The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Costume Cavalcade

For many years I have collected costume books and good ones are surprisingly hard to find. Here are a few pages from my favourite: Costume Cavalcade by Henny Harald Hansen (there's a name to be reckoned with!), with its one hundred gorgeous plates. One of the most important things that any illustrator can do is learn about costume and fabrics; how they hang and fall, how they fold, how they function in different eras. It's one thing to become an expert at life drawing, but how many children's books feature nudes?

Costume Cavalcade is falling apart, but it remains the most useful of all my costume books for the images have a delicious clarity. Those costumes from before the great era of fashion plates (the early nineteenth century) are taken from famous masterworks. See if you can spot a bit of Uccello, a snippet of Fragonard, a taste of The Book Of Hours. Other plates not shown have glorious costumes from Vermeer to Velazquez.

The Regency costumes were especially helpful when illustrating Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella), which I gave a Mozartian/Rossinian setting.

The book's vintage (1950s) is revealed in the final plate, with Audrey Hepburn inspired figures (all very Roman Holiday), but I also find the Edwardian he-men and the bathing beauties irresistable!


  1. This kind of book has always fascinated me - though more from the clothing than illustrating angle.I have some John Peacock clothing history books from Big Daughter's drama days and found the Encyclopaedia of Historical Costume by Albert Racinet, which is very similar to this one, among a load of craft/sewing books from Freecycle. I can't really say I have a use for any of them but don't want to part with them.

  2. I used to pore over books like this when I was a kid. One of my aunts used to work for the British High Commissioner in Malta and she sometimes came back with discarded clothes pattern catalogues. There was always one page for fancy dress and I used to cut out the models on it and use them as puppets. Ended up with lots of witches, giants, pirates and Juliets. There was always a Juliet but never a Romeo. I wonder why!

  3. Costume designers sez: want!

  4. I bought this book in Dorchester, England in 1960! I still have it, somewhere ...

  5. It's one of those books you just can't ever throw out vipKnap! Thanks for visiting!