In today’s fast paced world it seems that most fashion broadcasting is done online. If something can’t be tweeted, it’s usually instagrammed and what cannot be instagrammed is usually blogged. But despite this trend towards virtual reportage, much of which is accompanied by iPhone photography, some older school traditions have (thankfully) remained.
Visionary David Downton might produce most his work behind the scenes, but he’s certainly an important figure in the industry today.
An illustrator that has spent the last decade establishing his reputation as one of the world’s leading fashion artists, Downton has become known for his classically elegant, highly contemporary imaginings. But his work is more than just breathtakingly beautiful. His pieces—many of which are portraits of famous style icons—have been instrumental in the revival of curiosity towards fashion illustration.
In his own words to Vanity Fair, Downton began his career as “a jobbing, everyday, take-anything-I-could-get illustrator”. But he quickly learned to recognise his strengths—portraiture and fashion. Then, in 1996, he was commissioned to draw at the Paris Couture shows by a Sunday supplement. And the rest is history. Since his first appointment to the runway he has worked principally as a fashion illustrator, contributing to the likes of Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, The New York Time and Vanity Fair—amongst a variety of other highly respected publications.
Described by Christian Lacroix as an oriental calligrapher, Downton’s work is informed largely by art history, inspired by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Egon Schiele and Franz Kline. Yet there remains a modesty and modernity to his illustrations. Far from lifeless caricatures, his art brings his subjects to life.
“I like the images to float on the surface of the paper,” he has said in an interview Vanity Fair, “as though they had just ‘happened.’”
And with the publication of his first monograph, David Downton: Portraits of the World’s Most Stylish Women, (some of) the best of the artist’s work is now compiled in one place. With a foreword by Christian Lacroix himself, and an afterword by Dita Von Teese, the book showcases more than 150 of Downton’s drawings of celebrated women from the worlds of film, fashion and style.
David Downton’s illustrations radiate style, elegance and class. But when Vanity Fair asked the artist what his work has taught him about beauty, his response was perhaps the most beautiful of all.
“Blank beauty isn’t beauty after a while. The turn of the wheel in the gene pool is the opening play, but for any one of these women you have to add in intelligence, humour, dedication, and work. It’s what you do with beauty that’s the interesting thing.”