent and confident as the series progressed, how did you reflect this through their costumes?

In terms of Peggy’s character arc overall she has changed so much. In season one when Peggy was pregnant and struggling with both her private life and issues in the workplace her costumes got uglier and uglier as time went on. In season four she is really coming into her own in the workplace and her clothes reflect bolder choices and a greater level of sophistication. In this season she wore a black and mustard windowpane dress, a navy dress with red inserts and one that I particularly loved was her grey and black wool crepe dress with a full skirt and big bow at the neckline. Peggy’s costumes are graphic, multilayered and strong, the same as her character.

Many of Betty’s transformations occur through colour. Take for example season two, Betty wears what I called her “sad clown dress” when she is hosting dinner and is “performing” to her house guests. She has this huge transformation in the story when she’s finally realising who her husband Don Draper is and this is the first time we see her in really strong colours – bright yellow, green and turquoise.  It was important to me to have a shift in her colour palette at this point. One of my favourite costumes for Betty was during her trip to Italy with Don. She wears this dramatic black fringed dress – again a time of another transformation in her character. In season four it is all about Betty being the perfect politician’s wife and her clothing reflects this. During this season my inspiration for Betty’s costumes come from Jackie Kennedy.

Out of all the characters, whose wardrobe would you love to steal for yourself?

Trudy’s wardrobe is very appealing to me because I envision her as the younger, city version of Betty.  She wears some very fashionable fabrics and optimistic shades of blue. I love her hats too. I’d like to steal some of those for myself.

In terms of costume design, what other period would you like to bring to life?

This is always difficult to answer. I love the Baroque period, I love the Romantic period and I love the 1970s. I would wear a gown every day of my life if I could!

Exclusive interview with Janie Bryant: Mad Men’s costume designer Part 1

 Janie Bryant is the exceptional Emmy-winning costume designer behind Mad Men; the acclaimed American drama set in the advertising world of 60’s New York, and arguably the sexiest and most stylish television series in recent years. The show’s cultural and sartorial impact has been immense and Bryant’s influence on the fashion industry is equally undeniable – her recreation of the period’s fashion has inspired the collections of top designers including Prada, Louis Vuitton and Thom Browne, and has also had a profound effect on our wardrobes!

 

In an exclusive interview, Bryant talks about creating the Mad Men aesthetic, the importance of costume design and bringing vintage sixties fashion back into vogue.

What do you think of the influence Mad Men has had on designers and fashion trends since 2008?

It’s amazing and such an honour each and every time I hear that the show has inspired people.  It has also been very gratifying for me on a personal level since I started my career as a fashion designer too, to know that the fashion community has been interested in the show.  I feel like my path has come full circle.  Vintage clothing has always been such a big part of my lifestyle and there is a sense it has become more popular since Mad Men, and I’m so flattered when top designers like Prada, Thom Browne and others cite my work as an influence on their collections.

You started out as a fashion designer, how did you move into costume design?

I think that my interest in the transformative power of costume was there from a very young age.  I used to dress up all the time as a little girl and would dress my Barbies in outfits I created for them using upholstery swatch books my mother used to decorate the home.  I was obsessed with watching old movies and spent a great deal of my childhood experimenting with fashion.  I studied fashion design at college, lived in Paris and then moved to New York.  At a party in New York City I met a costume designer and knew this was the perfect career to combine my passion for film and my love for fashion. I particularly enjoy getting into the psychology and motivation of a character and looking at all the choices a person makes in his or her life, with the clothes and accessories they wear.

In Mad Men costume plays an important part in recreating the era but also says a lot about the characters. How much would you say you can communicate about a character through their clothing?

We all tell stories about ourselves with what we wear.  A costume is about creating a character, so I am always thinking “how am I going to tell the story for this scene?”  For example, let’s think about colour. For the character Joan Holloway, I always design costumes in jewel tones – forest green, teal blue and red – because they reflect her strength in the office.  For Peggy, particularly in the early seasons of the show, she wears a lot of mustard and green, lacklustre tones which were very popular in that era but also convey her character’s modesty. I love to visually contrast Betty’s prim femininity with Don’s rugged machismo – I juxtapose Don’s cool sharkskin suits with Betty’s floral dresses and pearl necklaces to show the chasm in their relationship.

Where do you find your inspiration? How did you go about creating the unique, distinctive look of the main characters?

