Tony Viramontes was a leading fashion illustrator in the late 70’s and the early 80’s. Unlike illustrators before him whose renderings where about classic elegance, Viramontes’ drawings captured the fashion zeitgeist of his time. His work used punchy colors with lines that were often jagged and strong. His oeuvre broke the rules and pushed the envelope of what fashion illustration should be. He worked with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Paloma Picasso and Naomi Campbell
Gone to soon , this is Tony:
However, Viramontes’ career — and life — was short lived. He died at the age of 31 and his work was almost forgotten. In a new book entitled Bold, Beautiful And Damned by Dean Rhys Morgan, Viramontes’ work gets its rightful share of the spotlight.
Below I talk to Dean about his book and the influence of its subject as well as the future of fashion illustration in a digital world.
Why did you decide to focus on Tony Viramontes? What attracted you to the subject?
Tony was quite an underwritten character in the history of fashion illustration. Often omitted entirely from anthologies and retrospectives of the genre. Even during his lifetime his work had been overshadowed by that of his friend and mentor Antonio Lopez but after his death in 1988 he slipped from view entirely. I wanted to try and rehabilitate his reputation, for no history of twentieth century fashion illustration can be complete without recognizing the achievements of Tony Viramontes
How would you describe his aesthetic and how did that resonate with you?
Thrillingly unrestrained and full of power and attack. Tony was fearless when it came to making marks, he fixed on paper an attitude, the tilting of the head, the movement of the hip. He had a very strong hand. Today it’s difficult to comprehend the power a fashion illustrator could have in the interpretation of the mood of the moment but Tony completely reinvigorated a traditional way of selling fashion through drawing. He was one of the last fashion artists to remind people of what the hand had been able to achieve before it was sidelined by the eye of photography. I think that his drawings are just as fresh and compelling today’s as they were nearly 30 years ago.
Why do you think fashion sort of forgot him?
I think fickleness, combined with the fact that Tony made his career and earned his subsequent reputation and celebrity in the rarefied world of fashion and haute couture. He was that rare and now all but extinct beast, a fashion illustrator. Fashion illustration back in the 80’s did not enjoy the key role it did during it’s heyday in the 1940s and 50s. Tony’s celebrity lasted just as long as his name continued to appear in print, when it ceased to appear, the name Viramontes was quickly forgotten and the world moved on…
What did you learn about the artist while doing research for the book? How did his personal life affect his creative output?
Tony was a bit of a supernova, he lived at about 1000 miles an hour, everything about him was quick: the way he thought, the way he drew, he had instant ideas. His personal and professional lives were also indistinguishable. He created his own image of the times, following fashion only where it corresponded with his own interests. He also had a very uncanny natural instinct towards fashion; he merely recreated what was around him. His work was nothing more than a personal response to the realness of the world.
Do you think there is room for a talent such as him in today’s modern fashion world?
Absolutely, I don’t think there has ever been a better time to be a fashion illustrator. Today there is no universal style or prescribed way of working. Back in the day when Rene Gruau was drawing fashion everybody kind of drew like him. He had a lock on the era. Today there is no lock, anything goes. Tony was always looking for new and exciting ways to shake up his viewer. He developed his style of drawing continuously and became a master of diverse illustrative techniques: Pencil, charcoal, ink, gouache and collage. Occasionally he even used lipsticks in place of crayons. Tony also constantly embraced new technology; he was one of the first people to experiment with large format Polaroid’s and was keen to begin working with video. He was always one step ahead. Tony died in 1988 (aged just 31) at the height of his career. I find it tantalizing to think what he might have gone on to do.
Bold, Beautiful And Damned by Dean Rhys Morgan is published by Laurence King Publishing
Click on the slideshow to see Tony Viramontes’ work.
Follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @bluecarreon