Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A remembrance fashion story: Brian Stonehouse: Artist, Soldier, War Hero, Fashion Illustrator.

The Checked Suit, No.1. Gouache, ink and fibre-tip pen on grey paper. Shaped for layout. For an American fashion magazine, probably Vogue, circa 1955. Provenance: The artist’s estate. Stamped ‘Stonehouse Estate / A and H’ verso.

There is a new fashion exhibition opening in London this week: It features the work of Spy turned fashion illustrator Brian Storehouse MBE.

The second World War broke out on his graduation, with Storehouse joining up to the Royal Artillery in 1939. His artistic credentials came in handy, as his cover as a spy was that he was a french art student. He was shortly discvoered and arrested, enduring two and a half years in prison camps.

Anna Brady, Diary editor at 'Antiques Trade Gazette' writes:
'He was a prisoner for the next two and a half years, often tortured and placed in solitary confinement and incarcerated in three French prisons and five concentration camps, culminating in Dachau. While in Natzweiler extermination camp, he recognised four well-dressed women being marched to their deaths in the crematorium. Haunted by their faces, a year later he was asked to sketch them – his drawings matched the photographs of four missing SOE agents.'

His drawings from the war ended up in the Imperial War Museum

A chance meeting with with Harry Haller, a socialite American major, saw him move to America in 1946 and became a portrait painter. 

Anna Brady again:

'His work caught the eye of Jessica Daves, an editor at Vogue, who thought his style perfect for fashion. In 1952, Stonehouse was the first new illustrator to be taken on by Vogue since 1939. Under Daves as editor-in-chief, he worked alongside the much better known "Eric" (Carl Erickson) and René Bouché.'

The Red Evening Skirt. Pencil, ink and gouache. Signed. For Vogue, circa 1955. Provenance: The artist’s estate. Stamped ‘Stonehouse Estate / A and H’ verso. 23x13.5 inches.
We all look back at the 1960s as the moment when fashion all changed. The younger generations no longer dressed in the image of their parents. Music equally broke the mould and photography came to the fore. Of course, photography was an issue for a fashion illustrator, who up until then was the first to be able to communicate the new trends to the public.

As a costume designer and fashion illustrator, I have always adored how the shapes and energy created through pen and ink -or any other artist's choice of medium- win over any fashion photo. The presence of a drawn image has a quality that allows the reader to imagine themselves wearing the items in question.

A box of Stonehouse's drawings have been recently rediscovered and have been pieced together with the letters and memorabilia they contained into a book, Brian Stonehouse: Artist, Soldier, War Hero, Fashion Illustrator.

"At a glance Stonehouse's work is fluid and decorative, but essentially much like any other fashion illustrations of the era. But to look again with a knowledge of the horrors he witnessed through the war, gives the drawings a new poignancy, the languid models in their couture threads so far removed from those four doomed women whose image haunted him in 1944. µ"

Anna Brady

'Brian Stonehouse – Fashion Illustrations' is at Abbott and Holder Ltd, London, until 23 December. Anna Brady is Diary Editor at 'Antiques Trade Gazette'

Images taken from Abbott and Holder  website

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