Why fashion's new It girls are holding pens, not purses
2015 was a banner year for technology—see: the Apple Watch, the continued rise of drones, and self-driving cars—but as it turns out, the coolest job you could have right now is as old-school as it gets: fashion illustration. Before jam-packed photo pits and handheld promotional machines à la iPhone were a thing, illustrators would document shows for Vogue and Women's Wear Daily from the front row—but why, now, in this age of tech-everything, are they being asked by fashion houses like Prada to draw their ad campaigns and fly across the globe to attend their shows? Maybe it's because we're all sick of filtered selfies and want to see something more personal; maybe it's a craving for something handmade at a time when everyone's attention is fixed on a screen. Maybe we just want to look at an image that isn't quite perfect. But Instagram can't be left out of the equation: The ever-evolving platform made it possible for three of the industry's most in-demand illustrators—Jenny Walton, Carly Kuhn, and Jeanette Getrost—to quit their day jobs and create a space for themselves in the industry. And we'll admit that while we're mindlessly scrolling through our feeds at night, more often than not it's an illustration that stops us in our tracks: You stop to take in all the small details; it gets you thinking about how the artist decided on those colors, that shape, those pencils. Consider the drawing of Miu Miu shoes Walton posted just a few weeks ago: Packed with more charm and whimsy than any still-life photo, it actually made us want to buy them more.
These artists aren't just drawing, either—they're styling photo shoots, attending events, and modeling, too. If that job description sounds familiar, it's because designers have been relying on fashion bloggers to fill those roles for the better part of a decade. But while style blogging has become both ubiquitous and mercenary—we've all read the articles about "influencers" who charge $20,000 for an Instagram mention—illustrators are in a totally different camp. The modern fashion illustrator's job is so new that they never expected it to be their meal ticket. Here, meet the three you need to know for the season ahead.
Jenny Walton (@jennymwalton)
When we first discovered Jenny Walton in Tommy Ton's street style slideshows, we didn't know she was an illustrator; in fact, we didn't even know who she was. As it turns out, she's a Parsons grad who drew to pass the time on her morning commute and started using Instagram to share her daily illustrations—which range from minimal figure drawings to sketches of Marni outfits—and quickly gained traction (at present, she has more than 54,000 followers). Now, it's her full-time job. "What's really great about Instagram is that you can work on a drawing on the subway, then post it and get an immediate response," Walton tells Vogue.com. "There's something really cool about showing what you're working on to the world right away."
Walton thinks part of the enthusiastic response she received came down to a desire for a break from the nonstop stream of retouched, repurposed, and re-grammed photos: "You can only take so many photos of beaches and people, and you want to see other things!" she says with a laugh. "With illustrations, it's not just sharing what you're seeing, it's interpreting something in a different way. You're showing your take on a Prada or Gucci look. As an illustrator, you have the chance to add your own style to it." And it turns out that brands like J.Crew and Misha Nonoo want that fresh perspective, too: "By sharing my point of view and my life on Instagram, it's opened up so many different opportunities beyond illustrating. I'm able to draw one day, style another day, and take photos the next day. I think if people are genuinely interested in your point of view, they'd like to see how that translates into other subjects, too."
Carly Kuhn (@thecartorialist)
Like Walton, Carly Kuhn used illustration as an after-hours creative outlet. She shared her work on Instagram, but never expected to garner a major following, let alone turn it into a career. But when Sarah Jessica Parker re-grammed Kuhn's sketchy portrait of her, the artist's follow count skyrocketed. "After the SJP thing happened, it was like, boom—my inbox started to flood with all these crazy requests," she says. A few months later, one of those requests came from Prada, who was enlisting artists to illustrate the new Prada Raw Avenue eyewear campaign; Kuhn's became a fully animated cartoon strip. "It was a short time line, but I was like, 'It's Prada, I'll figure it out!'" Kuhn says.
The heritage house was a perfect match for Kuhn, who weaves high fashion into all of her illustrations, from doodles of Lanvin models to sketches of old magazine spreads. She also reacts to industry news; when W's September issue hit stands, Kuhn drew one of Steven Meisel's photos of Gigi Hadid and posted it within hours. "It's cool because after I did my interpretation of that photo, I saw another artist post her interpretation. We were drawing the exact same image, but they came out completely different, so you get to show your own unique style."
Jeanette Getrost (@jeanettegetrost)
Jeanette Getrost, a Los Angeles–based illustrator whose résumé includes Estée Lauder and Coach, credits Instagram for giving illustrators a new stage, but she doesn't think the art form ever went away. "I think artists and illustrators have always been part of the fashion community. I always think back to Andy Warhol," she explains. "I don't think our job was ever lost, but because of the rise of social media we're being utilized in really new, interesting ways." Getrost often posts live videos of herself drawing because "people like to see the process of things." While high-res, Photoshopped images feel mass produced and out of reach, an illustration has a certain warmth and approachability. You could compare it with the fashion cycle, too; a few years ago, it was all about neon and synthetics, but now we're all wearing Ryan Roche's pastel hand knits. No matter how fast technology moves forward, it feels good to know that maker culture is as relevant as ever.
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