The Fashion Fiend's Illustration Process

I am often asked about the process I use to illustrate on the iPad. I use an application called Adobe Ideas, which has since evolved into something called Adobe Draw  (which I refuse to upgrade to because they screwed up the Undo tool big-time).

I usually start with a rough sketch by hand, which I then photograph and trace over on the iPad. I use a fancy electronic pen from Paper 53 that allows me to get the line quality with the drawing tools that is almost like drawing on real paper.

After tracing the underlying croquis from my hand-sketch, I start to fill in the outline of the garment: 

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Next comes the coloration, usually on a separate layer (layers are the reason why the Adobe technology is so genius)  so I have some flexibility and can erase mistakes easily without hurting the croquis.

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And finally, I add some shading and my signature et voilà , I have a finished Illustration ready to post! Between my iPad and Instagram, I am able to draw in my more classic, lady-like style while exploiting the immediacy of modern technology. Cool!

Delpozo, Spring/Summer 2016

Delpozo, Spring/Summer 2016

The Fashion Fiend's Illustrated French Dictionary: Leopard

Animal prints present a fascinating fashion dichotomy. Depending on the wearer, they can morph from truly tacky to classically chic, and one of the most elegant is leopard, or le léopard in French. Associated with sex bomb pinups like Bettie Page in the 50s, it is now considered a neutral in the modern fashion lexicon.

My personal favorite of the animal prints. 

My personal favorite of the animal prints. 

Initially, the appeal of an animal print in the 1940s and 50s was presumably its sexy exoticism and as a primal symbol of female empowerment (and objectification). In the 60s and 70s, leopard skins and leopard prints were popular amongst the rock-and-roll set and their "free love" Hippie fans. Yet somewhere along the line, the chicest of chic women adopted leopard as an expression of sophistication with a tinge of wildness. Nowadays, it can be found at every price point and adorns everything from purses and shoes to coats and jumpsuits... always walking the fine, fine line between tragique and au courant.

The Fashion Fiend's review of China: Through the Looking Glass

I have been taking the month of August off and enjoying summer, so the fact that Labor Day is already sneaking up on us is a real bummer. That also means an end to the blockbuster China: Through the Looking Glass exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. If you have an opportunity to squeeze in a visit before next Monday, you really must go - it is truly phenomenal! The exhibit explores the "collective fantasy" of China; in other words the appropriation and appreciation of Chinese art, culture, and costume by Western filmakers and fashion designers. The visual beauty of the show is underlined with a more political tone in the exhibition's accompanying book, which delves into how the West's fascination with chinoiserie or "Orientalist" exoticism has also been fraught with exploitation and cultural misunderstanding. The exhibit notes here explain the thesis in more detail: http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2015/china-through-the-looking-glass/exhibition-galleries

The show's artistic director was none other than the legendary film director Wong Kar-Wai, whose vision has transformed several galleries in the Asian Art section of the museum into a multimedia dreamscape. It is the first time I have seen a Costume Institute show at the Met employ the richness of the art surrounding it to such effect. The exhibit begins with a room embued with the glamour of The Last Emperor, Bernardo Bertulucci's 1987 film about Pu Yi, the last emperor of China. This room also juxtaposes historical Chinese garments with modern interpretations by designers as different as Tom Ford and Dries Van Noten, which nicely serves to highlight the wide-ranging influence that Chinese culture has had on the Western imagination. Next is a survey of the cheongsam - or qipao - as placed in the context of couture pieces from Western designers and film clips highlighting the particular allure of this style of dress. 

  Modern couture from Jean Paul Gaulthier inspired by the cheongsam

 Modern couture from Jean Paul Gaulthier inspired by the cheongsam

Gong Li in Zhang Yimou's 1991 drama,   Raise the Red Lantern , the story of a teenage concubine.

Gong Li in Zhang Yimou's 1991 drama, Raise the Red Lantern, the story of a teenage concubine.

The real stunners come on the second floor, where I heard audible gasps as people entered the blue-and-white gallery. There awaits an exquisite gown by Chinese couturier Guo Pei (she designed Rihanna's dramatic golden silk dress for the Met party this year) that mimics the shards of a blue-and-white porcelain plate in the folds of the fabric. 

 

A second gown by Guo Pei in the Buddha gallery is a work of art in its own right, the shape inspired by a lotus flower and intricately embroidered entirely over its entire surface. If the previous gallery evoked gasps, this one inspired silent awe.

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Alexander McQueen was often inspired by different cultures and historical dress to create something almost futuristic. The influence of the robe-like garments worn in ancient China was evident in this piece, embroidered with the nature motifs so prevalent in Chinese art.

The distinctive millinery by Stephen Jones unifies the pieces in the exhibit.

The distinctive millinery by Stephen Jones unifies the pieces in the exhibit.

