Future of Fashion, Reimagined

It was a long journey to the runway.

Students who wanted to see their garments in FIT’s annual BFA fashion show May 5 underwent a grueling process—sketching, draping, sewing. And sometimes starting all over again. During the spring semester, they worked with industry critics to perfect their work. Finally, outside fashion-media professionals visited and made selections for the show.

At every step, artist, alumnus, and Illustration BFA faculty member Bil Donovan ’78 was there, sketching the proceedings in brush and ink. Using his signature “less-is-more” approach, Donovan captured the swirling action and emotion. “I call it ‘docu-fashion,’ because I’m documenting fashion by painting live on site,” he says. The sketches appear in the fall 2016 issue of Hue, FIT’s magazine.

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Donovan is the first artist-in-residence for Christian Dior Beauty, a post he’s held since 2009. He works regularly for Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Marie Claire, and The New York Times, among other outlets, and has illustrated four books including a textbook, Advanced Fashion Drawing (Laurence King). He wrote the book on fashion illustration…literally.

Still, he was astounded to witness the process designers go through first-hand, he says. “It was incredible to see the evolution of the student garments—from the genesis of a sketch to seeing it realized as a sample that the model wears on a runway. I’ve just never seen that before.”


In the drawings, his respect and admiration come through powerfully. There’s also a certain something extra, an inimitable ‘Donovan’ quality, and that’s no accident. “Illustration captures a distinct spirit and an essence,” he says. “It’s a fantasy or exploration, filtered through the imagination of the artist. There’s a visual poetry to illustration that no technology can match.”

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