Jenny Walton’s gestural, minimalist fashion illustrations offer a refreshingly anachronistic reprieve from the inescapable deluge of fashion photography—some of which she is partly responsible for as the site director of Scott Schuman’s pioneering street style mecca, The Sartorialist. While it may seem like these two professional antipodes would contradict one another, they actually share common ground. The Sartorialist captures pointed, singular moments that are as much about the subject’s outfit choice as they are about the élan and mood with which the person wears it; similarly, Walton’s illustrations distill the spirit of the clothing or pattern she is drawing and eschew the literal. “I like to leave out as much as possible,” she confirms of her distinctive style.
Walton, however, didn’t begin her career with the intention of portraying fashion, but rather creating it. After graduating from Parsons, she took a job working at Calypso as an assistant knitwear designer. “Looking back on it, it was such a small company—only two people per department, and I was sketching and drawing, doing embroidery layouts, beading layouts and really handling the technical side on my own.” Living in the far reaches of Park Slope, Brooklyn at the time, she had hour-long commutes to and from her office in Long Island City. “I had two hours every day where I was like, what should I do with this time—so I began drawing a lot. This was the time Instagram was taking off, so I was posting my drawings and really liked the reaction I was getting. It became the part of the day I liked the most,” she recalls. (Walton now has a following of 150,000.) After an illustration job inquiry came in offering $750 for a project, Walton quit her job at Calypso. “When I got that gig, I was like ‘I made rent!’ I didn’t have too much lined up, but I hustled and made it work,” she says.
She took a freelance design position at Anthropologie’s headquarters in Philadelphia, decamping to her parents’ home in southern New Jersey where her father would drop her off every morning on his way to work, “a nice trip down memory lane,” she recalls. On a couple of her trips to Manhattan, Walton and Schuman’s paths seemed to continually cross, including at a 3.1 Phillip Lim show, which she fibbed about having tickets to. Schuman suggested they shoot her for The Sartorialist, and shortly thereafter, he invited her to help him layout his third book. The two soon became a romantic pair and became engaged earlier this year. She now handles the inner workings of the style site managing partnerships, collaborations and book plans.
In the meantime, Walton continues to draw a breadth of assertive and languorously lined figures in the fashions of the moment. She has been hired by large chains such as Target, who uses her illustrations to add grace to a host of accessories, like shoe boxes and silk scarves, and by magazines like InStyle to illustrate trend features. “We’re in a time where it’s so easy to photograph everything, and it all becomes so literal. It used to take six months for a trend to appear, and fashion illustration had so much mystery to it; I think that’s what people miss,” opines Walton on the surge in appeal for the hand drawn. “The mystery in illustration is so refreshing.”
The illustrator finds inspiration in Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Japanese-influenced woodblock style and René Gruau’s perfect, minimalist lines that infer, rather than tell. She greatly admires her contemporary, Richard Haines, and work that rejects the obvious. “Why would you want to copy a photograph? “Where’s the interpretation in that?”