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Masters of Fashion Illustration
Masters of Fashion Illustration
David Downton
Laurence King Publishing, 2012
224 pp., $30.00

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Laura Ortberg Turner


Transcendental Lines

The art of fashion illustration.

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves.
  —C. S. Lewis

One of my favorite DC Talk songs as a teenager paraphrased Proverbs 31:30 thusly:

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain
But a woman who fears the Lord, she ain't playin'

Wise words straight from the Scriptures, to be sure, but with no room for nuance when it comes to the role of beauty. In her poem "Beauty is Vain," Christina Rossetti ends with this entreaty against vanity, speaking of the end a beautiful woman will meet:

Be she red or white,
And stand she erect or bowed,
Time will win the race he runs with her
And hide her away in a shroud.

So what is the role of beauty in the Christian life?

In his Dialogues, Plato suggested the not-entirely-new idea that the best of the world could be found in the three transcendentals of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Centuries later, Aquinas modified this list so that we had the One, the Good, and the True, to which St. Bonaventure added Beauty. There is, in short, a long and rich Christian tradition of appreciating beauty as essential to the good life, the godly life. The questions Masters of Fashion Illustration poses to Christians run along the lines of whether there is salvific power in beauty. Can it possibly be redemptive, mirroring the best parts of the created order, or is it a harmful distraction? Is beauty only to be found in still life and choral music, or can we see it still today in the power of a sharp line and a bold color, in a dress and a shadow and the curve of the body?

David Downton's breakthrough fashion assignment came from, of all places, the Financial Times, that serious salmon-colored paper. He went to Paris in July 1996 to draw the couture shows for them and simultaneously solidified his place in the fashion illustration hall of fame when his sketches ...

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