Art of style: fashion illustration as a practice

Ahead of her masterclass at House of Illustration next month, fashion, beauty and lifestyle illustrator Montana Forbes tells us what it means to be a fashion illustrator...


  • Education

Fashion illustration may not be as widespread, or as well known an art form, as fashion photography – and yet we encounter it daily in print publications, advertising, packaging, film, television and digital media, and it is also used as decorative design, for fabric, furniture and homeware.

So, what is fashion illustration, and what does the job of a fashion illustrator entail?

Fashion illustration is a form of art like all illustration and I consider it the first language of fashion. It is part of the design and representation of a garment as well as an interpretation of clothing of the prevailing times.

Fashion illustrators are mainly hired to enhance or promote certain brands and products. A brief is usually presented by a creative director or team with basic ideas on specific clothing items or accessories from designer, collections and fashion retailers. Then follows a process of research, drawing and redrawing, with sketches going through various stages of approval.

Some projects call for more or less creative direction so it is useful to keep visual references to hand. An accumulation of these helps to hone an individual aesthetic, developing and defining a strong visual identity.

An illustrator should have sound knowledge of fashion and various terminologies: they need to be able to describe types of fabric, styles, trends and dress codes. Equally, it is important to stay actively engaged with current and past fashion seasons’ shows and topics.

Fashion is quite cyclical, so I spend time rummaging through vintage stores to take notes from past decades as well as collecting selective items to draw from. Immersing myself in other creative fields, like film, music and art are also an essential part of my process.

My personal interest in drawing fashion stems from observing my mother’s enthusiasm for fashion and styling. Her bold choice of clothes and accessories embodied a certain strength of character whether dressing for work or leisure.
From a young age, I would spend hours drawing and playing with paper cut-out figures and changing their clothes.


Montana Forbes will be running a masterclass on fashion illustration at House of Illustration on April 22 2017. More information.