The Fashion Fiend's Illustrated French Dictionary: Miniskirt

The miniskirt is nothing new - even before it went viral in the Swinging Sixties and became a fashion staple, short skirts are known to have been worn as far back as ancient Egypt.  The British designer Mary Quant is credited with adding "miniskirt" (officially defined as no longer than 4" below the bum!) to the fashion lexicon in 1964, naming it after her favorite car, the Mini. Around the same time, French designer André Courrèges, inspired by the Space Age, was popularizing the minijupe on the Continent. In truth, both designers were finding inspiration on the street, as fashion began to break free of the propriety and rigidity then defined by haute couture.

Summer (how it is flying by!) is obviously the perfect time to break out the mini to show off those tan legs, though super fans can continue wearing it all year round thanks to opaque stockings!

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The Fashion Fiend's Illustrated French Dictionary: La Lingerie (Part 2)

It's amazing to think that we only find a brief respite from "form-shapers" for a few decades here and there in more recent times, usually at a point when women are asserting their rights, specifically the 1920s and the 1970s... I wonder what will happen to our contemporary body shapers if we elect our first female president next year!

A perennial down through the years seems to be the whalebone corset and some form of crinoline worn under the dress to create a smaller waist in contrast with a propped-up set of bosoms and a generous hip ratio. I think the crinoline and corset pictured here sort of say it all in terms of the lack of comfort that aristocratic women put up with in the name of status and beauty. Illustrated below is the cage crinoline - the word is derived from the French term crin, meaning "horsehair" - and a modernized version of the corset from the mid-1800s using the latest in technology at the time: steam-molded stays woven directly into the fabric on the loom.

Finally we arrive in the early 20th century with the invention of the Merry Widow, or la guêpière in French (derived from the word for wasp, la guêpe), a one-piece garment that accomplished the dual objectives of defining a wasp-waisted physique balanced by cups molded to project each of the breasts forward, a departure from the mono-bosom silhouette of the previous decades.

Once the Flapper era arrived in the Twenties, women had apparently had enough, cropping their hair and adopting loose-fitting undergarments that provided little if any "support", though the French word for bra or brassiere (which actually is the term used for an "undershirt" in French) is in fact un soutien-gorge... In other words, literally translated, a bra is called a "throat (or neck) support" in French. Love it!

Unfortunately, it is too late to see the exhibit at the Bard Graduate Center - it closed on July 26 - but you can find the book produced by the center in English, called Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette. It is a beautifully photographed, extensively-researched coffee table book edited by Dr. Denis Bruna, the curator of the Paris show and a professor at the École du Louvre that can be purchased here.

The Fashion Fiend's Illustrated French Dictionary: La Lingerie (Part 1)

The history of sous-vêtements, or undergarments - for both men and women - is a long and winding road full of interesting French (and English) words. Let's us girls start by thanking Dieu that we have an array of comparatively comfortable and diverse choices nowadays...

Ladies, it wasn't always thus. This past weekend I made a visit to the Bard Graduate Center's exhibition of the Fashioning the Body show that originated at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 2013. It traced the history of the various body shapers and underwear that humans have dreamt up to change our shape, as exemplified by the whalebone corset (worn by both genders at some point or another in history) illustrated here:

In this photo that I got yelled at for snapping at the exhibit, we can see the three stages or layers of the corset's construction, starting with the Mother of All Underwires at left which is then overlaid with the cotton structure in the middle, stitched to this foundation to hold its shape, and finished with the intricately sewn outer bodice in a decorative silk fabric. It's beautiful indeed, but imagine wearing this contraption under a heavy gown and head dress in what was surely, even then, a warm European summer.

Photo by Anne Sanger, taken   at the Bard Graduate Center's   Fashioning the Body   exhibit.

Photo by Anne Sanger, taken at the Bard Graduate Center's Fashioning the Body exhibit.

After enduring inventions like the stomacher (a stiff, often embroidered fabric inserted at the front of the bodice, often a gift from a suitor) and later the pannier (which widened the form at the hips to as much as 5 feet across, making it rather difficult to pass easily through doorways and tight corridors) to form the body to the desired shape of the dress, women were subject to the bustle in various forms to augment the backside. Variations of the bustle include the pouf, the faux-culs (literally, "fake buttocks") and the strapontin (known as a "jump seat bustle" in English), each employing new and inventive ways to use technological advances like coiled metal springs to flatter the form. My favorite from this period is the bustle that enabled the Lobster Tail dress shape, which allowed the wearer to manipulate an interior adjustable lacing system to deal with stairs, chairs and so forth. Progress, sisters!

In Part 2, I'll focus on the late 19th into the 21st centuries... Check back tomorrow! 

