Category Archives: About Fashion Illustration

5 Fabulous Female Fashion Illustrators from the 1950s Besides Hilda Glasgow!

Mom certainly was a groundbreaker, but she wasn’t alone.  It took quite of bit of detective work on my part, but here are 5 other women of her era who were also top fashion illustrators of the mid 20th century.  Enjoy!

DOROTHY HOOD (1902-1970)

Drawing by Dorothy Hood for Lord & Taylor

Drawing by Dorothy Hood for Lord & Taylor

Dorothy Hood was born in New Holland, Pennsylvania. With Art Director Harry Rodman, they created “The Lord & Taylor Look” in the 1930’s. She posed her models doing real life activities that the average woman could relate to. She set the standard for the look of the high end department stores and showed customers what the well dressed American Woman should wear. In the 1950s, a motor bike accident hurt her right arm, but she taught herself to draw with the left. She continued to work for Lord & Taylor until her death in 1970.



Dagmar and husband Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen by Irving Penn 1947

Dagmar and husband Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen by Irving Penn 1947

Dagmar Freuchen-Gale was born in Denmark and came to the United States in 1938. She worked for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. In 1947, her drawing was chosen for the cover of Vogue when they introduced “The New Look” by Christian Dior.  For 20 years, starting in the late 1940’s, she taught fashion illustration at the Art Student’s League in New York City.

Vogue Cover 1947 by Dagmar Freuchen-Gale

Vogue Cover 1947 by Dagmar Freuchen-Gale

Her second husband, Peter, was quite a character, as you can see from the photo above. Read about Peter Freuchen here.



Drawings by Esther Larson

Drawings by Esther Larson

I honestly couldn’t find a bio on Esther Larson. I’m including her because Mom knew her and always loved her work.  One of her big clients was Bergdorf Goodman. Mom remembered her well. She said Esther was an amazing dressmaker as well. She’d throw a piece of fabric down on the floor, look at it for a few minutes, take a pair of scissors and start cutting. And she never failed to product a beautiful garment. A woman of many talents and not a blurb on her in all of the internet. So many women, lost to the wind. Here’s one of her later drawings.

Drawing by Esther Larson

Drawing by Esther Larson


ESTA NESBITT (1918-1975)


From the 1940s to the 1960s, Esta Nesbitt illustrated for Harper’s Bazaar, Madamoiselle and the New York Times.  She was also an instructor at the Parson’s School of Design from 1964-74.  After her career as a fashion illustrator, she became a children’s book illustrator, performance artist, xerography artist and filmmaker.

Esta 3

MARY SUZUKI (died 1974)

Portrait of Mary Suzuki. Photographer unknown. Isn't this great?

Portrait of Mary Suzuki. Photographer unknown. Isn’t this great?

Mary Suzuki grew up on a farm in California.  According to her only child Taro, she was very ambitious. “She did a lot of work in the 50’s and 60’s for Harper’s Bazaar and Seventeen Magazine. When Andy Warhol first came to N.Y., he showed her his book and she told him to do shoes and got him some work.” Fellow artist Mia Carpenter said of her work “Her figures were distinguished by the absence of eyes...”. When Pop Art started changing the style of commercial drawings, Mary had trouble adjusting.  After fashion illustration, she illustrated an (unpublished) children’s book, designed Twiggy paper dolls and did fine art oil painting. She showed in the first feminist art show at the Huntington Hartford Museum.  Mary was active into the 1970’s.  In later years she earned a living doing illustrations for clothing patterns such as Butterick and designed clothing as well.


I like to think of Mom and all these ladies gathering at Wally’s (see post “Hilda’s Hangout” from July 7,2011) sketching and chatting, sharing war stories. Who knows?  Maybe Dagmar was complaining about her husband bringing home bear fur and Mary telling us about her suggestion to Andy Warhol about soup cans.  You never know. What I do know is that there we’re made to feel that few women were out there in a “man’s world”. I’m beginning to think that that’s only what they want us to think… but I know otherwise.

Who Were They and Where are These Drawings?

I know I’ve gotten a slow start, but I am now understanding the Pinterest addiction.  It’s my new museum, wandering the halls looking at beautiful images and never leaving my home.  Whether that’s entirely good is another story…  Of course, I wandered over to the Fashion Illustration Gallery and what outstanding images I found.

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How great are all these?  And all anonymous.  For all I know  maybe one is Mom’s.  I hope there are other children and grand children out there who are rediscovering all these wonderful works of art before they get lost to the wind.

And now onto the next gallery. What will it be? – Great Designers or maybe, just for a smile, Cute Baby Animals.  This is the best museum!

So Many Faces

The ease of Mom’s drawings makes you forget how truly hard it must have been to bring a new spirit to each drawing.  The more I look, the more I see that each gal has her own unique personality.  I wonder where she started.  Did the clothing lead the way?  Or the real model? Or did the client dictate a specific look?  With a few lines of a face, she captured sophistication or wonder or sweetness.  Maybe haughty, but never mean.  That wasn’t Mom’s style.

Here are a few…

Face Collage


and of course, here’s my favorite…

Hilda in the 1920's

Hilda in the 1920’s


1 Model. 2 Artists

Laura Mueller, Mom’s close friend and former model, has been a wealth of information for me on this journey.  She’s the one who told me all about Wally’s where artists and models met for sketching, socializing and a lot of laughs.  Laura emailed me a drawing of her done by a young artist, Sally Melnick, shown below on the right.  Mom’s is on the left.  Both were drawn at the same time in a session at Wally’s. She couldn’t recall if this was from a 5 minute or 20 minute sketch time, but she went into great detail about the clothing, remembering that the shirt was aqua blue organza with silk collar and sleeve edges.  Yes, Laura has all her marbles at age 83.

