LONDON — For more than 50 years, Gladys Perint Palmer has captured some of fashion’s most glamorous figures with her black ink, watercolors and metallic paint. But it’s not beauty that she’s after — it’s imperfection.
“Give me a big, beautiful nose any day — and I love drawing funny teeth,” said Perint Palmer during a Zoom call from her home on an island in British Columbia. “I don’t like pretty-pretty. I like what the French call ‘jolie laide.’”
As the fashion world rouses itself following the great COVID-19 hibernation, Perint Palmer is back. Pens and brushes in hand, she’s ready to ferret out life’s glorious imperfections, and teach aspiring artists how to draw via a live, interactive online masterclass set for Saturday.
In addition, a selection of her work has gone on display in a fashion illustration exhibition called “Drawing on Style” that takes place during London Fashion Week.
“Drawing on Style,” which has returned to London after a three-year interval, will run through Sept. 29 at the Cromwell Place arts hub in South Kensington. Hosted by the fashion illustration gallery Gray M.C.A., it showcases 85 rarely seen works from artists including Perint Palmer, David Downton, Ali Mahdavi, Bil Donovan and Jason Brooks.
There are also illustrations by the late, great René Gruau and by René Bouché, who was known for his work in Vogue and for Elizabeth Arden in the mid-20th century. Illustrations by Robert Melendez and Steven Stipelman, both of whom worked extensively with WWD and its former sister publication W Magazine, also form part of the show.
Perint Palmer’s works include two models in slinky, backless Versace gowns from 1998; a Rifat Ozbek model flashing some serious leg from 1993, and a Karl Lagerfeld look from 1992 showing a hat with giant nails, which she’s dubbed “Karl Lagerfeld Nails It.”
Other works on show include her take on a Max Mara fur, a Christian Lacroix coat and a Jean Paul Gaultier model wearing a long ripple of a gown and a Three Musketeers hat.
She likes drawing models from the back, or the side, and finds frontal views boring. “There’s energy and movement in a side view, and backs can be very eloquent,” she said.
Perint Palmer plans to tell her masterclass students to “look at the spine because it gives movement,” and to pay close attention to negative space, and to proportions. “Models look elegant and glamorous for a reason: They have longer legs. I want the students to look at the distance between the waist and the knees, the knees and the feet. Glamour is based on color, shape and posing.”
Her fascination with side views led to one of the greatest breaks in Perint Palmer’s long career. As a correspondent for the San Francisco Examiner back in the 1980s, she remembers sitting “in the seventh row” at a Milan fashion show, and spotting the dramatic profile of Anna Piaggi, the late Italian fashion writer who had blue hair and a penchant for tiny hats, big sartorial statements and shiny walking sticks.
Piaggi commissioned Perint Palmer’s work for Italian titles including Vogue Italia and helped fix her in fashion’s firmament.
While Perint Palmer no longer travels to the international fashion weeks, she still believes that nothing beats a live show. “There is no excitement on a video. The essence of a fashion show is being there, watching and listening to what other people are saying. Social distancing must be so deadly.”
She’s still drawing and takes inspiration from her own photos and what she sees on her computer screen and on Instagram. On a good day, she said, “I don’t think, I just draw. It’s as if an energy shoots from my shoulder to my hand.” On a bad day, “the rubbish is full of [bad] drawing, but I go on and on until it works.”