The decision by Vogue Italia to produce an illustration-only issue for the first month of the new decade is, at face value, a win-win situation.
Firstly, it’s a great PR story: at the start of a new decade, where the battle lines are being drawn and we are all expected to declare if we are on the side of Greta Thunburg and Extinction Rebellion or the global polluting Empire, it is undeniably on the light side of The Force. Let’s face it: the carbon footprint of an illustrated issue is but a gnat’s tread on a dew-covered meadow compared to the usual Panzer Division trampling everything in its path of your average fashion bible.
Typically, fashion teams will trail the globe, leaving an excess of kerosene, baggage allowance and photographic developing fluid in their wake. (Well, okay, perhaps there’s less developer fluid these days, but the point still stands.) In contrast, asking a talented artist to recreate your sartorial vision in pen and ink requires but a tiny percentage of the world’s resources.
Plus, compared to the editorial budget of the average issue, the overheads are minuscule. Waste less; spend less: everyone’s a winner!
Flippancy, however, will only get you so far. In answer to the cynics: the money saved in terms of production is being donated to the restoration of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice: itself the victim of floods related to climate change.
So far, all good: but what of the issue itself? Here is where a somewhat personal plea comes in. Never mind the economical or ecological impact of the situation: rather, let’s ask the glaring question: whatever happened to the golden age of illustration in fashion editorial? There are plenty of glib answers. Firstly: yes, let’s all acknowledge that photography happened. And then it went digital. The world moves on and finds new and more immersive ways of sharing fashion design with the masses. The challenge, according to Editor-in-Chief Emanuele Farneti, was ‘to prove it is possible to show clothes without photographing them’.
The implication is that illustration offers us something else. Something less literal and prescriptive perhaps: but also something more inspirational.
I know what you’re all thinking.
This sounds like bullshit.
Photographs show what things actually look like. Illustration provides nothing more than an illustration. Hence the name. Why should the latter be a better way of selling clothes to people?
Here’s the thing. Fashion is all about selling the fantasy. (Not the lie. Although the lie also comes into it a lot as well – a topic for another time, perhaps.)
And, in a world of fast-fix, instant-buy, free-return fashion, illustration harks back to a different, more contemplative – more considered – time.
Think of all those classic illustrated fashion magazine covers: most of them, granted, are pre-WWII: British and American Vogues; Harper’s; the original Vanity Fair (which closed in 1936, before its revival in 1983). Their use of illustration (even if commissioned with no realistic alternative) stood for a certain interpretation of glamour. More recently, editorial illustration has become associated with something else: the arch, politically-charged cartoons of the New York Times or Graydon Carter’s Vanity Fair / Air Mail Weekly.
The trick that Italia Vogue manages to pull off is – once more – to equate illustration with luxury rather than satire.
As ever, the beauty of the January issue of Vogue Italia is in the detail – and the planning. The choices of talent, from situationist installation artist Vanessa Beecroft to video game artist Yoshitaka Amano, are inspired. Creative Director Ferdinando Verderi deserves huge credit for taking the concept and running with it. The tropes of modern luxury publications – from collectible multiple covers to the supposedly subversive ‘fashion-shoot-as-art-project’ have become all too predictable. At best, this is due to over-familiarity; at worst, through laziness and inertia.
But what the new issue of Vogue Italia offers is that most vital of currencies in fashion editorial: surprise.