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Case Study: Bebé illustrator forgotten

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

Christian Bebé Berard is a name that may not ring a bell to many people. If you have any interest in fashion history or have ever casually paged through one of those giant books filled with past Vogue covers, you are familiar with his work. Berard is regarded as one of the most multifaceted artists of the past century by those he worked with. He constantly hid in plain sight. At a time when illustrators received little recognition for their work Bebé lent his artistic identity to the Coco Chanel, Jean Cocteau, Cecil Beaton, and Horst P. Horst and of course the Vogue publication. His work became synonymous with the single most influential fashion publication on the planet. He also was an active character in the theatrical community, founding the Ballets des Champs-Elysées with his partner Boris Kochno. Often time Berard was called upon to give lend his creative input to all things fashion, theater, and costuming, acting as a sort of creative consultant to all things going on in Paris throughout the 1930's, 40's, and 50's.

His illustrative work is truly iconic. Consisting mostly of simplistic portraits, the work focused on depicting garments of the avant-garde. Perfectly placed delicate swatches of color in a field of bold color. Subtle line-work of varying weights give form and identity to the pastel shapes. Its an admirable trait when an artist/illustrator is able to inject the just right amount of drawing into a work. Imagery restrained enough in detail that it seems to have organically come together on the page. Reminiscent of a high end roar-shack test. Historian like to describe Berard as a Neo-classical artist. In my opinion he has a style all his own that at times resembles the Romanticism movement. This may be a result of his extensive knowledge in theory, art, and theater which could help but influence his illustrations.

It's shocking to me how few people are familiar with his career. As I mentioned before, Berard worked in a time when illustrators and creatives were considered to be more of artisans that artists. This was all previous to the time of artistic identity. If an artist lent their work to a publication of production their name was immediately overshadowed by the corporate name stamped at the corner of the page. Nowadays we pay attention to the collaborators on commercial projects, and have for companies to acknowledge the creator. Our interest in the artists behind the covers has resulted in illustrators having the ability to exist outside of the publications they lend their talents to. Now Vogue has a huge announcement of the artist chosen to work on their covers some 6 months in advance of the issues release. I encourage you to do some investigating into publications you enjoy. You will find a plethora of talented, influential creatives, whose names have been forgotten. It's time they get the recognition they deserve. You've been missing out.

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