Russell Patterson: The Original “Influencer”

 

Before there was Instagram, there was fashion photography. And before fashion photography, there was the era of the illustrator. Imagine a world in which a drawing could launch a thousand ships—or, quite impressively, define a decade’s singular look. Such was the world in which Russell Patterson reigned supreme. A prolific cartoonist, illustrator, and set designer, Patterson’s Art Deco magazine illustrations helped shape the fashion styles of the 1920s and ’30s—most importantly, the flapper look: that urbane woman about town with long legs and patent-leather hair. Patterson illustrated the covers of Life magazine and designed Macy’s store windows and movie sets alike; he’s also credited as costume designer for Fox and Paramount Pictures. According to his 1977 obituary in the New York Times, he “started” the flapper in Chicago around 1926 for no reason other than that he had read F. Scott Fitzgerald and, as an illustrator, wanted to create a different look from the somewhat bovine beauties of the day. This creative itch lent itself to the “Patterson Girl,” that iconic, instantaneously recognizable ’20s woman. In Patterson’s illustration above, a fashionable flapper stands with one hand on her hip and a cigarette in the other; a stream of smoke forms a curing, twisting, decorative line. Several years later, in the early 1930s, Patterson would be the first to depict women in sleek evening pajamas (a trend that, not so incidentally, is back today). “The emancipation of woman is at hand,” he remarked at the time. “In a year she will free herself of skirts and probably never come back to them.”