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Fashion illustrators should be paid more, says FIDA

By Jackie Mallon


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Fashion illustration is a dynamic form of contemporary image-making with a growing presence on social media, in print and in brand campaigns. But Patrick Morgan, founder of FIDA, the world’s first awards to promote fashion illustration and drawing around the globe, asks, “Could someone please tell me why a photographer should be paid so much more? The only thing I can think of is the production, the lighting, the team etc. We need to change the whole mindset.”

Morgan is speaking during a panel entitled “Surviving as a fashion illustrator” in which he explains that there is a growing movement to replace the term fashion illustrator with fashion artist because the former suggests fast, low-budget work while the latter carries connotations of gravitas around work that requires days, even weeks, of labor. The career of a fashion illustrator often involves working at live events where the stress of creating quality work on the spot falls solely on the entourage-free fashion illustrator. “Maybe our agility, our ability to be more accommodating, is our downfall,” poses Morgan. “Maybe we need to be more divas to command the fee and change the mindset of the commissioner.”

Elevating fashion illustration to art form

Gill Wright, a freelance illustrator whose playful, bold illustrations, sometimes incorporating collage have appeared across editorial, advertising, brand identity, window displays, and in exhibitions, recalls being contacted by a big US brand who wanted to use her illustrations. But they offered to pay her in dresses. She credits Instagram with giving illustrators the opportunity to share the work that goes into their art, helping remove what she considers ignorance on the part of those who request work without intention of offering proper compensation. “We have a responsibility as illustrators ourselves not to do free work or cheap work, because you lessen the quality for everyone,” she says. “There is value there.”

A significant reason for FIDA’s existence is to create a sense community and support that had previously been lacking for the modern fashion illustrator who often wears ten hats, and may also have a day job. They invariably manage their own social media, communications, creative direction, are entrepreneurs, agents, business minds––as well as artists. FIDA offers the strength of the collective when the solitary nature of this career choice might be overwhelming.

Do fashion illustrators need an agent?

The pros and cons of having an agent/manager is one topic tossed about by the panel. Morgan who has been with his agent for twenty years, since leaving art college, says the relationship is about “facilitation, but also, hopefully, someone who can give you a hug when it all goes wrong.” The worst kind of agent, he believes, pushes the artist into the kind work the agents thinks will sell rather than working with the artist’s style of work.

Francesco Lo Iacono, whose clients include Dior, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Fendi, Bottega Veneta, REDValentino, and Vogue Japan, has only been with Lipstick London for a year, and a crazy year, at that. He admits, “It felt lonely before. You’re by yourself all day. Now I feel I’m part of a team.” Wright, however, has had a successful career while remaining unrepresented but says agents have brought her work even though she is not on their books.

What to charge for a commission is one area in which an agent can be important, but, says Morgan, ”Pricing is the most cryptic experience. I constantly ask my agent ‘How did that price happen?’ Putting the price into man hours, if you spend one week doing an illustration for one hundred pounds, it’s not affordable.” Having a day rate, a set price or a minimum fee is one way to offset any confusion.

The value of illustration compared to art

The story of the woman who asked Picasso to scribble something for her on a napkin and then recoiled when she heard his fee is shared with knowing smiles among the group. The woman pointed out that it only took him a few seconds, to which Picasso apparently fired back, “Darling, it took me forty years.” The best fashion art appears effortless, almost as if it materialized before the viewers’ eyes. When the artist shares their practice on social media, they make it look easy to the untrained eye. But the years of training, of sacrifice and technical experimentation, not to mention the false starts and discarded attempts that contribute to a single work, are all components of the finished piece.

FIDA members have worked with brands such as Miu Miu, Burberry, Dior, Hugo Boss, V&A, Prada, Gucci, Selfridges, RA, RCA, Vogue, Louis Vuitton and many more. The organization’s aim to create a movement of appreciation around fashion art continues apace this week with a new FIDA Talks virtual event and a panel of members discussing the role of portraiture in fashion. It reaches its pinnacle later this month with the submissions deadline for the sophomore FIDA annual awards ceremony.

Header artwork by Gill Wright; FIDA winner 2020 artwork by Dena Cooper

Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

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