Why Fashion Illustration Matters in the Digital Age

Fashion illustration is nothing new, of course – “Fashion starts with a design; vogue started out as an illustrated magazine,” comments vogue creative director of Italia Fernando Verderi. But in our digital age of photographic overload, the illustration stands as a refreshing oasis amid the endless scroll. And in most cases, it retains the sense of the hand. Its charming analog irregularities contrast with the postmodern and hyperreal world described by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, as being dominated by spectacle and image.

Pictorial and historical cover by Edward Steichen.

Photographed by Edward Steichen, vogue, July 1, 1932

The history of fashion illustration vogue dates from the first issue, published in December 1892, under the creative direction of Harry McVikar, an illustrator whose work regularly appeared in the magazine. Fashion photography was then a nascent art, encouraged by the publisher Condé Nast. Edward Steichen’s photographic coverage for vogueThe July 1932 issue of can be seen as a turning point in favor of photography. Illustration would never be dominant again. Picture covers continue to be used, however; the penultimate, by René Bouché, was published in 1958. The most recent was created in 2017 by painter John Currin for vogues 125th anniversary.

By choosing to work with (mainly) fine artists, rather than illustrators, the Italian vogue continues a tradition of collaboration that has resulted in covers, for the United States vogue, by painters such as Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico and Pavel Tchelitchew, and also nods to a legacy of fashion design in Italy. Anna Piaggi, for example, worked with many illustrators when she published Vanity, and continued to do so for his long DP (double page spread) for Italian vogue. Interestingly, the Italian edition of the magazine was launched in 1965, right in the middle of the decade that gave birth to the famous fashion photographer. Michelangelo Antonioni documented this phenomenon in his 1966 film Explodein which David Bailey was the model for skirt-seeking photographer Thomas, played by David Hemmings.