I spend a lot of time researching so that I can visualise the signature style of each of the characters.  I look at old catalogues, vintage Vogues, Ladies Home Journals  and Good Housekeeping magazines, fabric swatches, advertising and stock photographs from the 50s and 60s to fuel my inspiration for Mad Men’s costumes. I’m a very visual person and it’s all about seeing it.  I create visual boards for each of the main characters in the series. These boards bring colours and textures together that inform each character’s palette. I also look to my family for inspiration; Betty Draper’s board is filled with pictures from my grandmother’s knitting magazines from the 1960s (my grandmother was an immaculate hostess and true style icon,) photos of Grace Kelly, even a picture of a pink and white washing machine is in there! 

Looking to the icons of the big screen also helps me with style cues. While Betty’s ladylike glamour and poise is a Grace Kelly inspired look, I often view Joan’s character as cut from the same cloth as that of Sophia Loren; a pure woman, a celebration of curves and sensuality. 

And the men?

The cast of men in Mad Men spend a lot of time together in suits in the office and so it’s very important to keep them visually different. Just like the female cast members each male character has his own colour palette. Don Draper rarely strays from greys while Pete Campbell is seen in teal and French blue, to demonstrate his heady aspirations.

The details of a suit are also important to me. You will always see Roger Sterling with a monogrammed shirt, the ultimate nod to sophistication. You’ll see Don wearing French cuffed shirts with cufflinks – rectangular shapes rather than rounded because I want to show his austerity and edge. I adore the details of men’s tailoring. Cary Grant often provides the inspiration for Don Draper’s simple colour palette and impeccably tailored style. I love a man in a suit! A smart tailored suit, like a uniform, never fails to make a man look his best.

Tell us about the costumes of Don Draper?

What man doesn’t want to look like Don Draper? And what woman doesn’t wants to dress her man like Don Draper? So of course, the inspiration behind the suit was recreating his look. Brooks Brothers manufactured some of the suits for Mad Men according to my design specs and fabrications – worn by Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Pete Campbell, Bertram Cooper and also Lane Price, the British character in the show.

(make sure to check out the complete editorial version of my interview with Janie at http://issuu.com/noirmagazineuk/docs/noirmagazine6 for more on what goes into creating the wardrobe of the most stylish show on telly!)

Fashion’s Finest Lines: The Art of Illustration

For my last article for NOIR I had the opportunity to look into one of my favourite aspects of the fashion industry: the beautiful and ever-evolving art of fashion illustration. Here’s what I discovered about the genre which deftly marries art with fashion, and a look at the work of some of my favourite illustrators, both past and present.

Before fashion photography truly came to dominance in the sixties, illustration played an integral role in the industry with the stylised and elegant sketches of iconic illustrators gracing the covers and pages of style bibles like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

Rene Gruau’s work is iconic in the world of fashion whose exaggerated portrayal of fashion design has had a lasting effect on the industry. During the 1940s and 50s Gruau became one of the best known and favoured artists of the haute couture world, with his signature style of bold, fluid lines perfectly suited to capturing its sexiness and glamour with striking simplicity. Gruau was also a good friend of Christian Dior and illustrated his first collection after the war.

Romain de Tirtoff, who worked under the pseudonym Erte, was behind some of the most innovative covers of Harper’s Bazaar, which commissioned his illustrations from 1915-36. His love of colour and elaborate interpretations of couture designs put Harper’s Bazaar at the forefront of creative innovation, with his illustrations beautifully depicting the art deco style of the period.

 

David Downton is arguably the most prolific illustrators around today and is responsible for some of the most iconic fashion images of the past decade. His loose, visionary style appears effortless and elegant with the sinuous lines of his work punctuated by sparse, delicate washes of colour and brushstrokes indicating a rounded cheekbone, flared nostril, tousled hair or the strict boning of a corset. David began his career when he was first sent to cover the shows at Paris by the Financial Times and was seduced by the world of haute couture – at the Versace show held in the Ritz. He also creates portraits of beautiful and elegant women, including Catherine Deneuvre, Dita Von Tesse, Cate Blanchett and the model Erin O’Connor, his artistic muse.

             

Historically, fashion illustration was hand-drawn or painted but recently, illustrators have taken the art form to new levels; a hybrid of digital and hand-drawn techniques. Jason Brooks has become one of the world’s leading exponents of fashion illustration and is noted in particular as being one of the first artists to embrace and popularize computer technology in his field. He studied at Central St Martins and works regularly for Vogue.

Digital manipulation allows more options and the freedom to play with images and make mistakes. Legendary designer Christian Lacroix is another illustrator who has perfected the technique of computer generated fashion sketches, which are loose and highly expressive.

