Two centuries of national fashion illustration go far. Marta Riera, illustrator and teacher herself has published her doctoral thesis 1800-2000: 200 years of fashion illustration in Spain. An approach to the genre. In it, she has compiled the very best of this discipline to fill the documentary gap on the subject and draw an atlas of fashion illustration made in Spain. We spoke with her about this titanic work.
How did the idea of writing the thesis begin? Tell us a little bit about their basis.
The thesis answers personal and professional motivations. First the curiosity as illustrator of the evolution in the representation of fashion and figure dressed. Secondly, my teaching at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Pontevedra and ESDEMGA (Studies in Design and Fashion Galicia). In my classes I was conscious of the need to equip students not only with the drawing tools to carry out their projects, but also provide references to enrich their knowledge of fashion illustration, discipline usually ignored in academic programs.
Over ten years of teaching I’ve seen the growing interest of students for creative fields like comics, graffiti and illustration, which however are not included in the curriculum. In this sense, the thesis is born with the intention of filling a documentary gap and try to build a mapping for fashion illustration in Spain.
What is your interest in fashion and how relevant is it in your opinion?
For fashion I feel curiosity and interest, for the drawing, passion. I consider fashion a barometer of society at any given time, a tool of individual expression, and an interesting field created by the combination of the body and the second skin that is the garment.
Who are the essential in Spanish fashion illustration?
It’s really hard to tell. If we talked about illustrators of the past it’s easier, I think Eduardo Garcia Benito and Carlos Saenz de Tejada are the two key names in the history of the discipline in our country. Among our contemporaries, I’d firstly highlight veterans like Alicia Malesani, Iván Soldo or Arturo Elena.
Then of course I’d speak of Jordi Labanda (who answered our q&a last week), Carmen García Huerta (who recently received us at her home), Paula Sanz Caballero, Marcela Gutiérrez (she gave her To know “it is to love “it as a gift for An Exhib”ition) or Sandra Suy (whose work for Chloé we enjoyed last month).
It is also interesting to talk about media freedom (from those considered traditional, from more related to drawing and painting techniques, to purely digital) style and versatility. Personally, I admire the capacity and bravery of some illustrators to evolve and find new languages without conforming to a proposal that works for them, as the case of Carmen Garcia Huerta, who surprised us with magnificent expressionist drawings very different from what she was recognized.
In most cases our illustrators are not dedicated exclusively to fashion, but I’d also mention the works related to the sector of other classics like Ana Juan or Fernando Vicente, and also Gabriel Moreno, José Luis Merino, Berto Martínez, Montse Bernal, Óscar Giménez. I surely forget many others because fortunately we have lots of illustrators of exceptional quality.
Is fashion illustration another language? What is special compared to fashion photography?
Over a long period of time, illustration was the only language to communicate fashion. The news was transmitted through engravings figurines, prints first and then in magazines. In some cases these drawings were rigid and had an obvious reporting function but sometimes the genius illustrator provided images of artistic interest. We only have to remember the pictures of the artists of La Gazette du Bon Ton, which received enormous freedom to represent the creations of fashion designers at that time and found in the avant-garde formal codes to carry them out.
With the advent of photography, fashion illustration became free from the imperative to represent faithfully the garment and began to recreate and suggest a specific setting, character or style, more than to show rigorously. Actually, I think the power of fashion illustration is this, to reflect the universe of a particular designer or brand through a personal voice that comes only from the imagination of illustrator. In this sense, today illustration provides a versatility of styles and techniques that make it an exceptional tool for fashion, whether to communicate, advertise it or apply it to fabrics.
Is Spain international reference in this discipline?
Rather than speak of Spain as a reference in this global scenario, I think we can see the visibility of many of our international illustrators, we just have to think of its presence in international specialized monographs. Besides their quality, we can not deny that digital technology has brought transcendental changes in the profession of illustrators to greatly facilitate their work thanks to the Internet and provide a unique platform for their work. In some cases, as some of the illustrators interviewed in the thesis say, having a foreign agent has brought the key to their international projection.
As close to the thesis, Marta includes several illustrations of her own that fuse design and materials as fabric, buttons or threads; stitched images that reflect the craftsmanship she turned to after the documentary work.