Fashion Illustration Drama

I wish I could go back in time and burn any croquis I ever developed, drew or copied. I wish I hadn’t been afraid of what was going to come from my hand, my brain. I wish that I didn’t create a crutch for myself. I wish I never used a croquis.

Croquis is french for “sketch.” The term “croquis figure” is used in fashion design schools to describe a figure on which you draw designs or quick “croquis” sketches.  You take the figure, lay your paper on top of it and draw your designs. Bam.  Very quickly, fashion croquis are 9 heads high (go on and count them), and have exaggerated proportions: long legs, arms and a short waist.  Faces, hands and feet are generally negligibly drawn.  We go for drama, movement, and dreams in these figures.

This is what is generally called a croquis.

All nine heads of her.  From Nancy Riegelman’s book.

This is what I immediately ran to before I picked up my pen. I couldn’t design without it. It’s like when an actor doesn’t learn their lines and never goes “off book.” It’s like using Cliffs Notes. In true fashion metaphor, it’s like a girdle.  There’s a war story I heard when I was studying dance, that an instructor used tell about a dancer rehearsing for a show.  Every time the dancer would get to the part in the combination where he had to do a triple pirouette, he would stop, stand there and just twirl his finger as if to say, “This is where I do the pirouette.”  He did this so regularly that by performance time, that’s exactly what he did as well.

Now that I teach design, I completely understand how it happens. The design process isn’t a straight line, one clear step in front of the other.  Sometimes drawing doesn’t come as easy but you have to put your ideas down so you use the figure.  Then you use the figure to do final drawings and portfolios.  And then you can never NOT use it.

These days there are books that have all different croquis posed in innumerable ways and for different markets: womenswear, swimwear, maternity, kids, menswear. When I used to interview students for intern positions, I would recognize the croquis figures in their portfolios. I knew what book they got it from and who the author of the book was. I know because I labored over the exact same drawings in the exact same books, wanting to draw like them and wondering how they did it.  There are two excellent fashion drawing books that I recommend – that I think encourage students to develop their own technique: Nine Heads by Nancy Riegelman and Fashion Sketchbook by Bina Abling.  It’s a vast topic (that I’m certainly not an expert in) but they cover a lot of ground and my copies are well worn.

I’m taking a hard stand and I’m not going to use a croquis again. I’m sorry but you’ll have to see some of these drawings.  Wish me luck.


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