Fashion Design in Illustration

Fashionable Gorey Illustration

I have long been fascinated by the fashion in illustrations. It’s like a paper doll in that it sort of needs to be believable as clothing, but it doesn’t have to be real. An illustrator can devise the exact fabric they want, the perfect draping, the finest buttons and frills, the perfectly shaped figure for the design, all without needing to worry about seams interfering with how it looks.

Indeed, picture books are filled with fantastical fashion of all shapes and styles and colors! I collect images of fashion from illustrations that I think are particularly fantastic or appealing. Everything from Jan Brett’s fantastically detailed Norwegian coats and Kinuko Y. Craft’s unbelievable fairy tale gowns to the great historical outfits in Steven Salerno’s nonfiction picture books and the bizarre hats that the Whos wear in Dr. Seuss’s various books. They are too fun, and often too impossible or fantastic, to forget!

I recently came across this great article on the fashion design of Edward Gorey at Messy Nessy Chic and it got me thinking again about some of my favorite fashion designer illustrators.

Ada Twist and her fashionable parents

Gorey himself is pretty amazing. His books are filled with everything from fabulous art deco gowns like the one above to prim Victorian suits and absolutely enormous fur coats. He’s especially good with patterns, which is part of what makes the amazing fashions of his usually black and white illustrations stand out. While many designers are afraid of patterns, Gorey clearly was not! He often layers one over another in crazy piles that somehow end up working every time. Even when his characters are wearing nothing but stockings and shoes, it’s those garments that I often notice first because of the sheer chic beauty of them.

Another picture book illustrator with amazingly cool period-esque designs is David Roberts. The characters and interior design for Ada Twist, Scientist and the other books in the series are unbelievably chic mid-century modern, with fabulous patterns, elegant platform shoes, and the most perfectly chosen 1960s furniture in every room. Reality really was never so fashionable! But even more amazing are the hats throughout his books. Apparently he was trained as a milliner and it is evident in his incredibly varied and interesting hat designs!

Military uniforms need plenty of ornate decorations and, of course, wacky hats!

And one really can’t talk about hats in picture books without touching on Dr. Seuss. The people in his imaginary world (and cats and dogs and everything else) wear the most bizarre constructions of fur and feathers and gold braiding and anything else that strikes his fancy on their heads! The rest of his fashion is equally imaginative, even if his characters have an odd inclination to wear footy-pajamas for every occasion. But no color combination is too wild and scalloped edges are the default for skirts and long coats and robes and pretty much anything with a hemline!

Sanderson’s twelve princesses are each unique

When it comes to fantasy gowns, sometimes all you need is variety. Ruth Sanderson takes care to make every single character she draws distinct in how they dress without regard for style or period combinations. A princess might have a slim, Waterhouse-esque gown that wouldn’t have been out of place in either a 1930s ball or a portrait of the Lady of Shalott while standing beside a woman in heavy layers with a conical medieval hat layered in draping chiffon. While the princesses in most versions of The Twelve Dancing Princesses tend to be illustrated in matching gowns, often only differentiated by different colors, Sanderson’s princesses each stand alone with a different and distinct style ranging from the medieval to Renaissance inspired princess looks!

Christmas fairy with bells on

And when you step into the world of fairies and fantastical creatures you find even more imaginative styles! One of my favorite fantasy designers is Tony DiTerlizzi, who has drawn his share of Magic the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons art, and isn’t afraid to play with fabrics and materials. His wild fairies and gnomes and goblins tend to be draped in torn scraps and bits of nature. There’s rarely any indication of how these things are held together, but they always do exactly what he wants in terms of showing off who they are and where they live. My favorite of his is the recent Christmas fairy from his picture book The Broken Ornament. From her party-store style tiara to the giant (for her – fairies are tiny, you know) jingle bells tied around her ankle every detail is perfect. And there is no doubt this fairy is all about Christmas!

Toothiana ready for action!

Another illustrator not afraid to play with wild fashion drawn from science fiction, steampunk, and even traditional fashion inspirations is William Joyce. His versions of Santa Claus are varied and unique, but each is recognizably his and each is recognizably Santa Claus. Perhaps my favorite of his unusual designs, though, is Toothiana, the Queen of the Tooth Fairies. She’s detailed, even to her elaborate make-up and tiny curled-toed boots, and impossible, but somehow perfect for what she is. She both feels fragile and like a warrior queen at the same time – a tall order for a tooth fairy who seems inspired by songbirds!

There are, of course, lots of illustrators I could talk about here, but these are a few favorites that the article about Gorey led me to think about. It’s fun to share them and perhaps at some point I’ll look more in depth at the designs of these or other illustrators. They create amazing worlds and characters with unique clothing (and place and object) designs. Sometimes that seems to go unnoticed, but it’s really quite impressive and worth stopping to marvel at from time to time!

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