Vintage fashion illustrators
Jul 25, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
My walls are mainly covered with family artwork and pictures – with just a few exceptions: a Frank Lloyd Wright print, a framed postcard, and a Vogue cover from the 1920s. I bought the Vogue print during my last excursion to London. While it was a business trip, I had a freebie day to go to my favorite museums and it was fantastic! Usually my travels include a friend or family member, but this time it was just me – alone in the big city with 24 glorious hours filled with promise. The day was very special and as I was nearing my final stop I realized I hadn’t really found a souvenir for me. I wanted to find something that captured my current mood: adventurous and free.
Then I saw her – splendidly cool and super stylish. She had that aura of effortless chic that I merely aspire to in my day-to-day life, but felt like I was embodying while abroad for this one extraordinary day. Every time I look at her I’m transported back to that amazing day and liberating mood. We’ve met some great vintage fashion illustrators in past features, but I wanted to take some time and introduce you to a dynamic duo of artists (starting with the gentleman behind my London lady).
Eduardo Benito is nearly as mysterious as the slinky gals in exotic places he so brilliantly created, but I was able to find a few details about this icon’s personal history. Hailing from Spain, the young illustrator made his way to Paris in the early 1910s (even earning the honor of a scholarship to the prestigious L’École des Beaux-Arts). When you consider the global climate at the time (the stage was being set for the first World War), it’s crazy to imagine Eduardo ventured to a new country at just nineteen years of age – talk about going “all in” for your dreams – but knowing this informed how I view his work. The adventurous spirit that flies off the canvas grabs us because the creator had a brave spirit himself! Thrust into a foreign environment teeming with inspiration and glamour, he quickly was recognized as a rising star in the Parisian artistic community. That burgeoning fame was fueled by a series of portrait commissions (he even counted Paul Poiret as a subject!). On the side, he drew fashion illustrations for a local journal but a chance meeting transformed the entire trajectory of his career. In 1920 he became the go-to guy for Condé Nast, establishing the entire aesthetic for key publications during the Art Deco period. Ever the artist, many of his covers draw inspiration from the Cubist movement and avant-garde sculptors of the time. His style is known for simple and bold backgrounds, featuring long and lean feminine subjects.
Next up is a contemporary of Eduardo’s: René Gruau. Born in Italy in 1909, he moved with his mother to Paris at age three. By the time he was a teenager René was already supporting his family with the sale of his artwork. Much like Eduardo, his youthful talent was quickly recognized and his exaggerated style earned him covers at many prestigious magazines. During WWII, he found piecemeal work with relatively unknown designers (including a young Dior) and aided Jewish refugees. His work with Dior was pivotal in growing the designer’s burgeoning fan base. Some would go on to say that René’s innovative style gave Dior’s designs new life. His blend of Japanese influences and Toulouse-Lautrec’s sketchy aesthetic brought the world of fashion illustration to a new peak. Dior even sought his perspective during the creation of the new look. Wow! With the growth of the post-war consumerism movement, René’s aesthetic found an expanded audience. Known equally for his marketing prowess and haute couture standing, fans today can view his work in museums world-wide (including the Louvre).
Getting to know these two chaps has inspired me to be the adventurous gal that their work embodies. I think it’s no accident that in both cases we’re greeted by two hard-working, determined, and bold personalities. Both left the familiar at young ages, both supported themselves through their art alone, and both pushed the limits in their field. Whatever your career path, do it boldly. Be a René – think vibrantly. Be an Eduardo – live inspired. Be you dear reader and don’t be surprised if you catch a reflection of something pretty awesome next time you’re in the mirror. In my case, I’m hoping to see a little bit of Art Deco glam staring back at me!