Tracing rainbows


Fashion illustration was until relatively recently an endangered metier. This decline is traced back to the late 1930s when Vogue began to replace its illustrated covers with photographic ones - the dark room taking precedence over the drawing board. The fashion industry was also changing its outlook and the shift from haute couture toward technology and pret-aporter rendered fashion illustration recherche in comparison with the contemporary and spontaneous feel of photography.

With the exception of Antonio, whose 1970s glamour girls graced every Athena store, fashion illustration suffered, being sent to style-Siberia until the mid 1990s. There are many reasons for its renaissance, which is highlighted in a new book, Fashion Illustration Now, which features the work of some of the world's finest illustrators. There the need for something new mixed with the retro plundering that defines the last decade's contribution to style. Technology, the Internet, the rise of lifestyle magazines and investment in irony all contribute to the late 1990s becoming a period of repositioning and reflection. For publications and ad campaigns to stand out they needed to distinguish themselves - a new freedom of expression was possible through the use of fashion illustration, fashion photography's complementary medicine. A picture may paint a thousand words and photography can set scenes with its hair and make-up, but illustration brings out the dress-up in all of us.

The other side of illustration's revival was the proliferation of club flyers and their approach to design. All embraced illustration and celebrated its freedom of expression with a wide variety of typefaces that created a larger (and more colourful) than life tour de force, creating creatures who inhabitated this unreal place.

They were aspirational, sexy, even better than the real thing and most importantly they emphasised style in the way that we wore it. Little or no mention of this is given in Fash- ion Illustration Now, which stays strictly within a fashion focus. Computer games, Lara Croft, Japanimation with its sexy Manga figurines, cyber babes such as Annanova, even Madonna's Music video which uses the home-grown talents of Monster Animation, demonstrate just how integrated fashion illustration is in early 21st century living.

Minimalism has given way to a new Technicolour approach to life. While many of the above references go unmentioned in this new book, part of its success is its ability to stay extremely focused.

Fashion Illustration Now is practically wordless, yet wildly inspirational. The illustrators featured are divided into three categories and/or moods, Sensualists, Gamines & Sophisticates and Technocrats. Their collective work has featured in some of the top international magazines, Vogue, Wallpaper, Elle, The New Yorker, Details, The Face, Paper, Nylon, Interview, Playboy etc. They have worked for the big fashion houses and corporations, from Kenzo to Prada, Microsoft to Moet & Chandon.

It is a richly plated presentation, featuring the work of the top international illustrators. Part coffee-table book, partcatalogue, despite the cultural gaps it is an essential reference guide that concludes with the biographical and contact information on each artist, plus their self-portrait.

The illustration styles vary from "fluid, fine-arts tradition in ink or acrylic, reveling in brushstrokes, layered colour, textured papers and paints" to character focused "gamine girls with big eyes a la Twiggy and figurines who carry on the tradition of the 50s diva" to the designers who use the computer as the vanguard of fashion illustration, making it essential viewing for those in the industry and fashion victims alike.

Fashion Illustration Now, by Laird Borrelli, is published by Thames & Hudson. Price: £16.95 (paperback)