While the year 2000 managed to hijiack the media limelight, it was the year 2002 that was actually the watershed. For this was the year that we switched over from storing our data on video and audio cassettes and other analog relics - and went almost 100% digital.
Good thing, given that the last significant calculation taken a few years ago of the amount of data floating around the world indicated there were more pieces of information than grains of sand - 315 times as many - 29,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 or, measured in exabytes: 295.
And what lay behind this volcano of content? Why us, of course, in cahoots with technology.
Between 1986 and 2007, where one-way information giants like TV and radio grew at about 6% annually, the two-way online-info stream was gathering up an impressive head of e-steam, galloping along at a staggering 28%.
Back in '86, we (quaintly) faxed, telephoned and snail-mailed out information equivalent to the amount contained in 2.5 pages of a newspaper. By 2007, the Internet, email, digital photography and social media (especially Twitter and Facebook) - ie. two-way communication - made it possible for us to each generate six newspapers worth of content. Per day.
Thatsa whole lotta content, however you measure it.
Which is why we increasingly turn to editors to do the sifting for us. We look to them to dive into the unimaginably vast flow of the info-superhighway to pull out stuff that is interesting, provocative and fun - and more importantly: know what to leave. This info-filtering explains why magazines have gotten ever more niche, the way blogging exploded the way it did and even the reason that Facebook's feed, as silly as it often is, matters.
So I can't say I've been surprised to see fashion illustration not only not go away, but flourish. For illustration of clothing communicates in two important ways: (1) it shows what a garment looks like; (2) it provides a point of view about the garment. And with the ubiquity of image-manipulation programs and filters, there's increasingly little to no difference between fashion photography and illustration. Both are short-hand ways of communicating a narrative and point of view about fashion, what fashion critic Roland Barthes called "image clothing." Any accompanying captions or text about fashion he dubbed "written clothing" and the actual clothes themselves, "technical clothing." (Yes, he was French.)
However, his focus on the narrative component of constructed-images was prescient. "Our bustling century does not always allow enough time for reading, but it always allows time for looking," explains Professor Raymond Au Wai-man, whose 2004 doctoral dissertation explored The Future of Fashion Illustration. "Where an article demands half an hour, a drawing takes a mere minute. It requires no more than a rigid glance to uncover the message it conveys."
(Halston fitting Lauren Bacall by Joe Eula, 1973 - via source)
The fact that most illustration is created on a computer definitely moves its role away from being art in favor of communication - but you could argue this not only keeps an artform alive that otherwise threatened to start dying in the 1950s, but makes it really relevant for right now. (In fact, when Professor Au Wai-man surveyed a number of fashion professionals, he discovered that they preferred fashion illustration even over photography.) "To many of us, the value of a computer image is certainly not comparable with a traditional art work," he continues. "It is the fastest way to show ideas in fashion design, as we can produce illustration easily and simply."
An illustrator who passed away in 2004 recently received a wonderful new homage by fashion writer Cathy Horyn. Joe Eula: Master of Twentieth-Century Fashion Illustration (Harper Design) is a 200-sketch collection covering his 50 year career - which also included stints as a graphic artist, costume designer, stage director, and tastemaker. In addition to sketching for all the fash A-listers such as Chanel, Givenchy, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, he also did album covers (Miles Davis), show posters (Liza Minelli) and celebs (Marilyn Monroe). But it was his work in the 1970s for the fashion designer Halston that is probably the most interesting in terms of the role of illustration; what the designer became as a global brand was due in no short measure to Eula's influence. "He wasn't a designer," adds Horyn, "but he had judgment and flair that the best designers trusted." (Joe Eula by Andy Warhol - above)
- Lesley Scott