Wilmington-based illustrator Dallas Shaw's leggy girls are often the prettiest — albeit the most lifeless — stars at some of New York's most high-powered luxury branding events: Carolina Herrera store openings, Hanky Panky anniversary parties, Vera Bradley advertising campaigns.
Why are Shaw's watercolored beauties such head-turners? Because the women in her drawings unabashedly mix prints and fearlessly pair blush off-the-shoulder blouses with red skinny pants. Frye boots in the summer? Open-toed shoes in the winter? Yep and yep. The girls in Shaw's illustrated worlds are animated versions of photographs you might see on street style blogs, yet cooler.
But full-length fashionistas aren't Shaw's only love. The Scranton native also enjoys sketching accessories. She lives for the details: the tortoiseshell on a pair of sunglasses, the tassel on a handbag, the perfect shape of a Chanel No. 5 bottle.
"Perfume bottles are my favorite," Shaw told me by phone from a New York City taxi. "I did them a long time ago and thought they were beautiful."
Now, all of Shaw's drawings have a home. Her etchings illustrate myriad modern fashion tips in her first book, The Way She Wears It: The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Revealing Your Personal Style. Shaw will sign copies Wednesday night on the Deck at the Moshulu. Tickets are $25 and include a copy of the book, a glass of champagne, and small bites.
As one who received a boatload of fashion-advice books, my first thought was: Geez, these pics are cute and all, but does the world need any more of them?
While my answer remains a firm not really, this book has a perusal appeal because of Shaw's take on creating and updating one's personal style. Her view is a mix of Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (which really is a life-changer) and Clare McCardell's What Shall I Wear (written by the clothing designer in 1956 as one of the first fashion-meets-lifestyle guidebooks).
"I do believe that everything you have in your closet should bring you joy," Shaw said, directly referencing the key mantra in Kondo's book. "But that doesn't mean that you have to stop shopping. This book is just going to teach you how to shop smarter."
I think I'm going to use it to update my ratty basics this fall. Her tips and visuals on how to choose statement jewelry, wear distressed jeans, and embrace your inner bohemian are very fresh.
Interestingly enough, fashion illustration's roots are all in the how-to, explained Clare Sauro, curator of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University.
The earliest fashion illustrations were engravings, also called fashion plates, and date to the 16th century. The purpose of these sketches was to focus on the goings-on of the wealthy and royalty. (Think of them as a visual gossip column.) By the 18th century, artists focused on the clothing, clearly labeling the names of the dressmaker and milliner in a how-to-get-this-look sort of way. It wasn't until the 1800s, however, when French designer Paul Poiret commissioned Paul Iribe to sketch the designs he produced in his fashion house for commercial consumption that fashion illustration became integral part of the promotion of a fashion house.
With the 20th century came a more widespread use of photography, and with each passing decade the need for fashion illustrations lessened as black-and-white and then color photos became the more exclusive choices.
That was until the early 21st century hit and cellphone cameras were everywhere and fashion weeks were exclusive no more. Suddenly a photo of a model wasn't so special anymore. But sketch of a dress? That was unique. That was highbrow.
Thanks to social-media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, illustrators have built demand in elite circles. Local illustrators Veronica Marché Jamison, Denise Fike, and Liz Goldberg have buzz around their work, joining the ranks of national stars like Donald Robertson, Megan Hess, and, yes, Dallas Shaw.
"I didn't use Instagram to build a following," said Shaw, who from her earliest days in the business went after luxury clients. "Instagram strengthened my industry following."
Shaw, 37, said she can't remember a time when she wasn't drawing. But her talent became crystal clear to her parents when she was in third grade and the teacher asked the class to draw a horse. Shaw drew a full-on carousel, with fairy-tale versions of animals from all angles.
"My parents put me in art classes through elementary school and high school, and I majored in illustration in college," said Shaw, who graduated from Marywood University in Scranton. There, she learned the art of drawing the exaggerated sketches the fashion world calls croquis, which feature women who appear 7 feet tall, devoid of a waist, and with no obvious ethnicity.
After college, Shaw took a job in 2003 as an illustrator for Disney in Florida, where she found herself drawing Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Stitch, or Snow White. But as Disney moved to digital-based illustration from hand drawing, Shaw became increasingly disenchanted.
Shaw left and started freelancing illustrations to luxury and high-end fashion brands. Around 2009, she struck up a friendship with Aliza Licht, former director of public relations for DKNY, who at the time was developing what would become a wildly popular social-media persona DKNY Pr Girl. Shaw drew the whimsical images of Licht that appeared with the Twitter posts. DKNY Pr Girl's reign ended in 2015 when Licht left to write her book Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill It in Your Career. Rock Social Media.
"Aliza became my cheerleader," Shaw said. "She gave my name to everyone from people at Ralph Lauren to Kate Spade and Oscar de la Renta."
In 2012, Shaw illustrated her first fashion guide: How to Look Expensive: A Beauty Editor's Secrets to Getting Gorgeous without Breaking the Bank by Glamour editor Andrea Pomerantz Lustig.
Shaw said she decided to wait five years before releasing her own book because, though she had the drawing down pat, she needed to cement more contacts in the beauty industry to have the latest items from brands like Vince, Dolce & Gabbana, and Chanel to blend in with her photographs. And I can attest to the fact that's no easy feat.
"I was always getting texts from my family and friends about fashion advice," said Shaw, who pulled many of the tips in her book from her own experience blending in. "I wanted this book to be a push that reminded people to try different things and just enjoy the process."
Girls Night Out on The Deck with Dallas Shaw