Art in fashion: An illustrated guide to next season's trends

Story highlights

  • CNN Style commissioned four fashion illustrators to capture the best looks from the SS16 catwalks
  • Here, they explain their process and inspiration

(CNN)Photos are lovely, and lengthy reviews are helpful, but a quality fashion illustration is something else. It takes a skillful artist to capture the texture and movement of a garment, as well as the excitement and atmosphere of a fashion show, and when done correctly, the final image can match -- or eclipse -- the beauty that inspired it.

For the length of the Spring/Summer 2016 shows, CNN commissioned an international group of fashion illustrators to produce sketches of their favorite looks of the season for our Instagram account.
    Toronto-based live runway artist Danielle Meder sketched from the audience in New York; Velwyn Yossy, who recently moved to London from Los Angeles, gave the city's emerging talent a digital twist; textile designer Helen Bullock showed us the irreverent side of Italy's most storied fashion houses; and, to finish the month, Maria Chumak brought the catwalks of Chanel, Dior, and Balmain to life with her classic illustration style.
    With the shows behind us, we reached out to the illustrators to talk runway run-ins, artistic cross-pollination, what makes the perfect fashion sketch.
    You're the only one of our artists to practice live runway illustration as a specialty. How did it begin?
    I started sketching at fashion shows in 2007, initially I saw it as a way to help me loosen up my immature style, which like many fashion school students was somewhat tightly rendered and mannered. Also, it helped me get access to fashion week which I think is important to attend regularly if you want any real understanding of how the industry really works. Since then, I've attended at least one of the four major fashion weeks per season, producing a portfolio of live runway sketches twice a year.
    How do others typically react when they see you sketching at shows?
    A lot of people have nice things to say which is encouraging! I'm often told I'm talented, which is nice to hear, but honestly, I don't believe in talent. I believe in practice. The only reason I'm good at this is because I kept doing it for so long.
    What were some of your most memorable moments sketching this season?
    I was blessed with a backstage pass to Prabal Gurung and got to draw portraits of supermodels getting their makeup done. And to top it all off, Marc Jacobs had part of his fashion show on a red carpet that was available to the public, so I finally got to see a Marc Jacobs fashion show, which was a total dream come true -- and I got a beautiful sketch out of it too.

    A photo posted by VELWYN (@velwyn) on

    How did you get into fashion illustration?
    Since I was young, I've been drawing a lot, and there are reoccurring themes in my work which is women, emotion, and empowerment. I also grew up reading and looking at Japanese manga arts. Then I decided that I would go into fashion illustration and related visual arts after I graduated three years ago.
    Do you tailor your illustration style to each show, or bend the looks to suit your established style?
    Subconsciously, my illustration style is influenced by the fashion designers and their identity as a brand. The result is more versatile and varied. However, I am now much more conscious about who I am as an illustrator and prefer to represent the core and the true self in my work.
    I also work as a freelance motion designer on top of a fashion illustrator. With that, I have to sort of tailor the work to what the client needs, which means I have to be a chameleon and versatile in terms of style. I think that's one of the differences in being a designer as opposed to being an artist.
    How has working as a motion designer and concept artist informed your fashion illustrations?
    I am grateful to the skills I've learned in these different fields because whether I like it or not, there are many different skills I could add to the illustrations. For example, in the concept art world, I learned a lot about figure drawing, anatomy, storytelling, and digital drawing and painting. From motion design, I learned about concept, visual communication, composition, color, and a brief introduction to animation. I would love to apply more of these skills into my work and it would be a dream of mine to collaborate with a keen animator and create fashion animation work.
    Your style is so irreverent, and fairly unconventional for high fashion illustration. How do you describe it to people?
    I always use words like bold, naive, raw, awkward, authentic, odd. Sometimes striking, sometimes weird. I try to stay away from the pretty fantasy vibe ... I really enjoy things that will jar a little, and that will challenge.
    How important is it for a fashion illustrator to have their own unique style?
    I think it's absolutely vital. I think the purpose of it is to find a unique response to what's in front of you. If it's not from an authentic place, I don't think it can be as strong. It really should be as unique and identifiable as your actual handwriting is. I see little point in trying to fit in to the set conventions of a discipline.
    You also work as a textiles designer -- how has this influenced by your illustrations?
    I think they definitely cross-pollinate. I try and take a similar approach to both - and I strive for similar qualities in both. I try to create texture, energy and offer a little challenge!
    There seems to be a resurgence in interest around fashion illustration. Why do you think that is?
    I think it's something that offers a great addition to the saturation of photo images. I think it gives something so personal to an article, or look book or shop floor. It is still an unexpected treat, a little luxury in the world of reporting.

    A photo posted by Maria Chumak (@chumakmaria) on

    Unlike other artists we've worked with, you're not exclusively or even primarily a fashion illustrator. What do you like most about fashion illustration?
    Fashion brings together all artistic domains: color from painting, silhouette from sculpture, fashion shows from theater performance. What is most fascinating for me in fashion is the dynamic change in style, which always presents an exciting challenge for an illustrator.
    What makes an outfit appealing to illustrate? That is to say, how do you decide which look to capture when there are so many in a given show?
    I'm always very interested in the garments in the middle of the collection, as they really reflect the unique style of a designer and their particular vision for the collection. I'm attracted by color, print, sculptural fit and the freshness of a garment. But it's true that to make a choice, it is a hard task. But above all as with any artistic work it's always going be the inner feeling -- simply called " inspiration" -- that will usually excite me the most. As with any fashion illustrator, one of the biggest challenges I face is to try and, as skillfully as possible, represent in a two dimensional way designs that look so vibrant and amazing on the catwalk.
    Whose work inspires you?
    My style is influenced a lot by old-school illustrators: [Italian comic book illustrator] Hugo Pratt and René Gruau, [Japanese print-maker] Onchi Kôshirô, Antonio Lopez. I also like the elegance of Patrick Nagel's work, and the color exposure and freshness of Christian Lacroix's drawings. In terms of contemporary fashion illustrators, I really appreciate the work of David Downton.
    Is there more to a quality illustration than faithfully sketching the collections?
    Because of my fashion design background [studying at Le Greta de la Création, du Design et Métiers d'Art in Paris], I can either faithfully reproduce any garment as I see it, or I can be inspired by what the designer is trying to say with the unity of the whole collection. By then interpreting that through the prism of my own artistic perception, I can deliver illustrations that convey an elaborate overview of a show that I am viewing. I think it should be a well-balanced combination.