Style / Trends

ILLUSTRATING A POINT

 
With illustration such a big trend this spring (check out UK Vogue’s round-up of illustrated cosmetics’ packaging, and Prada’s drool-worthy Flower Faerie collection), I couldn’t, Carrie "Now On the Big Screen and Thus Totally Relevant in 2008" Bradshaw-style, help but wonder: Do fashion’s illustrations influence the size debate?
 
 
 
One of the most oft-cited idiotic excuses designers use to defend their choice of wafer-thin models on the catwalks, is some variation on the "curves – breasts and thighs and rounded bits – ruin the line of the clothes" or "the design was perfect on paper, it gets distorted by breasts" etc.


 
What they’re talking about is how the ideal of the design, on paper, works differently when translated into fabric and placed on a real body. Inevitably, when one designs in a 2D paper format, the final result will be different. You’re going from a painting to an object.
 
 
Yet, rather than accept that the finished piece (a dress, skirt, trouser, what have you), is the real design, and the original illustration is merely a piece of artistic whimsy, designers all too often cling to the illustration as the perfect realization of the design, with the clothing itself a poor facsimile of what could have been.
 
In a sane world, we would shake our heads and say, "But isn’t the point of designing clothes to design, well, clothes? So if you can’t design a dress on paper that works well when made, you’re not very good at your job. And if you only want to design dresses on paper, go off and be a painter, or a full-time illustrator."
 

 
But this is fashion. So instead, as we’ve seen, we blame the models for distorting the design, ruining the line, stretching the fabric. That’s not exactly what I want to examine here: we’ve discussed designers’ wacky views of women’s bodies on the catwalk fairly often; let’s now move the discussion over to how they imagine women’s bodies.
 
Ever noticed that the women in fashion illustrations have something in common, both with each other, and with catwalk models? Let’s take a look:
 
 
 
 
Ceci n’est pas des femmes!
 
Aside from the issues of race (seriously, where are the non-Caucasian fashion illustrations, is there some massive shortage of brown ink that we don’t know about?), the distortions of illustrated women’s bodies are just insane.
 
It’s no wonder designers see a difference between their designs as idealized on paper, and the finished product. It’s one thing to add a dash of fantasy to illustrations – they are, after all, an artwork in themselves. But they should be secondary to the real deal, secondary to the reason those illustrations exist in the first place: the clothes.
 

 
Yet designers persist in cladding imaginary girls thinner than the paper they’re drawn on. I’d love to see the illustrations done by plus designers: Anna Scholz, Marina Rinaldi, et al. Do they, too, whisk their pencil and conjure whippet-thin women, or are their drawings more closely related to the end product?
 
Do these illustrations matter? Should we concentrate solely on real women, on getting plus-sized models into the magazines and onto the catwalks alongside their thinner colleagues, rather than distracting ourselves with the semantics of cartoons?
 
 
I think it matters. Because when you write, or draw, you have absolute freedom. There isn’t a client saying, "customers won’t respond to an advert with a black model"; or a stylist saying, "fat chicks won’t fit into these sample sizes". There aren’t real-world, financial implications. Unless you’re drawing to commission from a fashion magazine, in which case, are the magazines specifying "thin imaginary models only, please – and make them white"?
 
There’s just paper, pencil, and imagination. Every race, height, hair colour, size is at your disposal when you illustrate. And yet, even when there are no limits, all we see is thin.