Fashion Illustration: Jordi Labanda and Carmen García Huerta

With pencil and thread

Fashion illustrators draw from the blank page and create an atmosphere that lies somewhere between photography, cinema and literary fiction.

In a world where we are constantly surrounded by more and more instant, intimate and sophisticated images, fashion photography puts an established reality before our eyes, whilst illustration plays with the actual content of that reality. Jordi Labanda and Carmen García Huerta are two of the most renowned Spanish illustrators and, whilst both are well known for their fashion illustrations, their work goes beyond that, to create their own, recognisable universes. Jordi’s illustrations need no introduction.  It would be difficult to find someone who has not come across them.  With a style somewhere between the elegance of the ‘50s and ‘60s and the cosmopolitan life, which is hyperconnected to the 21st century, his work has, for two decades, depicted characters who are a mirror in which we can reflect with wonder, irony and a sense of humour.  A regular of Wallpaper, Apartamento, Visionaire, the New York Times Sunday Magazine and brands such as Louis Vuitton, Dior and Nissan, he also plays a part in the imaginations of adolescents through his own line of stationery.  If you have ever dreamt of losing yourself in cool, you could no doubt do so even with your eyes closed in one of his scenarios. Carmen García Huerta was selected by Taschen as one of the 100 best international illustrators.  Her world is both unmistakable and surprising, with a unique attention to detail (she well knows that she can reveal more than the rest) and straddles two styles which, far from opposing each other, complement each other perfectly:  the stylized and chic in her more commercial work, and a predilection for curved lines and the beauty of imperfection in her more personal projects.

        by Silvia Terrón for SPN Magazine

JORDI LABANDA – Interview for SPN

In your illustrations you create a story in which the viewer submerses themselves, naturally filling in the gaps.  Do you start from a concrete idea, or does it emerge as you draw? When I began to work as an illustrator, I wanted my work to be narrative, even to be from a cinematographic point of view.  I had always believed that the main job of an illustrator is to communicate (I am a commercial artist always at the client’s service, I never forget that).  The idea always comes to me before I start drawing, during the sketching process.  I like to have everything sewn up before picking up the paintbrushes, I prefer to have thought the conceptual part through so I can make the paintings with the enjoyment of a schoolboy. Another characteristic of your images is irony: a vision associated with fashion and a reflection on the hyperconnected society of today.  How do you think that society has evolved since you started your work as an illustrator?  How do you think things will end up in the future? So much has happened!  I have spent twenty years marking precisely that, so my work is a bit like a record of the changes of the century and of the ways and fashions which defined them.  I was one of the “guilty” parties who generated that concept of lifestyle which is used so much today.  I think that society is much less naïve, it has become more sceptical and ironic (even sarcastic), partly because of the consumer society which has advanced exponentially and above all because of the social networks which have, in my opinion, become machines for jealousy on a global scale.  What really interests me nowadays is the relation of people with all these social networks, all this technology which hypothetically makes us more free, although I don’t quite see how [no lo tengo tan claro]…I think the future will bring both interesting and terrifying things, such as, for example, the domestic use of virtual reality which, in my opinion, will turn everything upside down. What identifies you as a Spanish illustrator – or perhaps that definition doesn’t make sense now in a globalized world? I have always thought of myself as a citizen of the world.  My references have always been the classic illustrations of the New Yorker or the work of René Grau in the ‘50s…localism hasn’t really interested me because my viewpoint has always been global.  I think that has been an important factor in the success of my career. Sometimes it’s not the big things, but the little details which carry the most weight and influence us the most.  What influenced you most in your formative years as an artist? I undoubtedly fixate on the details of old and modern films, on the poses of models in fashion photography, on my favourite architectural interiors…I think I had a very intense formative phase which allowed me to turn all that into a form of illustration very easily.  If you look at my early work, you will see that I have not really moved away from that axis.  God is in the details, as my beloved Mies van der Rohe says. Which young Spanish illustrators would you recommend? I really like Jorge Arévalo’s work becuase I see echoes of the classic illustrators in it, which I like. Your images have appeared in all sorts of contexts: from murals to carpets and pens…What has been the strangest place your work has appeared? There are so many!  I could mention a nail file, a tampon packet or the side of a car (the Jordi Labanda edition Nissan Micra)! If you could have created the set of a classic film or scene, what would it be and why? One of my favourite scenes in the history of cinema is in “Vertigo” when James Stewart sees Kim Novak’s character for the first time in a restaurant and is mesmerised by her…every time I see it I get goose bumps.  Everything I like is encapsulated in that scene.  I also wouldn’t mind having choreographed the party scene in Audrey Hepburn’s apartment in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Your images are perceived as belonging to the present, but at the same time floating in a certain undefined time.  What would be the ideal formula in which you would place your characters? I like my work to breathe modernity yet also when you see it again as a classic within x number of years.  The formula would be: 20% Hitchock + 5% Almodóvar + 25% Irving Penn, Avedon and Helmut Newton + 10% of the sensuality of Tom Ford for Gucci in the ‘90s + 8% Warhol + 10% Pucci in the ‘60s + 5% French existentialism + 10% the New Yorker cover + 20% René Grau + 2% Diana Vreeland.  


