Costume Society Ambassadors, Costume Society  |  January 28, 2015

Drawn to the 1960s: The magic of fashion illustration

One of the striking things about the visuals of 1960s fashion editorial and advertising is the dominance of illustration over photography. Because, I suppose, it’s something we’re no longer used to seeing on an everyday basis, when confronted by a fashion report illustrated with a natty line drawing or a confection in watercolour, it suddenly seems so much more glamorous, more of a fantasy - which fashion really should be. It was like this when I was researching Glasgow’s fashion scene in the 1960s; I came across an illustration of two Marion Donaldson dresses from 1969 (the ‘Rosetti’ and the ‘Justine’) drawn by the celebrated Glaswegian artist, Alasdair Gray (fig. 1). The illustration somehow made the dresses seem like mythical objects, and perhaps because of the mystery of illustration - filtered as it is through the imagination of the artist, rather than through the lens of the photographer - I was very drawn to these particular dresses, much more than I am to dresses of which I’ve only seen photographs.

I found the Gray illustrations in the Glasgow Herald, and it became clear when trawling through other newspapers’ fashion pages, that illustration was still a powerful force in the fashion industry of the 1960s. Another artist who drew Donaldson dresses was Romeo, of whom I know nothing, but who really imparted a sense of fun and personality into his illustrations of the clothes. Fig. 2 shows a Romeo drawing of three girls dressed in Marion Donaldson dresses, walking an elegant black whippet. I think what’s appealing about these illustrations, from a twenty-first century point of view, is that there is no explicitly prescribed ideal of feminine beauty; the women in the drawing aren’t real women to whom we feel pressed to compare ourselves, and perhaps this is why illustration is such an effective means of disseminating, and indeed selling fashion.

Further thinking about 1960s fashion illustration led me to the legendary Barbara Hulanicki, who began her career (rather successfully) as a fashion illustrator for various British newspapers and magazines. Of course, the illustrations and designs she produced during the Biba epoch now form part of an instantly recognisable 1960s canon of visual culture. The massive eyes, narrow shoulders and pointy chins of Hulanicki illustration really did compliment the Biba aesthetic, adding drama and mystique to the clothes (fig.3). Other illustrators, including  René Gruau (fig.4), Antonio Lopez (fig.5), E. Bernais (fig.6) and Bobby Hillson (fig.7) have left a wonderful visual record of 1960s fashion in their illustrations, which allow us to understand so much about the culture of that world.

In the fifty years since the founding of The Costume Society much has come and gone in the world of fashion, and it is our pleasure to trawl the past, but wouldn’t it be lovely if we could resurrect some of that past? Illustration is a case in point - in a world where photoshop reigns supreme (and is arguably more fantasy than reality anyway), wouldn’t a return to illustration usher in a new age of magic and fantasy in what can sometimes feel like the cold world of fashion?

Further reading:
Blackman, C. 100 Years of Fashion Illustration London: Laurence King Publishing, 2007
Pel, M. & Barbara Hulanicki. The Biba Years

By Jade Halbert, Costume Society Ambassador 2014

#costumesociety50

  • Fig.1 Alasdair Gray: ’Rosetti’ and ‘Justine’ 1969. Courtesy Marion and David Donaldson
  • Fig.2 Romeo: ’We’ve collared the fashion lead’. Courtesy Marion and David Donaldson
  • Fig.3 Barbara Hulanicki: details from Biba catalogue, March 1965 ©Barbara Hulanicki
  • Fig.4 René Gruau: illustration for the cover of International Textiles, 1967. Courtesy Galerie Bartsch & Chariau, Munich.
  • Fig.5 Antonio Lopez: illustration of summer sportswear for British Vogue, April 1968. Courtesy Galerie Bartsch & Chariau, Munich.
  • Fig.6 E. Bernais: mini skirts and tops for Gina Fratini, 1968. Courtesy Museum of Costume, Bath.
  • Fig.7 Bobby Hillson: Paris collections for The Observer, c.1965. Artist’s collection.

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