Drawing the Line: The Art of Illustration

David Downton brings back the art of illustration.

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WWD Scoop issue 09/29/2008
Digital cameras and cell phones may be viewed as the golden recorders of today’s blink-and-miss-it fashion age, but, armed with nothing more than the humble brush-pen and ink, David Downton is on a mission to defend the noble art of fashion illustration.

During London Fashion Week, Downton launched his second magazine dedicated to the craft and its masters. Dubbed Pourquoi Pas? (or Why Not?), the 76-page work features golden-oldie profiles of René Gruau and Tony Viramontes, one of the defining illustrators of the Eighties, seen, respectively, through the eyes of fashion critic Suzy Menkes and milliner Stephen Jones, as well as a Q&A with the contemporary illustration “genius” Christian Lacroix.

In lieu of watercolors or ink, Lacroix is one of the few established designers who have perfected the technique of computer-generated fashion sketches. “What used to paralyze me—the wasted paper, the irreversible or ill brush strokes, the uncoverable blunders—have all evaporated,” Lacroix says.

Next spring, Downton will stage a fashion-based exhibition of black-and-white large-scale drawings at London’s Mayor Gallery on Cork Street. “Illustration is still extremely popular with designers and the public alike, but remains generally undervalued and under the wire,” says the artist.

A hunched front-row fixture on the couture circuit, Downton regards illustration as a unique means of immortalizing the spirit of a collection or event, that’s equally as valid as images produced by the pack of snappers camped at the end of each runway. “It’s another point of view—with the best illustrator, you have a single vision. That old cliché of eye, hand and heart is what you engage with drawings; it’s a really personal sensibility,” he continues, adding that very few tools are required. “Whereas photography [involves] a whole production process, here you have somebody drawing. It’s that elemental.”

A prolific fashion illustrator, Downton’s accomplishments in the field include being invited to “record” Chanel’s métiers d’art collection in December 2007, as well as a couture spread for V magazine in 2005 featuring Linda Evangelista. The seven-hour-long sitting took place at Paris’ George V hotel. “I got to pick the clothes. It was like fashion illustration once was, with hair and makeup…the works,” recalls Downton, who churns out hundreds of drawings for his series before returning to his studio, based in a former newspaper office in Brighton, England, to work on the final selection.

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