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LONDON — For decades they toiled on the sidelines, pencils and paintbrushes in hand, while photographers like Patrick Demarchelier, Stephen Meisel and Mario Testino shaped the way one saw fashion.

But today, illustrators, portrait artists, and painters are taking their turn at creating fashion’s images and influencing how the public sees everything from Missoni socks to Mont Blanc pens.

This story first appeared in the December 6, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Recent collaborations include Louis Vuitton and Julie Verhoeven, Bob Wilson and Takashi Murkami, and Stella McCartney and David Remfry. Hogan, the Italian accessories and outerwear brand, recently commissioned Damien Hirst and other artists to create paintings that will be screened onto leather. Earlier this year, Mont Blanc asked artists including Sam Taylor-Wood and Sylvie Fleury to create shopping bag sculptures based around the company’s star.

In October, Mont Blanc displayed the six sculptures at the entrance to Paris’ contemporary art fair, FIAC. “We knew people weren’t expecting to see Mont Blanc represented at the fair in that way,” said Ingrid Roosen, director of the Mont Blanc cultural foundation. “We wanted fairgoers to approach the brand from a different angle, see it in a different way.”

Richard Phillips, the New York-based artist who has worked on projects for Mont Blanc and Cartier, said, “Working with artists brings a creative unknown to a brand. The images that come out are not necessarily geared towards the needs of focus groups. It opens up a more critical relationship with the public — which has its risks and its payoffs.”

But the big fashion and luxury brands aren’t the only ones benefiting from the marriage of art and commerce. Illustrators and painters say fashion and luxury goods brands have more to offer than publicity and a fat paycheck.

“Working with products and with these huge companies keeps you fit,” said Tanya Ling, a fashion illustrator and designer who is working on projects for Louis Vuitton and Waterman. “I’m a commercial artist, a fine artist and a fashion designer. I have friends who would turn up their noses up at my doing all three. The truth is that all of my roles react to, and sponge in with one another and that makes me more productive.”

Phillips, who was recently commissioned to create images inspired by Cartier’s red ring box, said working with the big brands has helped him think differently. “It’s a creative non-sequitur. It lets me interrupt my creative process, and embrace the hypocrisy of my own production,” he said.

Then there are the advantages to working with inks and paints — rather than flashes and lenses. Just ask Ross Kirton, who is a fashion photographer and an artist. His fashion images are in the most recent edition of V.

“A big difference is that where a painting grows, a photograph becomes labored. With painting, you have the freedom to work through, and feel your way through, the images,” he said. “Also with painting, you really have to try and understand a piece of clothing because it’s not just about representation.”

Lucie Muir, who co-curated Line, a fashion illustration show that opened last week at London’s Neon gallery, said the current love affair between art and fashion was inevitable.

“I think it’s a backlash against the big-brand photo campaigns. The cool, organic lines and raw, charcoal scratches are a response to the slick ad campaigns we’ve seen for so long,” said Muir. She said she believes the future will be about layering illustration with photography.

“Photography will be back, but with marks. Artists will use paintbrushes and tools to work on the photos.” (Just look at the recent Calvin Klein campaign, which spells out the designer’s name in red, white and blue pen.)

Ling said pictures — whether they’re painted, drawn, or scratched — lend a certain gravity to fashion. “Fashion is fleeting, I think that what illustrations do is slow time down. They give images a soul and a weight, and add depth and longevity. Fashion is also so attainable nowadays, I think illustrations can make it magical again.”

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