David Downton is the artist behind those Cate Blanchett for Vogue covers celebrating the magazine’s 50th anniversary in Australia. The quartet of covers, I feel, played a hefty role in the issue selling out across the country as eager fans hunted for their own mint copies. I have mine still wrapped in its gilded box.
Downton is travelling around Australia on tour with an exhibition of his work and his book Masters of Fashion Illustration; a gorgeously realised tome of sketchy style inspiration. After eagerly accepting an invitation to chat with the leading fashion illustrator yesterday morning I found him humble, enthusiastic for his craft and very British (so please imagine the following answers being spoken in a slightly posh accent)…
SM: So I was wondering; do you ever get tired of drawing beautiful ladies in beautiful dresses? What’s the continual appeal for you?
DD: Never! Apart from they’re stunning I think fashion illustration artists are artists and their subject is fashion. And that happens to be a subject that came to me quite [late]…you know I was already 35 when I started doing fashion and it’s endlessly interesting and rewarding. I don’t think that I will do it forever or that I will only do this. Look, you know if you get to draw Dita Von Teese or Cate Blanchett or Erin O’Connor why would I want to draw my parish church? It is such a privilege and they are inspiring.
SM: If , gun to your head, you could only draw one fashion era, or one person or one designer for the rest of your life who would it be?
DD: If it’s a designer it would be La Croix because I think he is a genius and I think it’s tragic that that couture house doesn’t exist and I think in England we bailed out every lousy two-bit bank, post office, bankers that sold us down the river. He was an artist and a magician, a lovely man. It took me a while to understand his work. I would draw his because it’s so difficult to draw I’d would have to get good at it. He’s all about artistry and subtle references and things that I don’t find easy; I’m better at a very fluid line, very simple shapes. So if I had to draw him it would be a pleasure and I’d get good at it eventually.
SM: How do you work? Do you prefer to draw from live models?
DD: Yes, if I can. You have to be flexible but if I can that’s by far the better way. For fashion artists we are not designers mainly (some are actually, but very few) so we are reinterpreting someone else’s work. So you have to be respectful of it. Good fashion illustrations is the best of you and of them. But it’s great because we don’t have to come up with it.
SM: Are there any other fashion illustrators at the moment that you admire or see rising through the ranks?
Oh yes lots. I think there’s going to be a lot coming up now. There’s relatively few “top” if you want to use that word fashion illustrators right now because there hasn’t really been the training. But now, in the next five years there’s going to be lots…and they’re going to be mainly women. It’s really interesting because my book “Masters of Fashion Illustration”, my wife said “Why is it ‘masters’?!” and I said “Because they are all men”. And they were. The greatest fashion illustrators of the 20th century were all men. The greatest of the 21st century – the strongest ones now – will be women, definitely.
From now until October 3rd an exhibition of David Downton’s breathtaking works can be found at Chadstone Shopping Center in the luxury precinct just outside Tiffany’s.