The works displayed in this exhibit were originally created for magazines, newspapers, department stores, and individual designers. The illustrator’s role was to advertise the garment, imbuing it with a sense of glamour and fantasy. They expertly conveyed the way clothes moved on the body via their keen understanding of anatomy. Top fashion illustrators—and the Neady collection includes some of the best of the 20th century—have a distinctive line, a “flair.”
Tod Draz rendered poised American types for Saks. Barbara Fox worked for the store B. Altman and was known for her sensitive pencil technique. Pedro Barrios, working in a more decadent style—think of English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley—drew for Women’s Wear Daily. Ruben Toledo’s whimsical, stylized work has graced numerous campaigns for Barneys.
In each case, what they captured was not just the shearling coat, the plaid separates, or the spiked heels, but the spirit of the time—a certain élan. That elusive quality has roots in the fashionable figure, as Frances Neady herself could tell you. “She had a clear picture of the fashionable figure,” explains Rosemary Torre, a former Neady student and organizer of this show. Neady knew the woman of the 1950s best, Torre says: “Your stomach was tucked in. Your butt was tucked in. You had sloping shoulders. You had small bones, which made you look tall.”
In the century it spans, the Neady Collection charts the dwindling number of fashion illustrators as photography became increasingly dominant. However, fashion illustration may find its place again. In 2012, noted illustrator and FIT faculty member Bil Donovan was hired to render Fashion Week in brush and ink for the pages of New York magazine. He asked the editor why they wanted drawings: “Anyone can pull out a cell phone and shoot a photo now,” the editor replied. “This is unique.”