Book Review: ‘Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration’ by Deborah Nadoolman Landis

Travilla’s design and illustration for ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ (1953)

Costume illustrators are another group of artists overlooked in the film world. I will always be impressed and awed by costume illustrators as my lack of illustration skill was one of the reasons that I focused my degree on costume making rather than on costume design. Not the only reason, but definitely a factor. The work of an illustrator has evolved just as that of a costume designer according to the film world but the most important aspect of a costume illustration is to communicate the costume. This could be to the director, the actor, the producer, the maker or, as is more frequently the case now, for the press, the public and the Academy when a film has finished shooting.

Ann Roth’s design and illustration for ‘The Hours’ (2002)

Deborah Landis’ book on ‘A Century of Costume Illustration’ looks into the history and development of the costume illustrator and also concentrates on the work of a vast number of illustrators. These include designers who illustrated their own designs such as Travilla, Ann Roth, Julie Weiss and Adrian to illustrators who have worked with numerous designers such as Pauline Annon (Anthea Sylbert and Michael Kaplan), E.J. Krisor (Marlene Stewart and Louise Mingenbach) and Felipe Sanchez (Sharen David and Ruth E. Carter).

Adrian’s design and illustration for ‘Madam Satan’ (1930)

This book is a wonder. It’s much bigger than I expected but every page is filled with beauty. The introduction section written by Landis is less an “introduction” to the book than the majority of the text. She goes into a great detail and it is especially great to have a section written by a designer who uses a costume illustrator. This way we were given insight into the collaborative process as opposed to a designer who illustrates their own designs. The book has come at a time when, along with costume designers, the art of costume is appreciated more and more.

Pauline Annon’s illustration for Michael Kaplan’s design for ‘Fight Club’ (1999)

The book is followed by “chapters” into various costume illustrators – 61 in total. Some of the chapters are bigger than other. They include illustration examples and either a quote from the illustrator or a designer that they have worked with. The pages are full of beauty and if I could have only one illustration framed it would be very difficult to choose only one!

E. J. Krisor’s illustration for Louise Mingenbach’s design for ‘Superman Returns’ (2006)

The book ends with a chapter on the research that went into the book’s production. This chapter is written by Natasha Rudin, Landis’s assistant. The chapter concentrates on the difficulties encountered when researching the costume illustrators and also how the book itself came to be written. The chapter gives you an appreciation of the work that went into the book and how much information there is still out there. If you have any interest in costume and beautiful things I would recommend this book. And I hope that costume illustrators will earn more appreciation in the world. As will their sketches. S x

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