“ The study of fashion illustration through the ages now has a place as an important source – these days called material culture – for historians, ethnographers, and scientists, as it always has for fashion designers, costume designers, filmmakers, artists, connoisseurs and collectors.”
Julian Robinson from The Fine Art of Fashion Illustration
THE RETURN OF ILLUSTRATED COVERS
In January 2020, anticipating with extraordinary intuition a change in pace in fashion communication, just before the spread of the Covid pandemic that would three months later prohibit fashion shoots, Vogue Italia issued its January issue with an illustrated cover. It was the first time since the magazine’s foundation in 1962. The COVID pandemic forced fashion magazines to find creative alternative solutions to fashion photography.
Were did they look for these creative solutions? The past history of fashion magazines came to the rescue. Let us go back to fashion illustration!
Even though reports say that the magazine claimed that the use of illustration was an innovative idea, it actually was not. The “great” and intuitive spark that Vogue Italia had was to know where to look for in the basket of the past to bring back to life fashion illustration, an art that in the past 60 years had been left hidden behind the closed doors of fashion designers’ offices and fashion schools.
This article is dedicated to a significant stepping stone in the history of this art and in the trajectory of beauty and fashion communication.
The most interesting characteristic of a fashion illustration is that in embeds three different point of views. It expresses the uniqueness of a couturier, it reflects the artistic movements of the day – the modernist movement in this case – and it illustrates the prevailing archetypes of female beauty.
THE POWER OF DRAWING
In every age and everywhere, artists have always been moved to draw and paint beauty, greatness, wealth, power. Personality was not only communicated through body features but also through a wise and meaningful choice of garments. In Greek vases details of clothes were not neglected, the rustles and folds of silk and brocade were deftly depicted by Watteau and Joshua Reynolds. In fashion illustration the artist’s accent is not on the personality of the person but of the dress, of the couturier and his ideal of style and elegance. The drawing must have a practical effectiveness.
The value of illustration is perfectly defined by quote David Hockney:
“The serious study of looking, which is what drawing is, affects more than we might casually think it does. Indeed it goes far beyond the limits of art itself, in the conventional sense, and is all the more serious for that, and should be treated more seriously by everyone.Even in the field as narrow and specialized as that of fashion, we can see the power drawing has to sharpen our eyes, and therefore the rest of our senses, to the world at large.” ( in Fashion Drawing in Vogue).
LIFE BEFORE VOGUE
In 1912, an ambitious and dynamic French publisher, Lucien Vogel, launched the forerunner of modern fashion magazines, La Gazette du Bon Ton, in collaboration with Michel de Brunhoff, the future editor of the French Vogue (whose first edition was issued 1920, years after the Gazette,)
Vogel was the driving force behind an important number of other french pubblications, from high quality art books, to theatre albums and books of drawings, to the renown fashion journal Le Journal des Dames et des Modes.
The promotional dummy edition of the Gazette defined its intentions and values:
“Now that fashion has become an art, a fashion gazette must also be an art revue. So it will be with La Gazette du Bon Ton. Our finest artists will compose their most sublime pages for it, such as Cherwit, Doeuillet, Doucet, Paquin, Poiret, Redfern and Worth – those creators of masterpieces who have made the entire world envy and admire French fashion – and who will reserve their freshest creations for it…. Today’s artists are in many ways inventors of fashion. How much does fashion owe to a man like Iribe ( Paul) who brought us the simplicity of line and the taste for the Orient, to Drian, to Bakst, to a portrait painter such as Antonio de la Gandara, in love with supple richness of cloth?..Every thing about the revue will be a work of art. Everything about it will please the eye: its paper, format, characters, texts, illustrations and the couturier’s models will not be simple reproductions but genuine portrait of the dresses painted and drawn by the finest artists of the day.”
SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION
Vogel began his career in the publishing business as art director of the fashion magazine Femina, where he met the young couturier Paul Poiret – the pasha of Paris and precursor of modern fashion marketing – and introduced him to the artist Paul Iribe who was commissioned to illustrate his radical designs in a special limited edition volume Les Robes de Paul Poiret. A successful venture that was repeated in 1911 with the illustrations of Georges Lepape. Iribe’s work marked the transition from the romantic realism of past fashion illustrations to a new form of art.
