The Giants of Fashion Illustration

René Gruau for Vogue Paris June/July 1985

Before the days of photography and photoshop, magazines and fashion houses employed the skills of Fashion Illustrators for their spreads and advert campaigns. These days fashion illustration is rare, so when I heard of David Downton, it was very exciting news. He follows in the footsteps of the greats, such as René Gruau and Carl Erickson, bringing whimsical romanticism to the world of fashion through his beautiful illustrations.

René Gruau was an Italian born illustrator best known for his advertising and marketing work with Dior, as well as Balmain, Givenchy and Schiaparelli. John Galliano, former designer for Christian Dior, said that Gruau ‘captured Dior’s style and spirit better than any other because he understood his long-term friend… for me a Gruau sketch captures the energy, the sophistication and daring of Dior, and equally is testimony to an enduring friendship.’

And my personal favourite:

Carl “Eric” Erickson was around at the same time as Gruau, but like most fashion illustrators, he snubbed commercial marketing work in favour of working for Vogue, Elle and other publications. He was American and from 1917 he signed all his work with simply “Eric”. His reputation was that of being hardworking to the point of obsession and he only sketched from live models. He took his sketchbook with him wherever he went so that he could capture the beauty around him at any moment.

The modern-day answer to these two illustrating giants of days gone by is David Downton. He started his career illustrating books and adverts whilst dabbling in fashion. Now he is renowned for his beautiful, modern take on this rare form of art. In 2007, he launched the first ever journal about Fashion Illustration, named Pourquoi Pas? As well as working with a long list of commercial clients including Tiffany & Co., Chanel and Dior, Downton also does portraits of famous women in the fashion world, such as Laura Bailey, Iman and Catherine Deneuve. He is also a Vogue guest blogger. He uses a range of techniques for his illustrations, which brings a different life and quality to everything he does. He is a modern master of fashion illustration, an art which needs to be brought back into the forefront of the industry.

David Downton’s portrait of Laura Bailey



Giambattisa Valli


If like me, you are a fan of fashion illustration, get yourself down to the Fashion Illustration Gallery on Cork Street to see these beautiful pieces of art up close and personal. It’s well worth the trip as when I was there this weekend the gallery owner took the time to show me each picture they have and explain the techniques used. Spread the word, let’s resurrect fashion illustration and get it back into the major publications!

images from and

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