LONDON, United Kingdom and STOCKHOLM, Sweden – A couple of years ago, as I was exploring the graduate collections of a stellar Central St Martins MA class, I met Molly Grad, one of the strongest talents to emerge from the legendary fashion school that year. Apart from the deft tailoring and layering of Molly’s collection itself, I was engrossed in her sketchbook, which was filled with anatomical photos interspersed with her illustrations.
I recently met up with Molly for lunch and she gave me a wonderful book called Fashion Illustration by Fashion Designers, written by Laird Borrelli, who is also a friend. In the book, Laird gives us a sneak peak into the dreams and designs of the world’s leading designers, alive (Boudicca, Giles and Phillip Lim) and dead (Yves St Laurent, Gianfranco Ferre).
I reached Laird via email in Sweden, where she is on holiday but still agreed to answer a few questions, from a Swedish keyboard, so we could benefit from her renowned expertise on the history (and business) of fashion illustration.
BoF: What inspired you to publish this book now?
LB: Well, I have been writing books on fashion illustration for about eight years now and they have been widely copied. Through my work at Style.com, I have the opportunity to go on studio visits and my eyes are always drawn to the inspiration boards and the drawings (when there are any) on them. I thought it would be great to give share these hidden treasures with an interested audience.
LB: No, but it has gone from being one of the sole means of fashion communication to having a very minor role. The first photographic cover of Vogue was a watershed in the history of fashion illustration and a watershed mark of its decline. Photographs, no matter how altered or retouched, will always have some association with reality and by association truth. I like to think of them as prose poems and illustrations as more fictional narratives. They are more obviously filtered through an individual vision than photos. Illustration lives on, but in the position of a poor relative (think of all of those Jane Austen novels).
BoF: Is there any way in which fashion illustration itself could become a business? Might people want to pay for these beautiful, original works of art?
There are lots of art reps who get and pitch jobs for illustrators. There is also money to be made in print design. As regards to the originals, there is a barely existent market for contemporary illustrators like Antonio Lopez, Mats Gustafson, etc. William Ling in London, with his FIG gallery, is trying to change this and seems to be having some success.
Fashion illustration is an exercise in individuality: sometimes-fantastical, sometimes bare-bones, sometimes out-of-this-world, fashion illustration captures both the spirit of the garment, but also the mood of the collection and the individual personality and style of the the illustrator themselves.
Molly Grad, MA Collection A/W 2006 (courtesy of Molly Grad and Style.com)
Antonio Lopez (courtesy of Fashion Illustration Gallery)
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