                     

While photography may have replaced illustration as fashion’s dominant recorder, it remains an elegant alternative which tells a different story through a unique interpretation of the artist’s vision. Rather than creating a purely carbon copy of a model and her outfit, fashion illustration is the artist’s own take on it – a version which blends fashion and art to create something which is dreamlike elegant, classic and beautiful, making it well suited to capturing the world of haute couture in graceful, economical and teasing lines; powerfully suggestive with a delicate side.

When it comes to illustration, these sumptuous designs featuring brilliant observation of detail, style and demeanour, crafted in exceptional drawing and painting ensures this alternative look at fashion will continue to enjoy global popularity and appreciation.

There’s little doubt fashion illustration will lose its appeal, and hopefully it will only become more innovative and alluring. As the godfather of fashion illustration Rene Gruau once said, “The glamourous worlds of fashion and art hold a mutual fascination,” and fashion illustration remains their beguiling love child.

 

Rebelle meets … Leigh Viner: Fashion Illustrator

Leigh’s enthralling acrylic, oil and watercolour illustrations combine the worlds of high art and high fashion, with her subject matter varying from Lanvin’s spring collection to backstage beauty. In her illustrations, she evokes “a free flowing feminine expression” in rich, ethereal compositions that are by equal parts soft and strong, yielding both a powerful impact and eye-catching elegance. Errant sweeping lines add a raw, unfinished edge to the whimsical beauty of her work, which she discusses below …

What initially drew you to fashion illustration?

I love to experiment with different techniques and after painting on canvas for a while with acrylics, oils and watercolour decided to take it to paper and found that I really loved how I can use that as a medium to express my art as well. It just felt like a natural progression to illustrate especially with my interest in fashion-related influences. 

Are there any illustrators who have particularly influenced you or whose work you greatly admire?

I fell in love with David Downtown work years ago, so I am definitely influenced by his work. I also find so many talents just while browsing the internet that inspire me continually to challenge my work and to try new ideas. 

How would you describe your style and has it changed over the years?

It has definitely changed over the years as I have built up more of an expression that I find works well with each piece and with experimentation. But I also love to revisit my old techniques like using charcoal which I used to do more of and add the style that I use currently using to make something different but in tune with my mode.

My work is definitely influenced by fashion and beauty and I tend to tell people that ask that it is a form of fashion related work but with free flowing feminine expression. I am actually in an exhibition in April called “Fashion Unraveled” at Gensler in San Francisco and found that was such a perfect way to describe my work really. 

Where do you find your inspiration?

Everyday moments, flipping through fashion magazines, music and the emotions it portrays, films, fashion design. I also worked as a makeup artist so I am drawn to the editorial approach of expression that it creates.

Does living in New York have any influence on your work?

I actually live in Denver at the moment, I would love to live in New York, but by just visiting the city I can definitely say yes it is a large influence, especially when I was walking around the city with my camera, I was never bored of finding something beautiful, interesting or inspiring to create. 

    

Tell us a little about your approach to illustration, your methods of applying colours and the materials you use.

For my illustrations I start with a simple pencil sketch and draw lightly until I feel it is going in a good direction, once so, I start to detail darker strokes and really detail the eyes and face first. Once I feel comfortable I finalize with pen and prepare it for the watercolors which most of the time is completely on a whim, I do not plan the colors so much and just let myself go with what I am feeling in the moment. Then to finalize for prints I take a high res photo of it and add a few digital touches or color if needed. 

In your work you mix fine lines with vivid brushstrokes of colour, how do you arrive at the elimination of detail?

A bit like I describe above in a sense that I find beauty in the imperfect. I want to find relativity and something unexpected especially when drawing from the influence of fashion, where at most times can be out of reach for most of us. 

 

What makes a successful fashion illustration and an interesting fashion subject?

 A successful fashion illustration to me is when it just feels right and stopping when I have that feeling. I have had many pieces where I didn’t listen to my gut and continued working on it only to find the end result I was not happy with at all, to the archive and/or trash those have become. Also I find an interesting fashion subject is one where I find passion for a design I may be looking at, the colour the flow. If it grabs me and I find influence then I definitely want to create from that. 

Illustration is often used sparingly in magazines in favour of photography, but what would you say fashion illustration can convey that a photograph cannot?

Emotion in the sense that there are so many artists with their own interpretations of fashion and I think it is appealing to readers to see how that is represented. I do not think one is better than the other, I feel they are on there own separate entity of expression, more of an add on so to speak of the end result. 

How would you describe the allure of fashion illustration?

I am currently coveting a print by Cecil Beaton titled Lady Abdy from the 1930’s that is just so timeless and expressive of that era. Again I feel that art is just a wonderful form of expression that opens up a deeper level of relativity that draws others in on another level. 

What are you working on right now?

