[educatie] review Mode et Bande Dessinée

A review of Mode et Bande Dessinée (2019)

Written by Thierry Groensteen

13 juli 2022 door Emilie Sitzia

Mode et Bande Dessinée (Fashion and Comics) is a slim little book that was published in 2019 and accompanied the exhibition of the same name that took place at La Cité Internationale de la bande dessinée et de l’image in Angoulême (France). The text by Thierry Groensteen has since been republished in Bouquin de la mode (ed. Olivier Saillard, 2019). This essay is an erudite and elegant attempt at summarizing the links between fashion and comic books. 

It starts by looking at essential connections between the art forms from the iconic looks of some comic book main characters, anchoring their visual identities (think of Tintin or Corto Maltese’s signature looks) to superheroes’ inspiring fashion, and vice versa (from Flash Gordon to Catwoman). The text offers an interesting reflection on drawing, both as a practice and a medium. It analyses in a very nuanced manner the similarities and differences of the tradition of fashion drawing (by Dior, Saint Laurent or Lacroix) and comic drawings. Groensteen shows that they differ in their essence and in their purpose: the elegant fashion drawing removes anatomical details and represents what is destined to be worn while the comic book drawing dresses very specific and recognizable characters, and their outfits will never leave the paper. 

The essay then traces the history of the relationship between comics and fashion. It starts with its history, particularly satire in comic strips, making fun of fashionistas from the nineteenth century to the 1960s. It also investigates how cartoonists looked to fashion to represent working women as well as femmes fatales. It then examines the ways in which the fashion world was represented by comics, particularly by women such as Chantal Spiegeleer, Nicole Lambert or Annie Goetzinger that know the fashion world from the inside. It then considers a few hybrid figures that (briefly) worked both in fashion illustration and comics such as Delhomme, Jacobs (the father of Blake and Mortimer) and Floc’h drawing the covers of the iconic man-fashion magazine founded by Poiret, Monsieur.

The essay then makes an incursion into the world of paper dolls and their status as both a comic and a fashion tool and links it cleverly to the ‘podium effect’ seen in some shôjo mangas showing how such images extract themselves from narrative continuity to assert themselves as fashion images. The essay closes on the impact comics have had on many fashion designers such as Paco Rabanne or Thierry Mugler. Of particular interest is the mention of the very under-studied La Vilaine Lulu (1967), a comic drawn and written by Yves Saint Laurent that follows the adventures of a naughty girl Lulu and her white rat.  

Overall, this essay offers a multifaceted panorama of the relationship between fashion and comics and puts forward many lines of research that would deserve to be explored further by a new generation of scholars.