Tony Viramontes - Bold, Beautiful And Damned

The first time I saw the work of Tony Viramontes, I was flicking through the book 'Fashion Illustration Today' (Nicholas Drake, 1987) in my college years. Initially finding it a rather dated looking title as a young student, it had my friend at the time scoffing at it's distinctly 80s vibe. Despite her completely failing to see the appeal, it still holds up today in showcasing work from the most influential illustrators of that era, a lot of whom are still working today.

Page from Fashion Illustration Today - Nicholas Drake

It was his studies of Cyril Brule, a male model (now the founder of Viva Model Management) that drew me in initially, admittedly for their sexual virility. A broad topless male model, strong upward hair, pouting, square jaw, hidden behind shades, nipples fully realized. It came across as the idealistic 80s fashion pin up, an almost Dolph Lungren-esque character in high braces and voluminous 80s pinstripe Versace trousers. In essence, it was this energetic feel to his work that encapsulated his entire visual language. Rarely do any of his works have a composed or poised feel to them. Everyone is in motion or dramatic stance, they have harsh make up, contorted faces, bold looks, big shoulders. His work was completely definitive of the 80s, and this strength reflects in the fact that the book has since been reissued with Tony's work on the cover, and extra works added.

Whilst that image stayed in my mind over time, the work of others such as Thierry Perez and George Stavrinos took over my attention for a while at university, and it wasn't until a later date that I fully began to understand the integrity and importance of his work, rediscovering it in different paths and places, and researching into the Buffalo period / Ray Petri era of The Face magazine, that the dots started to join up. His vibrant mix of photography and lines and colour signified that this was the work of someone who wasn't just utilizing one medium to express his vision, and had he had lived on longer, would clearly have gone on to accomplish greater heights.

With a foreword by none other than Jean Paul Gaultier, a self-confessed fan, this book addresses Tony's range of work in one dedicated publication for the first time. Not just a member of the Buffalo period and the odd cd cover as I knew him to be from my vague research (I say odd, it doesn't get much bigger than producing the iconic album artwork for Janet Jackson - Control) Tony produced a vast amount of work that over time had been placed in the hands of collectors, archived at fashion houses, or shipped back to his family home in Los Angeles, later to be uncovered by Dean Rhys Morgan, the author, and brought back to public consciousness with this title. The book's largest chapter (72 pages) focuses solely on his portrayal of the designs of high fashion's key players. Sprouse, Montana, Mugler, Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino, amongst others, all seen through his glorious vision. Other chapters focus on his portrayal of his male and female muses, including a very young Janice Dickinson, Rene Russo, Isabella Rosellini and Paloma Picasso.

For an illustrator like myself, the main draw in looking at Tony's work is simply the raw energy that continues to inspire, regardless of it's era defining imagery and fashions. For a fan born in a generation that was not around at the time of his work, and did not have any real major access to discovering it further beyond the realm of internet postings and old copies of The Face, this book is a dream. It's a joy to see his illustrations up close in full print, and all the behind the scenes polaroids, sketches and interviews that accompany. If anyone is to research the history of fashion illustrators, to neglect the work of Tony Viramontes would be an absolute crime.

For previous posts on Tony Viramontes, click here

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