Amelia opens up the world of fashion illustration

Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration is the second book by Amelia Gregory, founder and editor of Amelia's Magazine, a guide to an art, fashion and music with an ethical slant. The book was launched at a live art event in Shoreditch, London, at which illustrators created renderings of the guests.

For the book, Amelia paired 30 artists – chosen through an open submission process – with 50 designers of ethical clothes and accessories, matching each illustrator to the designer(s) she thought would best suit their style.

As with much fashion illustration, the book favours hand-drawn work, though there are many examples of mixed-media pieces too. We sat down with Amelia to find out more.

DA: What prompted you to create the book?

AG: "It was always the plan to keep making books after I published my first (Amelia's Anthology of Illustration) in late 2009, so a few months later I put together a new open brief. I decided to concentrate on fashion illustration because around this time we started to run a lot of fashion illustration on Amelia's Magazine, especially during London Fashion Week. But I knew I didn't just want to do an ordinary fashion illustration book -- it had to have an ethical bent, so I decided to profile all the best ethical fashion designers I could find.

DA: How did you chose the illustrators and designers to feature?

AG: "[The open brief asked illustrators to create] a depiction of their choice of ethical fashion designer, for which I included a list of possible designers. So in a way they chose themselves. It didn't all match up perfectly so a few illustrators had to create more images, to ensure I had all the fashion designers covered that I wanted to include. I paired these up according to their styles, and what I thought would be a best fit."

DA: What were you looking for in terms of submissions?
AG: "I was totally open to any kind of illustrative style -- I think most illustrators work in a variety of hand made and digital ways nowadays anyway. But I guess I will always veer more towards what I favour, which tends to have a handmade feel even if it's not been made that way. I am not a massive fan of totally digital art, though of course there are some great examples out there."

DA: Takes us through what you love about a few of your favourite pieces.

AG: "Oh, I couldn't possibly pick out just two or three, there are so many that I love. But… I'll start with the cover image by Andrea Peterson (above), which depicts ethical jewellery designer Ute Decker. I love the way that Andrea can create something so romantic, slightly retro and yet totally sophisticated and now. Her images always look as though they've been created with such ease, yet they are so bold and confident.

"Rachel de Ste Croix's illustrations of From Somewhere's S/S 2011 collaboration with Speedo (below) used clever Photoshop techniques to offset her original line drawings and give them a hand printed feel, which she then went over with textured brushes made out of scanned fabrics to create beautiful final images. She is a great example of an artist who uses digital techniques to create an end result that looks even more handmade than the original might have done.

"Abigail Daker has perfected a part digital technique whereby she colours in her original drawings on the computer, creating intricate graphic patterns that flow around her hand drawn figures (below). They are so strong yet successfully manage to retain a soft hand drawn feel at their heart."

DA: Why is fashion illustration so, um, fashionable now?

AG: "I think websites like Amelia's Magazine are helping to contribute to the fashion illustration renaissance, by offering a space where illustrators can experiment, and for potential clients to find illustrators to work with. A love of illustration is inevitably cyclical, and at the moment I think it's very popular as a retaliation against the often clinical nature of photography.

"For me the possibilities really came alive when I began to include fashion illustrations when blogging about the catwalk shows during London Fashion Week. I use my own photos, but they will inevitably be very similar to those that everyone else has taken -- even if my viewpoint is different. With illustration it's possible to offer an entirely different take on an outfit according to each illustrator -- and that's really exciting."

Andrea Peterson painting guests at the book's lauch party

Joana Faria shows off her penmanship

DA: What does ethical fashion mean to you?

AG: "Creating something ethical means producing it with regard for people and planet -- striving to use sustainable materials and production methods whilst practicing fair-trade principles. It's no good if ethical fashion remains ghettoised, it has to become part of the mainstream production of clothes. Fortunately I think that things are really moving forward due to the fact that the new breed of ethical designers are producing collections that are as well designed as mainstream fashion, thereby ensuring they are desirable to the buying public. And big clothing businesses are waking up to the realisation that it makes no sense to burn their fabric waste when they can upcycle it and make money from the sales of the resulting garments. I think it will be standard practice for all big manufacturers to upcycle their waste in the near future."

Portrait of Digital Arts editor Neil Bennett created at the launch party by Rachel de Ste Croix

DA: Fashion illustration is often seen as more part of a fashion tradition than illustration - separated from other forms of illustration and difficult for those outside to break into. How much do you think this is true, and if it is, how can illustrators working in say editorial or advertising find a way in?

AG: "That's an interesting point and I think you're probably right -- fashion illustration does exist very much on it's own little island. I think that's because it isn't really taught alongside other forms of illustration and it often develops out of having to depict fashion designs. I had to do fashion illustrations on my degree and I absolutely hated it -- it wasn't what I was good at at all and I always dreaded the times it was required of me.

"Fashion illustration is all about creating a character from an outfit, and showing it in an attractive and intriguing light -- and that's no different from any other type of illustration. At least three of the featured fashion illustrators in Amelia's Compendium of Fashion Illustration are also successful children's book illustrators and there seems to be an intriguing crossover between the two; in children's books, a characters outfit can be really integral to their depiction.

"I would recommend that any illustrators who are interested in pursuing fashion illustration start contributing to Amelia's Magazine -- it's been the way in for almost all the illustrators in my new book, many of whom had not attempted to do fashion illustration before. It's a great space to find your feet!"

Amelia Gregory at the launch event

DA: On a personal level, what did you get out of creating the book?

AG: "I get a very big sense of satisfaction from knowing that I've created a space for up-and-coming illustrators and ethical fashion designers to be recognised. And I hope it will inspire them and others to come alive to the possibilities of fashion and other types of illustration to promote ideas and stories that can inspire change for the better.

"Unfortunately publishing your own books is not a very good way to earn money, so it's also very hard work, but I hope that it will lead to lots more exciting collaborations and ventures somewhere down the line, for everyone involved. I feel a bit as though I have helped put in motion a whole range of intriguing relationships that will evolve into something quite magical in the near future."

Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration costs £18 from here.

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