Pen test

Last night Christie’s introduced a collection of fashion illustrations from their archives at their Fashion Illustration gallery in south Kensington. A host of estimable guests, including Tim Blanks and Meredith Etherington-Smith, discussed the status of the artform and its relevance and viability in publishing. Their conversation lamented a purported decline of published works, with David Downton particularly vocal about the artistic field  ‘coughing blood into a tissue…but never dead’. A lot of focus was given to the wane of illustration in commercial magazines and the mainstream.

I was there as on behalf of .Cent magazine, a cornerstone of the magazine is illustrations. Each issue of .Cent commissions illustrators to interpret a piece of creative writing to accompany the prose. In the bi-annual fashion specials (a round-up of key designers and guest-editor’s favourites from the Milan, New York, Paris and London shows) each label featured is portrayed in pen. This an element of the magazine that has a high demand and the supply is invariably strong.

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Publications such as the Economist, Spectator, Metro, Stylist, Sun newspaper and even the Corporate Dispute Resolution all feature illustration to enhance their written features, from satirical doodles to surreal and demonstrative.   From a cynical stance I’d suggest that an illustration cheaper than a photoshoot and more respectable than a stock image. One the other hand, what better way to add a vivid and engaging dimension to an article than a unique illustration: a leap from the imagination.

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As I browsed the collection at Christie’s, any debate as to whether fashion illustration should be considered an art was mooted. The collection showcased intricate displays of impossible worlds and beautiful, minimalist blotches that created a face from profile. Out of context the seed of the drawing maybe fashion – often dismissed as frivolous and inconsequential to the world – but clothes are not the focal points of the various designs. Some are absurd, some colourful, some have narratives and others are a surge of beauty, fantasy and desire.

Exhibition runs until 19 December 2013, 85 Old Brompton Road, SW7 3LD


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