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An Illustration Says 1001 Words
March 3, 2015
At a cosy and Champagne-filled evening in Paul Smith’s Albemarle Street store, a gathering of well-heeled ladies and gentlemen formed to toast the launch of a new book by Richard Kilroy celebrating the diverse world of menswear illustration. Over the last decade, menswear has shown exponential growth both in sales and creativity, and with it the demand for more inventive methods of advertising and promotion has pulled the sketches from the scrapbooks of designers and into the eyes of the consumer.
Illustration isn’t by any means a newfangled form, more a resurgence of the original magazine covers, which began to decline in the mid-twentieth century with the advancements in photography and rise of celebrity. “I think it’s really positive that illustration is coming back into print,” enthuses Danny Keeling, creative director of CANDID Magazine and an illustrator himself. “No longer just the preliminary tool for fashion designers, it’s returning to advertising, print and digital editorial.”
Uniting those two approaches is Kilroy’s book featuring 40 of the “most versatile creative talents from around the world.” As well as the photorealistic drawings by Kilroy, the book features a gamut of diverse talents: Julie Verhoeven whose whimsical and vivid work has been commissioned by the likes of Versace and Louis Vuitton; the simplistic charcoal drawings of Richard Haines which caught the attentions of The New York Times and Prada among others; and the digital approach of Jack Hughes whose work for websites Mr. Porter and Mr. Hyde – as well as numerous fashion brands and magazines – has made menswear illustration once again feel innovative.
“I suppose every illustrator approaches their work in a number of unique ways, it’s what sets us apart,” Hughes told us of his modern approach to illustration. “Working digitally allows me to divide my image into separate layers and manipulate aspects of the it as it begins to take form – at times I feel like an engineer more than an illustrator!” Harking back to the aforementioned days of illustrated magazine covers (“Whatever happened to those?” he asks) may be where Hughes’s inspiration lies in marrying the two eras – something fashion has a current fixation with, with a large number of designers showing collections strongly influences by the sixties and seventies of late. “I have a mild obsession with anything mid-century, but am still caught up in contemporary fashion and design.” So why is menswear illustration making a comeback? It can’t just be the rise in menswear sales and number of designers creating collections, as they certainly haven’t exhausted the number of photographers waiting to shoot their products. “Illustration can take over where photography ends, and vice versa,” Hughes responded when posed this question. “There seems to be this – perhaps unfair – comparison between the two disciplines, simply because they exist within the same territories of the creative industry.”
Jonathan Daniel Pryce, famed fashion and street style photographer and author of ‘100 Beards’, rather wistfully explains why there will always be a space and need for illustration and photography to co-exist: “My work has a range of limitations defined by both the photographic equipment and the environment I find myself in. With illustration, it’s often a case of where the mind goes the pen can follow. This is particularly true for illustrators like Richard Haines whose loose expressive style can convey not only the men in question but also their movement and emotion. I’m also a huge fan of Jack Hughes who has quickly created a clean aesthetic of strength and masculinity which lends itself so perfectly to menswear imagery.”
“The book will no doubt be used mostly educationally, but to me it feels like a strong survey of the current contemporary in this industry,” Danny Keeling, Creative Director at Candid Magazine explained of his personal views on Richard Kilroy’s publication. Flicking through the pages, there is a definite feeling of escapism conjured by the work of the featured artists, none more so than Hughes’s: “The word ‘utopia’ is something I try and conjure within my illustrations,” he mused. “A place so beautiful it’s an impossible, completely unachievable paradise of good-looking men and women standing nonchalantly amidst a sea of Eames furniture, coloured in an array of mid-century hues.” And who wouldn’t want to imagine living there?
‘Richard Kilroy: Menswear Illustration’ is available now from Thames & Hudson.