David Downton’s sketches of models and celebrities are hyperrealistic and wildly popular: His study of Cate Blanchett for Vogue Australia’s 50th-anniversary cover was the fastest-selling issue in the magazine’s history. Iman, Karlie Kloss, Sofia Coppola, and Diane von Furstenberg have all done sittings with Downton, who’s one of the leading fashion artists of the last decade. He’s drawn for brands like Chanel, Lancôme, and Tiffany’s, and his pencil sketches and watercolors have appeared in magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, and V.
Sixteen years’ worth of Downton’s portraits — “the result of courtship and coercion,” he says, and plenty of commissions — are now amassed in David Downton: Portraits of the World’s Most Stylish Women, out September 15 from publisher Laurence King. The book begins with a beautifully handwritten letter of praise from Christian Lacroix, and many of the illustrations that follow are accompanied by behind-the-scenes photos and backstories.
Downton details how he followed Stella Tennant to New York after meeting her in London in 1998, and how Iman hobbled into her sitting on a sweltering July afternoon on crutches and in plaster from a broken foot. Illustration requires time, and he conjures up the conversations he’s had while sketching. Carolina Herrera told him how a broken nose had her dripping blood onto her shoes at a chic dinner in Spain, and Dita Von Teese dished on her plans to wear nothing but a transparent robe to her wedding celebration in a Gothic castle with Marilyn Manson. His attention to detail is just as precise on his subject’s key features: There’s Daphne Guinness’s “startled skunk hair,” Tennant’s “arrow-straight brow,” and Linda Evangelista’s nostrils. That keen eye is what lets him turn a preliminary sketch into a study so detailed, it can seem Photoshopped.