London-based fashion illustration gallery Gray M.C.A has brought a capsule of their lauded 2021 Drawing on Style exhibition to New York City. Hosted by Didier Aaron gallery, as part of the Master Drawings New York event, and running for one week only, the show features work by contemporary illustrators such as David Downton, Jason Brooks and Bil Donovan alongside past greats such as Antonio, Carl Erickson and René Gruau. The works span from the 1940s through to today and, says Gray M.C.A co-founder, Connie Gray, “shows the evolution of the genre as a discipline.” The mission of Gray M.C.A, which was founded fifteen years ago, is to show fashion illustration as fine art and indeed the space it occupies within Master Drawings includes works by Rubens, Picasso, and Goya.
“Fashion illustration, until quite recently, had almost been second-tier,” Gray tells FashionUnited. “It had been slightly looked down upon because it was illustrative art, it was commissioned work, and for some reason people didn’t take it quite as seriously. But they’re all the most fabulous fine artists, all published, greatly admired, and incredibly successful in their periods.”
Elevating fashion illustration to fine art
But Gray is helping fashion illustration shed its inferiority complex through shows such as Drawing on Style and the resultant press coverage it garners in the London arts magazines and in fine art sections of newspapers. “We now have collectors around the world who have very important art collections and they are adding fashion illustration to them, and that is exciting,” says Gray. “When you see an artist like René Gruau, for instance, who comes up for sale at auctions at Sotheby’s or Christie’s reaching figures between ten-fifty thousand, often more, that in itself places fashion illustration in a more recognized position.”
Gray credits her father, an art dealer who collected fashion illustration on the side, with igniting her passion for fashion illustration. Her parents did not permit her to hang posters of pop stars on her bedroom wall as a teenager but she was allowed to hang fashion illustrations. “I literally fell asleep dreaming about these women, where they were going, what they were wearing, their back story and everything.” She married an art dealer and together they launched the gallery space devoted to the genre.
Whether showing in New York or Palm Beach, the Drawing on Style works are all for sale, but it’s not always the gallery bringing valuable pieces to the attention of the public. Some of Gray’s most exciting works have been brought to her by individuals who have inherited drawings from family members, unsure of their value. “Some amazing Bouchés from Saks Fifth Avenue from the 1950s that are just exquisite,” were recently unearthed this way, says Gray. The gallery works closely with paper conservationists from the Victoria & Albert in London to have them lovingly restored.
A traditionally male dominated field fashion illustration is becoming much more inclusive. “That one of the best things I’m seeing,” says Gray. “Gladys Perint Palmer, who’s in this show, was probably one of the first in the twentieth century to really break the mold, and while other female illustrators were working, fashion was generally drawn by men and worn by women. Now there are so many female fashion illustrators out there, and great ones. It’s a very equal discipline now for everyone.”
Drawing On Style, Gray M.C.A at Didier Aaron Inc. runs from 22 - 29 January. To coincide with the exhibit Gray M.C.A in collaboration with the Society of Illustrators will host a virtual panel discussion, Fashion Illustration: The Evolution of Elegance, featuring five eminent illustrators, David Downton, Glenn Tunstull, Jason Brooks, Steven Stipelman, and Bil Donovan on 25 January at 6 pm.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry
Images by FashionUnited