I am currently preparing for the “Fashion Unraveled” exhibition hoping to get a few new pieces ready for the show and just personal work to share with others on my blog and etsy shop. Each week though brings anew and I am just so happy and blessed to get to do what I love each day

             

Fashion Illustrator Spotlight: Sara Singh

I recently came across Sara’s illustrations while researching an article for NOIR and intantly fell in love with her gorgeous style. Sara is a New York based illustrator who boasts an impressive client roster including Givenchy, Jil Sander, Tiffany, Bloomingdales, MAC cosmetics, Este Lauder, Lancôme and Vogue in America, Italy and Japan, for which she produced a stunning front cover featuring the above image.

 

For Sara, fashion illustration is the perfect medium for telling story, not just of fashion, but the body beautiful as well: “The body is endlessly intriguing and drawing is a kind of stenography describing it,” she says. “It’s faster than painting, but still tells the story.”

 Her fluid illustrations are primarily executed in a blend of undefined watercolour, sharp lines of ink and vivid brushstrokes of colour, creating an impressionist take on runway fashions.

Mwah! Gorgeous!

Rebelle meets … Fernanda Cohen: Illustrator

Originally from Buenos Aries, Fernanda Cohen is a Brooklyn-based illustrator who first turned her attention to fashion when she was commissioned to illustrate an advertising campaign for Ikram, a high-end boutique in Chicago owned by Michelle Obama’s stylist. She has created window displays for boutiques on Fifth Avenue and her vibrant iconography has been featured in T-shirts for the GAP and commissioned by Tiffany & Co to advertise their jewellery.

Most notably, Fernanda has become a fashion illustrator known for drawing realistic female bodies and celebrating the female form. Her illustrations are bursting with energy and movement created by swirling and looping lines emboldened with a strong use of colour in both gouache and ink.

 

What first got you into fashion illustrating?

I started illustrating fashion thanks to Ikram, a high-end boutique/owner based in Chicago who’s actually Michelle Obama’s stylist, who became aware of my work through a competition I’d entered. What’s ironic about it is that at the time I was working on my Food Affair personal series, which featured naked, fat people eating passionately!   

What is it about fashion illustration that you particularly enjoy?

I love drawing women. I feel I truly understand women’s curves and body language, which allows me to have a lot of fun with them. I have also always loved the detailed intricacies of fashion, its constant need for cyclical change and the extensive variety of combinations of shapes and colours it offers.    

Can you tell us a bit about how you create your illustrations and the materials you use?

I sketch mostly in my head before I actually pick up a pencil. I do my research, depending on what the subject-matter is, and find all the right photo reference if needed. I also often photograph myself when I know exactly what I want and I can pose for it myself. Then I draw it with a pencil first; outline it with either a brush and ink or an ink pen; I select my colour palette before applying it and then I paint it. I use mostly gouache, though I’ve been experimenting with professional markers lately.      

How would you describe your style and has it changed over the years?

Just like aging, my style today is more of what it was when I first started. What I mean by that is that if my work – according to what they tell me – was a bit whimsical, a bit funny, a bit conceptual and a bit feminine when I graduated from university, now all those characteristics are even more emphasized and combined with layers of my own maturity as a person plus the inevitable polishing professional experience adds to it.   

What inspires your drawings? Does living in New York have any influence on your work?

Social commentary and observation feeds my inspiration constantly. Living in New York has naturally influenced the way I view everything, from human behaviour to the way we present ourselves. Being exposed to so many different cultures has also changed my style in ways I can’t quite put my finger on.   

Can you tell us a little more about the work you did for Sex and the City, Tiffany & Co. and the Gap?

The ad agency BBDO came up with a great idea to get these pens with ink that disappeared within two hours, to go with the slogan of the Sex and the City’s shoe brand Te Casán, which read “Buy them while they last.” So they hired me to do non-stop, 10-second shoe sketches at the premiere of Sex and the City: The Movie in New York. (2008)

I illustrated a small catalog campaign for Tiffany & Co. in the U.S., which advertised its new diamond bracelet. They wanted something decorative and elegant, so I thought zooming into where the bracelet would be would be better than showing a full figure. (2009)

 

Last year The Gap commissioned me a line of 4 designer T-shirts for its Product (RED) campaign. I did 2 figurative designs, and 2 designs using hand-lettering. The shirts came out in every single Gap store in the States, London and Paris. They all had my name, bio and signature printed on the back of each shirt, which was more than I could have ever asked for. I was thrilled and humbled. (2010)

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on creating my own boutique hotel/social club in Buenos Aires, where I’ll have the chance not only to illustrate its walls but also to create a creative, social scene that brings all the arts together.