Taken from the debate at the Design Museum, London, on 05/11/2010, where the Drawing Fashion exhibition is currently running.
Those taking the floor:
Colin McDowell (CM) – guest curator of the Drawing Fashion exhibition
Joelle Chariau (JC) – custodian of the collection on show
François Berthaud (FB) – artist (see www.francoisberthaud.com)
Howard Tangye (HT) – artist (see www.howardtangye.com)
William Ling (WL) – director of the Fashion Illustration Gallery (see www.fashionillustrationgallery.com).
CM: I believe in the drawn line. After food and before procreation, man has always had a desire to make a mark on a surface. All has started for centuries with a line...It [fashion illustration] came at a time when we were losing sophisticated glamour, with figures like Fred Astaire, and people started to think, ‘What have we lost?’. Now we have Francois as the new approach to fashion, as you have seen on our exhibition invitation, which is sexy yet incredibly beautiful.
WL: The art market is starved of that kind of hand-drawn work, and there’s a kind of grace to it, yet with these images of very, very powerful women. The future is fashion illustration.
HT: Each of the artists in the exhibition was a part of their time, in art and culture, and their work had a luxury appeal. The camera has its place too, but I don’t think drawing is redundant, and fashion illustration is such a specialist kind of drawing. You really do have to have the feeling of what the clothes are about – although the images look simple and elegant, it’s about what you leave out. It’s not like life drawing and it takes a special eye to do it.
CM: Fashion drawing is, to a degree, an idealising thing.
FB: My clients come to me because I can represent the more sophisticated items. I will be able to convey the extreme attention that my client has. In magazines, it’s more about challenging those empty pages and creating something new which you haven’t seen before.
CM: Is multimedia the future for fashion?
JC: It’s certainly a possibility, but I can’t say what will happen.
FB: I like drawing, scanning, getting it out and drawing again.
HT: I always work with a model and I prefer working on paper, because I like to see the real thing.
WL: ‘Does it engage me?’ is the question for me. Everybody finds their own medium.
FB: Most of the work in this exhibition is hand drawn and has a depth which you cannot compare; it has a superior quality.
Is photography a friend or foe?
CM: Magazine editors have told me that they couldn’t run a full-page spread on illustration because the advertisers wouldn’t like it.
FB: I think it’s enriching for the magazine [to contain illustration].
JC: My favourite magazines are from way back because they included photography and drawings. There was a tension you don’t have now.
WL: We have sold some magazines in the gallery, and some of the covers are just beautiful, but advertisers don’t like fashion illustration much. Yet we worked with David Downton for the 25th anniversary issue of Vogue Australia, where he produced four different illustrations of Cate Blanchett, and it outsold all previous issues of the magazine.
When is it illustration and when is it drawing?
WL: I distinguish between design drawings, to help make the object, and illustrations after the event. The temptation is to ring-fence categories, but artists often jump that.
CM: Drawing isn’t necessarily an intrinsic part of fashion design but there are some designers who draw profusely, such as John Galliano.
Will drawing come back as a popular medium?
JC: Handmade things belong to a world that doesn’t exist anymore, so yes, it’s very different, but something unexpected may come out of it.
HT: Exhibitions are another form of appreciation and promotion.
WL: These exhibitions do have an impact. For students now, these can be milestones, and there seems to be nostalgia for how things used to be, such as graffiti and street art of the nineties.
On the individuality of magazines.
CM: Italian Vogue makes less money than the other Vogue magazines, but it’s the one that everyone wants to collect, and they’ll give Steven Meisel forty pages to tell a story. I read Italian Vogue and sometimes Parisian Vogue, but nothing else. The others are just catalogues! I think it’s very sad that you can’t spot the difference between magazines by content. Magazines are in terrible trouble and they’re going to have to think again about how to keep people’s interest.
HT: Lots of young people are making their own magazines and publishing them. They find a way to get them out there.
To be continued...