Today’s post is a summary of a talk I gave at the Michener Museum a few weeks ago. So I suppose the big question is, why fashion illustration? This was the only method of distributing fashion information for centuries. Paintings, prints, and drawings were the only visual methods of documenting fashion until the 1850s, with the advent of the modern camera. Photography was problematic for several decades after this. Exposure times were long, forcing people to sit very still for several minutes.
Illustration for the House of Paquin, 1907. Image courtesy of the V&A Museum.
Photography progressed slowly through the early 20th century. Prices went down. The process became better and faster. Color photography was soon possible. Magazines started to incorporate more photography, along side with illustrations. As the 1930s progressed, photography became the preferred media for covers and fashion editorials. Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar added in-house photographers to their the art departments.
Left: July 15th, 1936 Vogue cover. Photo by Edward Steichen. Image courtesy of We Heart Vintage. Right: November 10th, 1930 Vogue cover. Image courtesy of Baba Yaga.
World War II impacted the fashion industry in many ways, including the duel between illustration and photography. The most common materials were rationed for the war effort, including textiles, cosmetics, and the chemicals used to develop film. Illustrations continued through the war. Editorials that used photographs focused on showing patriotic fashions and how to “make do and mend” existing items. Staged studio photography was deemed inappropriate and unpatriotic during this time.
Left: Rene Gruau illustration of a Christian Dior evening dress, c. 1948. Image courtesy of Indulgy. Right: “Venus” dress by Christian Dior, 1948. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Post-War period ushered in glamorous silhouettes and unbridled use of fabrics and trim. 1947 was a pivotal year in fashion, in which Christian Dior created the “New Look”. This collection featured skirts were much longer and fuller than were available during the war. Waists were nipped in with corsets and girdles. The newly instated trappings required women to buy new garments. This was initially met with some resistance. Dior teamed with fashion illustrator Rene Gruau (1909-2004) to promote his sophisticated garments. Gruau was one of the most prolific fashion illustrators of the Post-War era. (New to my site? You should read my previous post, Rene Gruau.)
Left: Rene Gruau illustration of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit, 1947. Image courtesy of Design Museum. Right: Photograph of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit by Willy Maywald, 1947. Image courtesy of Contemporary History.
Gruau’s had a clearly recognizable illustration style, which included:
- stark outlines
- the use of negative space throughout the composition
- sensitivity to color used to contour figures with highlights and shadows
- curvilinear compositions
During this time, America’s most prominent fashion illustrators were Hollywood costume designers. It is often easy to dismiss costume designers’ contributions to fashion history, since the focus tends to be primarily on New York. Helen Rose (1904-1985) was an extremely influential costume designer that worked closely with Grace Kelly on and off the set.
Left: Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress. Right: Grace Kelly in the wedding dress designed by Helen Rose.
Born in Chicago, Rose attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and began her career designing costumes for nightclubs and theaters. During this period, she mostly worked for vaudeville acts, including the Lester Costume Company. In 1929 she left for Los Angeles and began costuming for films. She worked for Twentieth Century Fox from 1940-1943 and later became chief costume designer for MGM.
Left: Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956. Image courtesy of Gracie Bird. Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose. Image courtesy of Equally Wed.
From 1947 to 1966, Rose costumed over 200 films and worked with Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, grace Kelly, Deborah Kerr, and Esther Williams. Rose designed Grace Kelly’s 1956 wedding dress for her marriage to Crown Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Rose also designed her civil ceremony outfit was a full-skirted suit of dusky rose pink taffeta with beige Alenson lace overlay (currently on view at the Michener Museum). Many of Rose’s illustrations survive, particularly those made for Grace Kelly’s role in the film High Society.
Left: Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956. Image courtesy of Live Auctioneers. Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose. Image courtesy of IMDB.
Edith Head (1897-1981) also worked very closely with Grace Kelly. Born in San Bernadino, Head earned a Master’s degree in romance languages from Stanford before switching to illustration. She took classes at Chouinard Art college, and in 1924 was hired as a costume sketcher at Paramount Pictures.
Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window. Image courtesy of A Lovely Being. Right: Grace Kelly in costume. Image courtesy of December’s Grace.
Some of the most wonderful costumes Head designed for Grace Kelly were from the 1954 Hitchcock film Rear Window. Grace Kelly plays the role of Lisa Freemont, a society fashion consultant.
Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window. Image courtesy of A Lovely Being. Right: Grace Kelly in costume. Image courtesy of Daily Mail.
As you can see from the illustrations and photographs, the costumes are a perfect character construction. The costumes lend an air of elegance, sophistication, and refinement of someone “in the know” about fashion.
Left: Right: Edith Head sketch and costume for Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954. Images courtesy of Classiq and Glamour Daze. Right: Sketch by Edith Head. Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.