Wednesday, August 24, 2011

1920s Paris Fashion Illustration

Fashion illustration is not dead. My evidence for this is the presence on Barnes & Noble bookstore shelves of several how-to and historical compilation books dealing with the subject.

But it might be on life-support. I just did quick flick-throughs of the Paris Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and did not notice a single human-rendered illustration: it was all photography. Not to mention those large-scale videos of fashion show runway models one can see as background clutter in shops.

I don't subscribe to the New York edition of The New York Times any more. So I don't know if the department stores in town still do much advertising there and, if they do, illustrate their ads with drawings rather than photographs.

Several decades ago the paper was packed with fashion advertisements illustrated with ink wash drawings by Dorothy Hood and other well-known artists. Photography was not used, I suspect, because of reproduction quality (lack of) on newsprint paper. Slick-paper magazines didn't have reproduction quality problems and had shifted to photography by then.

Back in the 1920s fashion photography was rare. Paris boasted fashion magazines that appeared weekly, featuring artwork by a corps of hardworking illustrators.

Those illustrations were a form of news reporting. Nothing very flashy and glamorous: that was the role of advertisements of the couturier houses. Drawings were straightforward, featuring the clothing. Poses were simple and faces were depicted as being attractive but not so much as to steal the show from the garments.

I find it all rather charming. Too bad it's highly unlikely that we'll ever see much in the way of these likes again.


This is a weekly fashion magazine from 1929.

And here is a spread from a 1928 issue of L'Art et la Mode.

This is something fancier: it's printed in color.

More color. Note the geometric shapes in the background: Modernism rules!!

Click on images to enlarge.

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