Fashion Illustration vs Fashion Photography

In the UK 20 years ago the average model weighed 8% less than the average woman, but today it is a huge, 23% less according to The National Eating Disorders Association. In an era where fast food and obesity are never far from our conversations, it is shocking to see the abuse young models are putting themselves through for the sake of the media and fashion houses that are allowing them to represent their brands.

As children, teenagers and young adults we are presumed as being naïve, and easily influenced. But when you are battling raging hormones and self esteem issues why would seeing images of beautiful women, with slim figures in designer clothing not make us reflective of our own body image?

In a recent article by Imran Amed, in the Business of Fashion, he asks: “Is idealised fashion imagery a necessary part of communicating with consumers, or should more brands be taking and communicating a more realistic body image?”

People do not want to see real people in Vogue they want somewhere to escape

Today photos are doctored and edited to the point of creating a new photo, so whether we are looking at real-life imagery or illustration, it is all becoming a sort of escapism. Recently Lena Dunham, featured on the cover of US Vogue to the horror of many critics simply because of her weight. The photos taken by Annie Leibovitz, feature the actress and director of hit sitcom ‘Girls’, but it is just her face that appears on the cover. Lena was heavily criticised for allowing the editing to happen, she writes and represents a show that depicts the trials and tribulations ‘real’ girls go through each day, one major topic being body image. Lena explains that Vogue is a place for people to escape and dream of a world filled with designer clothing, but should she be encouraging people to dream of flawless skin, thinner hips and taller figures?

In the UK Alexandra Shulman recently revealed in an interview that she is ‘sick of talking about thin models’. People do not want to see real people in Vogue they want somewhere to escape and view Kate Moss in a red slip dress, in a decadent London hotel. It is a fantasy world to the average subscriber.

christopher kane moschino

Fashion illustrations began in the late 18th century and pictured women, hips et al. Soon illustrations were being put in magazines all over the world and by 1947, and the ‘new look’, Christian Dior era, women had this role model, to be ‘flower-like women, with round shoulders, full feminine busts and hand span waists’. It was only the upper class at this time that would even get to look at the work of Dior, never mind wear it. As fashion illustrations have evolved through the centuries, they have become pieces of artwork with notable names such as Coco Chanel, René Gruau and Mary Quant drawing the fashion zeitgeists of the era such as the simplistic, linear silhouettes of the 20s and the mini-skirt in the 60s.

Unfortunately today, fashion illustrations are only seen as a quirky alternative to photographs and rarely used. For fashion illustrator, Amy Mercer, based in Newcastle she believes fashion illustrations can still illustrate the trends of the season, and if they featured in magazines as opposed to photographs it would create a more artistic feel rather than a bombardment of perfect models.

In a recent anorexia campaign by Star Models, a Brazilian modelling agency, they featured exactly how real life people would look in fashion illustrations; the results you can see are disturbing. With skeletal frames and gangly limbs, disproportionate fashion illustrations are also clearly damaging to the fragile mindset of some women. Last May Kristie Clements was sacked as EIC of Australian Vogue and revealed a tell-all book about being ‘Paris thin’ and models eating tissue to fill themselves up. The Vogue Factor is just another example of Clements work with the ‘Health Initiative’, a programme designed to ensure that fashion models used by Vogue are well cared for and educated.


If magazines featured purely real life illustrations, of beautiful clothes on equally beautiful real women it would be such an enjoyable visual experience. After all fashion is about celebrating the clothes and talent we have, we want to be divulged in the rich fabrics and transported to a place where we can all wear the clothes and be at our peak of confidence, regardless of our weight or height. So fashion imagery is necessary to consumers, and it will inevitably be idolised but to place it on real life, proportionate women would make for a completely different experience.

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