This has always been one of my favorite drawings.  It was the only one that was framed and hanging in our apartment.  Talking to Laura about it, I learned some new facts. I always thought that she was holding a muff when, in fact, after all these years I found out that that was a chair back that she was leaning on.  I didn’t realize that Mom did this drawing for fun at Wally’s. I had figured that it was for a client.  Through this opportunity to see a more detailed version of the outfit in Ms. Melnick’s piece, I now realize that she wasn’t doing a literal interpretation of the clothing, but was more interested in understanding the shape of the body in this difficult 3/4 back view, the S curve of the pose. She simplified the shirt to enhance the shape of the hip.  She changed the collar to give the neck a straight line.  All this in maybe 5-20 minutes.  Pretty awesome!  Who knew?

It’s All In The Details

A majority of the drawings on were part of Mom’s portfolio. These were her samples, many drawn at the aforementioned Wally’s studio.  Laura Mueller and I have recently been reminiscing. She had been one of Mom’s models.  I’ve talked about her here.  She pointed out how the samples were meant to show certain strengths.  What a layperson is looking at may be quite different from a client.  Take Roxanne, for example.

I see an elegant, sexy woman in one of the coolest girdles ever.

Now here’s Laura’s take on what a client will see:

Mom needed to show them that she could recreate the feeling of the texture of the fabric.  When I really started studying the detail of this drawing, I was blown away.

And this one of Rosemary.

What do you see?

Now look…

With dry strokes, she was able to create fur. Not an easy thing to do.  I had a booth recently at the Art League of Long Island holiday show.  One woman looked fascinated by this drawing.  It turns out, she’s teaches fashion illustration. She said she could only wish that her students understood the details like Mom did.

As long as I’ve looked at these drawings, there is always something new to discover.

Is That a Hilda?

I’ve recently become acquainted with a wonderful blog called My Vintage Vogue. The blogger, Jessica, shares images of fashion history from the 20’s into the 60’s.  To quote her: “I’m just a girl with a scanner and a dream, preserving the past one image at a time”.  Her blog is page after page of stunning clothing, some really interesting photography and, of course, fashion illustrations that she has found in various types of publications.  Needless to say, I love this site and if you love Hilda’s drawings, you’ll enjoy a visit there as well.

As I was looking through the images, I saw drawings for I.Magnin, Vogue Patterns, Harry Frechtel and I thought, were these done by Mom?  If not by her, then by whom?  Jessica is lovingly archiving these images and in some cases, she can name the photographer and model (if they were particularly famous), but for the most part, these wonderful images remain anonymous. Hardly anyone signed their work in an ad.  I know that Mom thought of herself as a commercial artist, so why sign?  There were bigger and smaller clients and they all helped pay the bills.  In her mind, she wasn’t a fine artist like my Dad. His paintings hung in shows at the Brooklyn Museum and the  like.  His work came from the soul. But time does strange things, and now, yup, I think I consider her work fine art as well.  Although the initial impetus to start a drawing was commerce, she too put her soul into her work.  They have a wonderful spirit to them and now that decades have gone by and the drawings are separated from the ads, people are responding to them as  they would had  they been on display at the Met.

What happened to all the other artist’s original work? Where have they ended up? I hope in some other white cabinets across the world, ready to show themselves.   Or perhaps on a wall at The Brooklyn Museum …

I See Drawings Everywhere…

It’s an odd thing that happens when you are concentrating very hard on a specific subject, maybe it’s work project or a vacation destination or a boyfriend, and all you see in your daily life are reminders of that subject.  If you’re planning a trip to Paris, it’s all Paris all the time- in the newspaper, on tv, in shops. And isn’t it awful if you break up with a boyfriend to constantly see and hear his name everywhere. I have a friend whose brother had dated a now famous actress before she hit it big.  They broke up and shortly after, she had her big break.  He’d be walking on the street and a bus would go by with her face plastered on the side. Obviously an extreme example.  I’ve been having this experience with fashion illustration. No, I’m not seeing it on public transportation ads, but elsewhere in less dramatic venues.   I take it as a sign that I’m on a very good track.

My cousin Betty is a Senior Director at The New York Observer.  In my mind, if it’s new in New York, she will know about it.  When hearing about my new venture, she told me about an article in the NY Times a few months ago about fashion illustration making a comeback. “What a Lens Can’t Capture” by Ruth La Ferla. It seems that there is a resurgence in the use of fashion illustration as opposed to photography. To quote part of the article:

““Illustration is suddenly blossoming a little,” said Robert W. Richards, the curator of “The Line of Fashion,” an exhibition of fashion drawings last spring at the Society of Illustrators in Manhattan. The form’s stylized graphics and distinctive hand have drawn admirers.

Anyone with a cellphone camera can become a paparazzo of sorts, documenting the crowd at a fair like Basel, noted Laird Borrelli, the author of “Fashion Illustration by Fashion Designers.” “But an illustrator can capture its poetry, document its mood or energy — those are subtle things that evoke something more than mere attendance.””

Then my friend Janet called with good wishes for the site.  She had just seen an article in the August Issue of Town & Country by Julia Reed called Boxwood, A Love Story.  Photographed beautifully by Francesco Lagnese, the dressing room wall is covered with 7 large fashion illustrations.  My friend was so taken by this that she was in the process of looking into purchasing some for her own apartment.  When she found out that I had launched the site, she forwarded me the link to the piece.

So it’s all fashion illustration all the time these days. And that’s fine with me. Who every would have thought?

For links to the articles:            (see the second to last photo)