Smart and beauty

February 6, 2013

We have always wanted to touch upon the topic of fashion illustration. We don’t know much about it and it seems to be rather obscure. Something that is happening somewhere, but it’s not about us. There are only Us about it: unnecessary, unimportant, useless. We hardly ever deal with the illustrators who draw fashion, there are no clients for them. What is more, fashion illustration is supposed to be a sort of hobby, like childish pictures of dresses (Kelly Backman in her “100 years of fashion illustration” book even calls it Cinderella art)

We have thought of some questions we would like some art directors we know to answer. These editions are more likely to look for some stylish pictures about fashion and beauty.

By the way, the people we usually ask about something often blame us for our dilettantish, naïve questions, but in fact they say even more while answering than we would have ever asked. Here’s the power of stupid question in action.

Today’s article consists of two parts: first we ask some real people and then we are setting off on a tour of our imagination full of sudden, different beauty.


Anna Zhakevich,
art director (Russian Vogue)

Do Russian glossy magazines often use fashion illustration? Where is it used?
To my mind, illustration is hardly ever used in glossy magazines now. At least if you compare them to the ones from the first half of the XXth century. As a rule, they are special, unique projects.

Does it have any potential for the development or is it a niche product for special occasions?
It’s been for many years now that photography is mostly used in glossy magazines, but fashion illustration, however, still has its advantages such as liveliness, uniqueness, personal view of an artist. That’s why many brands like Chanel, Dior, Tiffany&Co deal with fashion illustrators.

What does the Russian target audience of glossy magazines think of illustration? Is there any difference in attitude compared to the foreign readers?
The audience is quite the same. People either like the picture or not, like any other work of art. It depends more on the artist’s mastery, the emotions. 

Which Russian fashion illustrators are familiar to you? Which of them do Russian editions work with?
I can say that here  this field is not developed enough. Russian magazines mostly deal with foreign fashion illustrators like Sabine Pieper, Laura Lain, Nancy Macnack, Julie Verhoeven. Speaking of the Russian ones, I can mention Evgeniya Gapchinskaya and Ekaterina Hozatskaya.


Which of them do you like? Which projects have attracted your professional attention or one of the audience?
I like Julie Verhoeven and her project Fashion Icon for Ponystep Magazine, her cover for Dazed and Confused. She made a big project on designers’ perfumes for the Russian Vogue in September.


Is there an example of an interesting, much-talked-of project (Like a portrait of Kate Blanchett by David Downton for the Australian Vogue)?
There isn’t any yet. I hope Russian Vogue wil be the first one to start it.

What is popular in modern fashion illustration? Does it have something to do with the modern photography? When can an art director prefer a picture to a photo?
I think that’s the individuality that will always be in fashion.  As well as the mastery and one’s own vision. I would prefer an illustration if it enriches the material.


Tim Cherniy,
Seventeen and l'officiel former art director, Ile de beaute art director

Look, there’s glossy media market (Glamour, Vogue, Marie Claire etc). They have technology, experience and policy that guides them what and how to write. No one wants to take risks, no one wants to be interesting, everyone wants to be sold and sell advertising. They somehow adapt to our country, but just at the level when they write about Elka instead of Madonna.

From the publisher’s point of view, there’s the choice: he can write something like “50 ways to polish your nails” and place a celeb on the cover or place an illustration, or, what is worse, an interesting illustration which half of the readers wouldn’t understand and the rest wouldn’t like. The photo of Shakira works better in this case. It will show a large return.
Illustration is always a risk. God knows what it will turn out to be. That’s why it’s used only by the magazines that want to be interesting and are not afraid to be disputatious. And that’s not about glossy ones. There’s a couple of examples when magazines are a bit more than mere entertainment (Afisha, Esquire), but that’s just a drop in the ocean.


So what’s the point in speaking on illustrators if the illustration neither interesting nor important. When there are topics and tasks worthy of drawing everybody’s attention to them – there is need and demand for good illustration. 

That is to say, it is not underway. On the one hand, there should be good material and the people who would be interested in it. On the other hand, the material and the audience are trying to separate from the cyclic big glossy industry, making new websites and journals, having fashion blogs. And any illustration is ok there just because it’s strange and unusual.


Dunya Zaharova,
an artist, a columnist and illustrator of the fashion column Buro24/7

Fashion illustration has become more popular recently. I think that’s because of the technology progress and beauty bloggers. We all have the access to the news now and no blogger who wants to write about fashion wants to copy paste. People start making illustrations, Someone makes collages, someone shows good drawing skills and someone just adds one’s own head to all the looks – I call this illustration as it illustrates the fashion.

Now that fashion has become mass phenolmenon, editors often see an illustration in a popular blog and make an order.


Our contemporary David Dowton copies Rene Gruau ‘s style who became popular in the new look period and in fact is still very popular. There’s an air of old school elegance about Dowton’s illustrations. 

Rene Gruau's illustrations


David Dowton's illustrations


Before the 20th century pictures from the magazines showed the item in detail so that the women could order or sew it. Now we have photography to meet this need. And in the beginning of the 20th century there was a fundamental change: it acquired boldness and independence, it tended to create and analyze fashion tendencies. Maybe this period was caused by the beginning of modern époque which captured all the artists. 



The first photo cover of American Vogue in 1932 showed that photos are better sold than illustration. Since the 1950s magazines have been raising fashion photographers. Illustration survived because of its difference.

The difference became obvious when photography exhausts its variety resource or ignores creative search. A photographers’s style is usually more pallid than that of an illustrator, so it’s easier for an artist to make something average worthy.


Dunya Zaharova


Illustration is perfect for periodicals when you need to diversify the material. But I hardly ever see illustrated advertising because a customer always wants a precise view of what he/she is going to buy.

But sometimes an advertisement can look like a postcard with a subtle hint about the product. For example, Tanya Ling, my favorite illustrator, has made a great picture for NARS cosmetics. 



By the way, there used to be a lot of illustrations in Soviet fashion magazines. The photos looked rather miserable because of the printing quality, photographer’s talent and the quality of the clothes. But tall and slender girls wearing the same strange things drawn in energetic strokes encouraged the women to start sewing.


Dunya Zaharova


I see what’s going to happen with fashion illustration. In future the customer would like everything to be shown by one click, he/she will become too lazy to imagine or complete an image.


Fashionindustry is fair. The most expensive brands are really the best and the most interesting ones. Unfortunately, there’s no such ratio in modern art.
Although materialism wins everywhere. I almost cried when Nicolas Ghesquiere left Balenciaga. He seemed to create not collections but new worlds.

Things from Ghesqulere

An artist has the right to choose what art is and he/she can choose clothes as a subject. And it’s a very inspiring example.

Dunya's fashion-portfolio