Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Illustrating the collectable vintage art of fashion...

There seems to be a sudden surge of interest in fashion illustration, with exhibitions popping up all over the place. There’s still plenty of time to visit the London Design Museum’s latest show – Drawing Fashion, a celebration of some of the best fashion illustrations of the 20th and 21st centuries, which runs until March next year. The show is guest co-curated by Colin McDowell, who is also hosting a series of fascinating talks linked to the event (check the website for details).

Nowadays, most fashion illustrations are the work of fashion designers, or specialist illustrators employed by design houses, or trend forecasters. However, in the days before photography and film became the accepted media for illustrating the latest catwalk looks, artists attended fashion shows to draw freehand sketches of the designs. One of the most prolific artists of the 1950s was Francis Marshall (1901-1980), who is especially well known for his coverage of the Paris couture shows – including the likes of Balmain, Balenciaga, Dior and Givenchy.

Marshall served as a midshipman during the First World War. Following his discharge in 1920, he spent three years at the Slade School of Fine Art. From 1928, he was employed as an illustrator for British Vogue. The 'Marshall girl', based on his wife Margaret, became a well-known figure in Vogue's illustrations.

After the Second World War, in which he served as a naval officer, he returned to advertising. He was also the principal social and fashion illustrator on the Daily Mail until the 1960s, covering the Paris couture shows on the newspaper’s behalf.

Some Francis Marshall memorabilia is currently stored by the Victoria and Albert Museum, including quite a number of fashion show invitations and programmes - as well as a charming letter to his wife from the Ritz Hotel (left), where he was staying to attend shows by Schiaparelli, Rochas and Jacques Fath.

His sketchbooks give a unique insight into his drawing style, ‘50s life and the work of a fashion illustrator. He made sketches wherever he travelled, and his drawings reflected his main interests: ballet, fashion, horses, London life, music, outdoor life, theatre and travel.

Marshall’s renowned book on Fashion Drawing is a source of many fabulous fashion illustrations, in addition to being an illuminating insight into the glamorous fashion world of the day. The book also serves as an invaluable source of technical advice, combined with fascinating historical detail.

If you'd like to find out more about the work of this talented illustrator, there's an original 1941, hardback edition of Marshall's book at ShopCurious. This would make a wonderful heirloom gift for a collector of fashion drawings, an aspiring artist, fashion designer, or any curiously creative type. The cover is in pretty good condition, considering its age, and only a few of the pages are slightly foxed.

Talking of which, if you can identify the illustrator of this picture over at The Dabbler, you could win your very own Christmas Fox…

Will you?

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