David Downton is the most famous fashion illustrator in the world. His brush is like a magic wand since it gives an air of a unique era to his models. A lover of beauty and at the same time a very rock person, he maintains a very glamorous routine in London and an artistic family life in the countryside. Dressed in black, with his characteristic glasses, he is the most enjoyable company. We had a wider discussion while drinking coffee. We agreed on everything. Apart from his talent in sketching, he also has a talent in writing. The book he dedicated to his muse Carmen Dell Orefice, was the first taste I got from the multitasking talented David Downton.
Tell me a bit about your daily routine in London. Why do you prefer the Claridges and Wolseley.
London is about the only place I have a routine. I stay at Claridge’s because I am Artist in Residence there, which, by the way, is one of the few things in life that is as good as it sounds. And from there, it’s a short walk to The Wolseley, one of London’s great dining rooms. I have my meetings for business or pleasure in one or other.
-You are not a huge fan of Brexit, as I read from your instagram account which is very stylish with your work but occasionally disrupted by a mini manifesto. How has Brexit and Covid “hit” the fashion industry?
I am absolutely, resolutely, passionately opposed to Brexit. I am a European and feel fundamentally that we are stronger, safer and more prosperous together. I am under no illusion that the European Union is perfect. In every country half the people disagree with their governments. That’s always been the way. But to de-couple ourselves from our nearest neighbours and trading partners is an act of inexcusable self-harm.
-What is style in 2022?
Who knows? The people who have it never think about it. The people who don’t, think about nothing else.
-Your drawings are still very relevant but have the aroma of good old times. Are you “old school” in your preferences ?
Old school is the best school. I don’t live in the past or want to return to it, but many of my references are definitely from another era. The past is the present to me.
-When did you realise you wanted to become an illustrator and when, a fashion illustrator?
I was always drawing and was told I was good at it. Fortunately I listened. I never had the confidence to call myself a fine artist so commercial art (illustration) seemed the obvious answer. All I ever wanted to do was draw for a living. Fashion came much later. I was sent to cover couture on the whim of an art director in 1996 and in a sense I never came back. Couture in the 1990s with Galliano, Lacroix, Saint Laurent and Gaultier was the Superbowl of fashion.
-Which were the most memorable times in your work?
There have been too many. I feel like a voyeur in my life when I think of the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had and the places I’ve visited, all through the ‘simple act’ of drawing.
-Who do you admire? And what do you admire about them?
Artists, creatives of every stripe because I know how difficult it is to be your harshest critic, and to get up every day and do it again. Also, though it sounds like a cliché, the health care workers who literally keep us functioning as a society. The pandemic has shone a light on this as never before.
-From all the people, fashion shows, you have drawn who are your favourites?
Carmen, Erin O’Connor and Dita Von Teese, have been my most consistent and inspiring subjects, but I have also had sittings with many of my idols: Anjelica Huston, Charlotte Rampling, Catherine Deneuve, Anouk Aimee, Rossy de Palma, Ali MacGraw…
-Which is the wisest advice you were given and which is the wisest advice you would give?
Show up for the job. Beware the company you keep. If it’s not fun, it’s no fun. All of those I learned from Carmen. I am happy to pass them along.
-Have you visited Greece? What did you like about it?
I was in Athens before the pandemic. It was a truly memorable trip. Beautifully organized by Orsalia Parthenis.I can’t wait to return. For many years we went on family holidays to Ithaca and Kefalonia. I honestly can’t say what I like about it without sounding like a travel agent; the horizon, the sky, the sea, the rhythm of life, the fact that not every day is a work day. The people. Past and present. Sunshine and shadow. Saganaki.I could go on
-Which are your favourite places in the world?
Where I live in East Sussex, between the South Downs and the sea suits me very well. But don’t deprive me of Venice.
-If you were to be reborn in a certain place and time where and when would it be?
I would be in Rome at the time of La Dolce Vita and I would look just like Marcello Mastroianni.
-Is there anyone you would love to draw and haven’t yet?
-What are your plans for the near future?
I am writing a newsletter ‘Its All True’ about my life and experiences over the last 25 years in fashion. I am loving it. You can read it on Substack I also have a small exhibition in Claridge’s celebrating my favourite icons and a big retrospective in February 2023, in London.
-Are you optimistic about how things are going?
I don’t feel we have a choice. Optimism is mandatory, but its certainly being tested right now.