The Fashion Fiend's Illustrated Fashion Dictionary: Polka Dots

The polka dot pattern has a long and interesting history and tends to go in and out of fashion, to the point where now polka dots of all sizes are kind of a fashion standard. The origins are difficult to pin down, as there are instances of polka dots being worn across social strata, from a painting of Madame de Pompadour wearing une robe à pois in 18th century France to photos of people in the lower classes wearing polka dots as a more interesting and inexpensive alternative to plain, solid-colored textiles. The French term quinconce, meaning a staggered, diagonal arrangement of dots, was also used as a word for the fabric in 19th century France, but today a polka dotted garment is referred to as à pois. I won't comment here on why we call them polka dots in English, as there are conflicting stories about its origins and whether they have to do with the dance style, a term for a Polish woman, or another etymology.

But to me the most fabulous deployment of polka dots of all time has been the career-spanning, decades long body of work by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, also known as the Princess of Polka Dots. My illustration of the polka dot influence in fashion, therefore, really must be a paean to her and her distinctive look in old age...

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I love this artist's spirit so much - and I am not alone, as she has often been voted the most popular and beloved of pop artists, even ahead of Andy Warhol. 

The grande dame of dots has inspired me to do several iterations of drawings... Which do you like best? 

A Sea of Dots

A Sea of Dots

Chic Dots

Chic Dots

Dot Mania

Dot Mania

Long live Yayoi Kusama! 

The Fashion Fiend's Illustrated Guide to Chanelisms

As anyone in fashion knows, Coco Chanel is "the mother of us all" as far as modern fashion is concerned. She did more than anyone else to advance the idea of easy basics (striped jersey, anyone?) at a time when most women were trussed up in corsets and petticoats. 

Although I may not admire everything about Mademoiselle, I do respect any woman who has the guts to say what she thinks in a world where we are still judging women based on superficial nonsense (Serena Williams is a champion for a reason, y'all).

I hear criticisms of the fashion world from my non-fashion friends all the time, and while there is much to dislike about how the industry packages and even exploits people, it has also produced many creative geniuses like Coco Chanel, who by liberating women's fashion to be practical and chic did much for our emancipation. 

Unfortunately, Karl Lagerfeld does not treat his mandate as the inheritor of Chanel's legacy with the respect it deserves, in my opinion. His fashion shows are literally a circus and the clothes... Oy! His recent haute couture show was no exception, being an example of excessive narcissism on his part. But when he truly sticks to the house codes, as with this elegant midnight chiffon evening dress, he manages to get it right at least some of the time...

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The Fashion Fiend's Illustrated French Dictionary: Gingham

The gingham check is a fashion perennial, going in and out of vogue as a summer dress material for women - but also serving as a classic men's shirt fabric, as any regular shopper of the Men's store at J.Crew can attest. 

A simple yarn-dye check pattern, it's often found in a cotton or cotton blend in a shirtwaist style for women that harkens back to a simpler, more innocent time. While people in this country may associate gingham with picnics, cowboys, Americana kitsch or even rockabilly, it has long been used in many countries around the world as an accessible, inexpensive and easily produced cloth for all kinds of things ranging from home decorating to clothing.

Some fashion fun facts:

  • The word gingham is thought to be derived from a Malaysian word, genggang, meaning striped.
  • The iconic blue and white gingham dress worn by Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz was used by costume designer Adrian to lend a sense of nostalgia ("There's no place like home") to the film and to help make Judy Garland, aged 16, more childlike (as Dorothy's age was probably closer to around 12 in the books).
  • Brigitte Bardot revived the popularity of le tissu vichy after getting married in a gingham dress by French couturier Jacques Estérel. 
  • It was the pink gingham shift dress (pictured here) designed for a newspaper insert that launched UK designer Barbara Hulanicki and her label Biba in the 60s.

For Spring 2015, gingham made a mini-comeback in fashion, used in collections ranging from Diane von Furstenberg to Michael Kors to even an edgier designer like Joseph Altuzarra. To me, there is nothing more chic than une robe d'été en vichy, a.k.a. a gingham sundress, especially one as sophisticated as this two-piece stunner in a large-scale check from the late Oscar de la Renta.

The Fashion Fiend's Illustrated Guide to History: Un Scandale

A seminal moment in fashion history occurred when Yves Saint Laurent showed his Spring/Summer 1971 haute couture collection, basically ushering in the era of ready-to-wear. His goal was to shake up couture, giving the young something new by reaching back to the past (something that most designers now do as a matter of course). As he put it, "Young people, they don't have any memories".

Unfortunately, the fashion press regarded it as tacky, even offensive, as the styles were reminiscent of the 1940's, evoking a devastating war that many of the critics in his audience has actually lived through. To top it off, the models wore bright red lipstick and nail polish, which inevitably drew comparisons to the "fallen women" and prostitutes of the wartime era.

No matter - young Parisiennes flocked to wear the clothes, choosing the louder, more garish pieces and turning "bad taste" into something cool, desirable and chic.

An exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent in Paris puts a spotlight on this collection, showing famous looks like a glamorous green fur "chubby" and the lipstick coat (inspired by Paloma Picasso). If you want to see it in person, you'd better hurry off to Paris... the exhibit closes July 19!