What is fashion illustration for you?  When you translate a garment or object onto paper, what do you think it gains, and what does it lose? It’s quite an evasive notion for me, something like the minimal unity of elegance.  The most subtle yet at the same time complex expression of the whole web of design, trend, fabric, texture, attitude, sociology…in my case the object gains a force and loses just that volatility that I’m talking about, as my drawings are very consistent. In your more personal work, the straight line almost disappears and becomes a mass of superimposed curves.  How do you see the world in day to day life: in straight lines and precise directions, or in curved lines, losing and regaining themselves in each twist of a silhouette? My way of seeing the world is pretty much like my way of expressing it.  I am obsessive and dreamy in general.  Although less and less so, I think that is precisely down to what I channel in my drawing. What is happening beyond illustration in the world of Carmen García Huerta?  What music do you listen to, what moves you, is there anyone in your life? Well, I am single, which I need – it is vital for my work.  The only presence which does not change me or which even, at times, motivates and stimulates me is that of my daughter when she visits me in the studio, but only for a short time.  I always have music on.  I usually listen to intimate tracks by composers from classical to neo-folk, unless I have an urgent deadline.  Then I put on power rock or epic soundtracks to speed me up a bit. You have talked about how you find inspiration in the little things.  Do you see them as secret passageways to the bigger things, or do you prefer to live in a universe of minimal details which reveal much more than the whole? I think there is a bit of both.  God and the devil are in the details.  And it is also a personal tic: I usually go from the specific to the general in everything.  So having a global vision of things and then unravelling the parts, doesn’t really work for me; I easily end up getting hung up on a little detail.  With drawing, that makes me immerse myself (in a good way) for a long time in a frill on a shirt, before having bothered to put the whole figure together. When you were little, what could keep your attention for hours? I was a very quiet child, introverted and dreamy.  I spent a lot of time immersed in my father’s graphics library, where he had a load of books by strip cartoonists from the ‘70s, clearly for adults as they were about politics or soft porn.  Perhaps that wasn’t the most appropriate for a child, and I didn’t understand anything that I was reading about, but I am very grateful to have had access to those as that is how I learnt to draw and get engrossed in reading. Leaving technology aside, what objects do you think are most representative of this era, which will be recognised when looking back from the future? Now there is a return to the home-made and the artisanal, in perfect harmony with technology.  But I don’t know what to say, everything that comes to mind is electronic.  So, if I can’t mention a smartphone, I would say a selfie.  I can’t think of anything which better expresses here and now. How can we identify you as a Spanish illustrator – or perhaps that definition does not makes sense now in a globalized world? I think that effectively it doesn’t make much sense, as from the beginning of my career I have worked outside Spain a lot, perhaps more than in Spain. What young Spanish illustrators would you recommend? I like Carla Fuentes a lot.  I confess that I don’t really follow the new talent very closely that’s conquering Instagram.  For years, I have admired illustrators like Marcela Gutiérrez, Berto Martinez and Ricardo Fumanal. If you could create the image of a character from a novel or film in your illustrations, who would it be? Madame Bovary. In fact, that’s what I’m about to do. Facing the supremacy of photography in the world of publicity, what is that only illustration can bring to this time to represent or create an imaginary world?  Perhaps it is that illustration still leaves a gap in the imagination, there is the surprise of having seen an image without having seen its exact image? Yes, less literal, parallel worlds.  Advertising is less interested in that now than at other times in the last century, when they created fantastic illustrated campaigns for large-scale consumption, from the ‘belle époque’ to the psychedelic years.  It’s a shame that that has been lost.  I will never tire of defending that:  I will motivate the directors of advertising agencies from here.

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