Why fashion illustration matters in the digital age


Fashion illustration is nothing new, of course: “Fashion begins with a design; Vogue started as an illustrated magazine ”, comments Vogue creative director of Italy Ferdinand Verderi. But in our digital age of photographic overload, illustration presents itself as a refreshing oasis amidst continuous scrolling. And in most cases, it retains the sense of the hand. Its charming analog irregularities contrast with the postmodern and hyperreal world described by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard as being dominated by spectacle and image.

Pictorial and historical cover by Edward Steichen.

Photographed by Edward Steichen, Vogue, July 1, 1932

The history of fashion illustration in Vogue date of the first issue, published in December 1892, under the artistic direction of Harry McVikar, an illustrator whose work appeared regularly in the magazine. Fashion photography is then a nascent art, carried by the publisher Condé Nast. Edward Steichen’s photographic cover for VogueThe July 1932 issue can be seen as a turning point in favor of photography. Illustration will never be dominant again. However, the illustrated covers continue to be used; the penultimate, by René Bouché, was published in 1958. The most recent was created in 2017 by the painter John Currin for by Vogue 125th anniversary.

By choosing to work with (mainly) beautiful artists, rather than with illustrators, the Italian Vogue continues a tradition of collaboration that has resulted in blankets, for the United States Vogue, by painters like Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico and Pavel Tchelitchew, and also nods to the legacy of fashion design in Italy. Anna Piaggi, for example, worked with many illustrators when she published Vanity, and continued to do so for his feature film DP (double page) for Italian Vogue. Interestingly, the Italian edition of the magazine was launched in 1965, right in the middle of the decade that gave birth to the famous fashion photographer. Michelangelo Antonioni documented this phenomenon in his 1966 film Explode, in which David Bailey was the model for Thomas the Skirt Hunter, played by David Hemmings.

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