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Drawing Fashion at the Design Museum

Curator Ria Hawthorn presents an exhibition paying homage to the great fashion illustrators, such as Rene Gruau, through vintage ads, magazine covers and their private collections

An opportunity to view the world of fashion through the unique eyes of some of its most famous and finest illustrators.  

Since the 1930s, fashion photography is considered to have superseded illustration as the visual tool of choice. However, the genre has still remained an important part of fashion culture and over the last century, a unique breed of artists including Georges Lepape, Antonio and Mat Gustafson have captured the elegance and glamour of high fashion with their individual style. These artists have also caught the spirit of each different era, from Art Nouveau and Art Deco to Pop Art and beyond. 'Drawing Fashion' presents a rare collection of work that includes classic advertisements, vintage Vogue covers and illustrations from the collections of fashion favourites, Chanel, Dior, Comme des Garçons, McQueen and Viktor & Rolf. Dazed Digital met up with the exhibition’s curator, Ria Hawthorn. 

Dazed Digital: This is the first time these artists have been part of the same exhibition. What can visitors expect?
Ria Hawthorn:
We are exhibiting 150 works from the early 1900s right up till today, showing how much fashion illustration has changed since its early beginnings. We will also be showing films of the artists at work, as well as examples of the couture clothes shown in the illustrations. We also wanted to try and compliment the exhibition with other events. Guest curator Colin McDowell will be in conversation with Joelle Chariau, the owner of these works, as well as other key-figures including Manolo Blahnik and the artist François Berthoud.

DD: Fashion illustration, before photography and digital media, was the main tool for visual expression in fashion. Do you still consider it an important part of the industry?
Ria Hawthorn:
Well, I think it went through an enormous decline, certainly after Condé Nast discovered around 1932 that photographs on the cover of magazines sold a lot better. However today I think it’s seen as something that adds to the technology of photography. You’ve got the artist’s hand interpreting fashion in a different way. Drawing adds another layer, another style.

DD: How effectively do you think these illustrators have reflected the changing world around them?
Ria Hawthorn:
I think early drawings, up to the 1940s, were centred partly around Paris, those decades of the Ballet Russes and the art movements, it was a very decadent, sophisticated period. With Antonio during the seventies, it was all to do with Pop Art culture in New York and his highly social lifestyle. During the 1990s you had the growth of Calvin Klein and therefore the drawings became much more minimal. I believe that it’s all tied together. If the illustrations are exciting then they will capture the spirit of the age, and that’s what these illustrators have managed to do.

DD: Mat Gustafson is credited with re-invigorating the genre with his subtle use of watercolour and pastel. What do you think will next for Fashion Illustration?
Ria Hawthorn:
I think you as you can see from these works, it is about communicating the spirit of the design, not exactly what the garment looks like, I think artists have become more free to interpret and be less specific and I think this will continue.

DD: Do you have any favourite works from the collection?
Ria Hawthorn:
I think Rene Gruau’s work from the 1950s really communicates the glamorous and sophisticated style of women at the time. However, I also love some contemporary work as well, including François Berthoud with his amazing prints and attention to detail.

Photos by Timothy Davey

Drawing Fashion runs until March 2011. For ticket information visit