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Our favourite winter Vogue illustrations

In this the coldest of seasons, the blue skies and caring winter sun offer inspiration and the promise of warmer, longer days drawing closer. We’ve selected some of our favourite early British Vogue winter cover illustrations, to celebrate the elegant Art Deco style, the optimism found in looking forward to spring and the Oriental influences that were inspired by The Ballet Russes.

Georges Lepape

The Parisian illustrator and fashion designer Georges Lepape first gained recognition for his commissioned illustrations for the haute couture designer, Paul Poiret. Published in 1911, the limited edition album featured 12 illustrations plus cover designs of elegant female forms adorned in Poiret’s pioneering fashion which featured stylish turbans among other fanciful Oriental inspired details.

Here in one of his earliest Vogue covers, ‘Early February, 1919’, Lepape’s stylised Art Deco beauty bears resemblance to his earlier illustrations. Organic rounded forms create her elegant layered outfit of white fur and red floral motif fabric, in this February snow scene.

Vogue Early February 1919, Georges Lepape

The Ballet Russes influence on Parisian fashion and Art Deco

Founded in Paris in 1909 by the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev, the Ballet Russes captivated their Parisian audiences and fuelled a mania for Orientalism. Hiring the best choreographers and dancers alongside visionary avant-garde artists, breathtaking costumes and scenery sets left their audiences in awe of the Slavic, Oriental, baroque and romantic elements of Russian culture.

Alongside fashion designers such as Poirot, Art Deco artists and illustrators took inspiration from the ballet company’s aesthetic, particularly the sets designed by Nicholas Roerich, which featured unusual Russian folk art and nomadic tribal history and the costume designs of Leon Bakst.

Costume Design for Nijinsky in the Ballet 'La Peri', Leon Bakst

Helen Dryden

Meanwhile in America, Helen Dryden was leading the way in the development of Art Deco fashion illustration. At first considered too unconventional, Dryden’s decorative and fanciful illustrations that were inspired by the Parisian art scene faced a year of rejection from fashion magazines in New York City. However, in 1910 under the new ownership of Condé Nast, Vogue hired Dryden, where she contributed cover and editorial illustrations for 13 years.

These two winter covers by Dryden from 1917 and 1921 (below) are distinctly feminine, with a matching theme of beauty in nature. In ‘Late February 1917’, Oriental inspiration can still be seen, with the lilac fan offering structure to the illustration while at once blending into the matching colour palette of the abstract hills behind.

Fast forward to ‘Early February 1921’ and Helen’s joyful artwork, full of decorative blossom and jovial movement, is a romantic daydream of spring ahead.

Vogue Late February 1917, Helen Dryden
Vogue Early February 1921, Helen Dryden

George Wolfe-Plank

A fellow self-taught American artist, George Wolfe-Plank was hired by Vogue in 1911. He worked in NYC for three years before moving with friends to London, where he continued to illustrate the covers of both American and British Vogue until 1936. The sought after artist’s distinctive illustrations featured romantic and Oriental influences, with exquisite detailing.

In this cover from early December 1917 (below left), this celestial beauty admires herself in a gilt hand-held mirror beneath the glow of the crescent moon. Adorned in jewels, her kimono robe has been delicately painted in a mermaid-like scale, evoking a mystical allure in this ethereal scene.

A symbol of evil, chaos and untamed nature in the Christian faith, the mythical Dragon is considered a symbol of good luck and strength in Chinese culture and folklore.

Wolfe-Plank’s beautifully illustrated cover for Late January 1923, depicts a well dressed adoring woman, feeding sugar cubes to a tame yet prowling dragon, intricately detailed, even down to the glistening scales. The woman's outfit appears to combine the fashion’s of the day with origami inspired angular detailing. 

Vogue Early December 1917, George Wolfe Plank
Vogue Late January 1923, George Wolfe Plank

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