Book Review: Menswear Illustration

February 15 2015

Richard Kilroy’s upcoming Menswear Illustration from Thames & Hudson is a cherrypicked compendium of the very best illustrators making work related to men’s fashion today. It contains a nice spectrum of artistic styles, from the intimidating tough guy bravado of Marco Kleifisch and the choc-a-bloc panels of stylized dandies of Jiiakuann to the painterly, somber John Salt-esque works of Lee Song. There are, of course, some standard names in the mix, too, such as Richard Haines‘ poignant, dynamic line drawings (he drew the stylish specs on the cover), Aitor Throup‘s dystopian studies and Gary Card‘s fantastical watercolors.

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Interestingly, the book’s intro says first and foremost that “menswear is having a moment.” And while that’s unequivocally true—Kilroy even goes on to detail industry growth—it’s a bit of a short-sighted way of opening a book whose contents so clearly signal far more than a fleeting moment. It is a narrative that suggests that in a few years time, when this “moment” is done for, guys will happily go back to indifferent generics from Sears. On the contrary: we’re well into the dawn of the stylish everyman.

This also means, of course, that illustration of menswear in and of itself is no longer avant-garde. The panels used to give cursory historical perspective to the book’s intro show Gilded Age dandies and 80s Versace hunks all taut and mysterious and rarified. They make it clear that once upon a time, to be a stylish dude—or even to draw stylish dudes—was a bit of a lonely endeavor. Today, though, the richness and proliferation of men’s fashion have made it virtually obligatory. What’s more, it’s fun to delight in the breakdown of old school rhetoric about male gaze/female gaze/who-objectifies-who. While there are (unfortunately) relatively few female illustrators in the book—Helen Bullock, Amélie Hegardt, Tara Dougans, Jiiakuann and Martine Johanna—their work is all standout.

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Whatever the case, this book is definitely worth copping for your library: it’s full of ace illustrations and is good concise reference manual for who’s doing the best work in this space at the moment. And as a bit of a historical document, its very existence signals that good menswear is going through way more than a moment.

Kilroy’s Menswear Illustration hits the shelves on February 24, 2015 and you can bet we’ll be keeping a copy or three around the studio.

Kind thanks to Harry B. and Kait H. at Thames & Hudson.