DANDY ARTISTS MEET HAUTE COUTURE
Lucien Vogel will play an important role in the career of Condé Nast, owner since 1909 of Vogue and of all its future international editions. In Nast’s biography by Caroline Seebhom, The Man who was Vogue, some details of Vogel’s life are depicted. He belonged to one of the most elegant Parisian social cliques at the time which included various artists. These artists would later build the backbone of La Gazette.
With sublime intuition of talent, Vogel ensnared and grouped these “Beau Brummels” : Georges Lépape, Charles Martin, Georges Barbier, André Marty, Pierre Brissaud, Paul Iribe, Bernard Boutet de Monvel, Benito, Erté, and one of my favorite painters of the time, Kees van Dongen. This group of sophisticated Dandy artists was also known as the Knights of the Bracelet because they all wore bracelets at the time. Moreover, Vogel was successful in securing the sponsorship of the most celebrated couturiers of the time: Chérouit, Doeuillet, Lanvin, Doucet, Poiret etc.
A CHIC MAGAZINE OR A MAGAZINE ABOUT CHIC?
The Gazette was a sophisticated publication produced with the highest quality standards of the time: high-quality paper, printing and artwork that ensured the allure and charm that characterized the magazine.
Vogels’ pursuit of excellence and quality standards reflected Nast’s own vision for his Vogue family. Nast recognized the Gazette’s innovative evolutions in traditional fashion illustration. In 1921 the american publisher bought the magazine from Vogel and continued its publication until 1925. In the meantime, French Vogue – Frogue – was born.
ABOUT THE BOOK
“This revue has been entitled La Gazette du Bon Ton. And to have a ‘good breeding’ is the same for all of us. Elegance changes; good breeding does not. The former follows fashion; the latter follows taste. Good breeding is not at all affected, and yet it is not at all flashy, and yet it is free. Innate grace is its talisman: with this as its guide, it can do whatever It pleases and can cease to be charming only when it ceases to be itself. “
The book Parisian Fashion – La Gazette du Bon Ton – 1912-1925 (subtitle: art-fashion-frivolity)celebrates the evocative energy that continues to emerge from the fashion works of the most celebrated artists of the time, icons of the fashionable styles and life of the pre and post I e II World War eras. The volume includes 80 full page plates of the most remarkable covers created by the joint collaboration of artists and designers.
The journal is defined as:
“ An ambitious project which succeeded in bringing together the best graphic artists of the time in its seventy issues, published over seven years until 1925. It also had a considerable and wide-ranging influence. Its principal contributors – for example Georges Lépape in the USA for Vogue, managed to give a long life to this desire for style and rigour which now seems to us to be part of the distant past; this is inevitable – does anything of its kind exist today?.
All of these artists, when the Gazette closed its doors in 1925, continued to build their success conquering the Olympus of fashion magazines: Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, Fémina.
I love fashion illustration as much as I love 19th century analogical fashion photography. Photography was deeply influenced by illustration and paintings.
As an example, the portrait below of the actress Elisabeth Bergner by one of my favorite photographers George Hoyningen-Huene (soon on TFB ) in which the influence of Hat by Alphonsine illustrated by Douglas Pollard in 1927 is evident. The same clarity of composition, use of shadow and the subject of confident women was a trait of Hoyningen-Huene’s style.
What do you think about David Hockney’s belief that
“Photography is not the answer, and anyway it has become very boring, repetitive and limited, especially in the fashion magazines. I cannot easily tell one cover from another – the girls the same, the lighting the same. Preparing the model, the make-up, the lights: It is all related to the theatre really, in a way that drawing never is. You can train yourself to observe and remember, to absorb and recreate but the camera can only deal with what is in front of it at the time. Whether from memory and experience or from the model, the artist works in his own time, simplifying and transforming what he sees and knows into something of his own.”
Since the 1950’s, photography took over almost completely a magazines layout. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see in future publications, both print and digital, an honest integration of these two forms of art? I think one should not exclude the other. Each one in its own peculiar way effectively comunicates and stimulates creativity.
More articles on fashion illustration will be posted soon!
All images, unless otherwise specified, are extracted from the book.
BOOK DETAILS: TITLE: Parisian Fashion - La Gazette du Bon Ton - 1912-1925 AUTHOR:Alan Weill PUBLISHER: Bibliothèque De L'Image YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2000 LANGUAGE: English, German, French CONDITION: used,excellent condition, PAGES: 189, 83 full page colored plates PRICE: € 48,00