Drawing on Style fashion illustration exhibition opens in Bath

By Babette Radclyffe-Thomas

In this week’s blog, Costume Society News Editor Babette Radclyffe-Thomas reviews the Drawing on Style fashion illustration exhibition that opens in Bath tomorrow.

Launching during one of the most exciting moments in the capital’s fashion schedule, Drawing on Style 2021 opened during London Fashion Week at exhibition space Cromwell Place. Heralding the long-awaited return of physical fashion exhibitions, this curated buying exhibition showcases the masters of fashion illustration from the 20th century to today.

Marking the first time that many of these pieces are on public view, M.C.A gallery’s curation spans decades, styles and subjects. A veritable who’s who of the fashion illustration world, Drawing on Style ranges from depictions of fifties couture by René Gruau to contemporary works by David Downton, Jason Brooks, Andrea Ferolla and artist-in-residence for Dior Bil Donovan. The exhibition boasts an eclectic range of depictions and artists including Gladys Perint Palmer, Ali Mahdavi and even an original artwork for pioneering beauty brand Elizabeth Arden from 1949 by René Bouché. New York’s vibrant fashion scene is depicted by legends Antonio, Steven Stipelman and Rovert Melendez, and viewers can listen to some of the masters themselves with a range of podcasts and short videos on the exhibition website.

Connie Gray, fashion curator at Gray M.C.A, shares, “curating the exhibition is a joy and a journey of discovery! It takes around two years to bring a Drawing on Style collection together ready for exhibition.  Finding the original fashion illustrations themselves is a major journey as original works are extremely rare as most did not survive past their print date no matter the artist. And then there is the research into their history. Some have clear clues on their reverse with print notes, issue and page numbers if I am lucky but more often than not there are no references and it is a case of researching old magazines, books and publications and fashion designer archives to discover where (magazine or newspaper), when (date of issue) and what (fashion house, collection et) the artwork was created for. When all the pieces come together and the exhibition is complete it’s thrilling.”

Despite the recent rise of digital media, Drawing on Style highlights the continued relevance of fashion illustrations. Gray shares; “Fashion illustration is as relevant today as it ever was especially in terms of advertising and brand recognition. Jason Brooks is a fabulous example of this - he creates sensational campaigns for the ultra-luxury market whether it be for Chanel or for Super Yachts. Fashion illustration has always adapted and today is as versatile in traditional print as on a digital platform. Just look at the numbers on Instagram when you search fashion illustration … 7.3 million and counting!”

During the London stage of its circuit, the exhibition was displayed in an elegant South Kensington gallery space boasting plenty of natural light from 16-26 September. Drawing on Style is now transferring to the M.C.A gallery in Bath and opens tomorrow (13th October) where it will run until 20th November. If Costume Society members would like to attend Connie Gray’s exhibition talk (and enjoy a glass or two of bubbles!) on the 28th of October at 6:30 pm, do email to reserve your place. New York marks the next stop for this inspirational exhibition in January 2022, and if you’re unable to attend do drop by the virtual viewing room. So do be sure to visit Drawing on Style and immerse yourself in the fantastical world of fashion illustration.

Gray M.C.A is the leading international art gallery in the specialist art field of original fashion illustration focusing on the original artworks by the 20th-century masters and a small select field of contemporary masters. Gray M.C.A also focuses on unique sculpture and design from the mid-20th Century to the modern day. In addition, Gray M.C.A specialises in Modern Artist Textiles, a vital creative pillar in the story of Modern and Contemporary Art and a key element of the wider works of the great modern masters of the 20th century.

Image credits

Image 1-3, 8-10: Gray M.C.A gallery space. Photography by Lucy Emms, Courtesy of Cromwell Place. 

Image 4: Gladys Perint Palmer (1947 - ) Ottoman Christian Lacroix, 1990 Ink, Wash & Metallic Paint on Paper, signed,  40.5 x 30 cms San Francisco Examiner March 1990

Image 5: Kenneth Paul Block (1924 - 2009) Manolo Blahnik Boot for Perry Ellis, 1981 Wax Crayon & Marker Pen on Paper, signed, 14 x 10.5 cms W Magazine 

Image 6: René Bouché (1905 - 1963) The Pale Dress, A Jewel in Itself, 1952 Pastel & Wash on Paper Laid on Board, signed, 48 x 63 cms American Vogue 1952 p.97

Image 7: Andrea Ferolla (1961 - ) Jeanne Hebuterne, 2019 Gouache & Felt Marker on Paper, signed, 21 x 29.7 cms 

Image 11: Henry Koehler (1927 - 2018) Memoire Cherie, 1957 Watercolour & Wash on Paper, signed, 59 x 46 cms  Perfume Advertising for Elizabeth Arden

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