Q&A With illustrator Lesley Barnes

Lesley has created exclusive fashion illustrations inspired by style and surface pattern. For The Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition we have applied her bold and energetic illustrations to a capsule collection of products. Lesley explains how this collaboration began, her inspiration, and what would be her favourite outfit…

Tell us a bit about your work…. Who first approached you about a V&A collaboration?

I met with Annabelle after I had worked on two posters for the V&A Museum of Childhood. When she looked through my portfolio the first thing she spotted was a ‘catwalk concertina’ I created of the collections at LFW for AW 2012 shows (www.lesleybarnes.co.uk/Front-Row) I think that’s how she and the team came up with the idea of asking me to do a concertina inspired by the history of Italian Fashion.

V&A Fashion Parade Concertina Print by Lesley Barnes. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Is this the first time your illustration work has been used on product in this way?

I have produced a few illustrated products in the past, but nothing on the same scale or quite as exciting as this project! Walking into the V&A exhibition shop and seeing my illustrations everywhere and on such a variety of products was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had – almost like a strange dream!

Most of your work involves drawing, attempting to make things move, you can feel the illustrations carried on flowing off the page, were you concerned about how it would translate onto product?

It’s always slightly nerve wracking when you hand your work over to someone else to work with but in this case the whole process was really exciting. I think the designers at the V&A really worked with the spirit of my designs – I love the movement they captured in the design of the pocket mirror for example.

V&A '70s Fashion Pocket Mirror by Lesley Barnes. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I also really loved the patterns they created with my work for the giftwrap designs – I feel like they really transformed my illustrations in a really fun way.

Where has your knowledge, admiration, interest in fashion come from?

I think fashion is a way that anyone can add a bit of personality and fun into the everyday. Even a pair of red socks can make your day brighter. Prints, patterns and interesting silhouettes appeal particularly to me (which is probably reflected in my illustration work). I have quite a collection of patterned silk scarves at home (Pucci, Hermes, Missoni, Kenzo and lots of vintage) To me a silk scarf is almost like buying a print or piece of art for your wall – you can just wear it. I have recently designed a silk scarf (which has been a dream of mine for a long time)

I think illustration also has a special connection with fashion design. A designer’s first imagining of an outfit is usually with a sketch and I think fashion illustration somehow completes the circle when the illustrator recaptures and reinterprets the work of a designer.

Could you talk us through the concertina print? Which designers inspired you? Does the fashion parade follow fashion eras and period styles? Could you explain how it is divided up?

‘The Fashion Parade’ was designed to give a fun walk through the ‘history of Italian fashion’. It was, of course, impossible to cover every decade and designer, but I hope it gives a flavour of different eras and styles. I began with the 1950s and many of these looks reference films like Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita. For the 1960s I was influenced by the fun graphic designs that Pucci created for Braniff Airlines (including the famous ‘bubble’ helmet) The 1960s illustrations were also inspired by the sheer glamour of parties like Truman Capote’s ‘Black and White Ball’ (where Elizabeth Taylor wore her famous Bulgari jewels and Lee Radziwill wore the fabulous dress by Mila Schön) For the 1970s I focused on beachwear and fabulous prints (such as those by Pucci and Missoni)

V&A Fashion Parade Concertina Print by Lesley Barnes. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I looked to the classic ‘loose’ menswear suits of Armani (defined by their lack of padding and inner lining, gentle sloping shoulder shape and narrowed lapels) to illustrate the 1980s. I also did some fun party wear inspired by Roberto Capucci. Versace and the era of the ‘supermodel’ (Linda, Naomi, Christy, Cindy et al) inspired the 1990s ladies on the fashion parade. The 2000s illustrations were all about the ‘accessories’ – the ‘it’ bags, shoes and sunglasses – for men and ladies! (from the likes of Fendi, Prada and Marni) And also a little red carpet glamour (inspired by Valentino)

V&A Fashion Parade Concertina Print by Lesley Barnes. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Of all the fashion illustrations you have drawn for this range do you have a favorite outfit?

My favourite outfits are probably the ‘optical’ prints of the 1960s group. I’m a big fan of a strong graphic print and these dresses would fit really well into my wardrobe! My favourite dress of the exhibition was the purple and green dress (or sculpture!) of Roberto Capucci – a real ‘wow’ moment.

V&A Fashion Parade Concertina Print by Lesley Barnes. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Who are your design/illustration inspirations?

One of the best things about working on this project was discovering the work of designer Roberto Capucci. Sometimes you just feel an immediate connection to an artist and their work and that was the case with Roberto and his dresses! His outfits are best described as moving sculptures in multihued shades that capture something way beyond simply ‘clothing’. I love the shape, colour and sheer exuberance of his creations and it’s that kind of movement and joy that I want to capture in my work too. I think he has probably inspired me to perhaps try working in three dimensions….so maybe that will be my next project.

View the full Lesley Barnes exclusive Italian Fashion range online.