CONNECTIONS: JIM HOWARD

CONNECTIONS: JIM HOWARD

JIM HOWARD

Fashion Illustrator
Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue

by Jeff Dodge

The classroom fell silent when Jim Howard, wearing a fedora and lime-green glasses that matched his shirt, put pencil to paper and began sketching the dress. 

Rapt students gathered around the 86-year-old icon of illustration, wielding their smartphones to capture footage of the way apparel newspaper ads were created from the 1950s to the 1980s, before photography replaced drawings. For the students, it was a peek into the past, a far cry from the computer design and photo-editing programs used to make such images digitally today.

Howard, who was one of the nation’s top illustrators during the height of his career, created hand-drawn sketches for the likes of Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Marshall Field’s, Bonwit Teller, Revlon, and Garfinkels. He met Coco Chanel and Andy Warhol.

“He drew great shoes,” Howard said of the latter. 

He got his start in the business in the early 1950s, dressing windows for the Goodfriends fashion store in Austin, Texas, where he was occasionally allowed to draw something. But Howard says he “lusted for Neiman Marcus” in Dallas, and eventually got hired there.

“Call. Don’t wait for them to call you. You just can’t wait around to be discovered.”

“They just kind of threw me in,” he recalls. “They’d give me a layout, the clothes, and a model.” He went on to work for Franklin Simon in New York City, then became a freelancer.

Howard now lives in Denver, and during fall semester he paid a visit to CSU’s Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising to speak to students in an Illustration for Apparel Design class taught by instructor Kevin Kissell. His visit was arranged by a CSU friend: Carol Engel-Enright, a faculty member in the department, who brought some of her own students to the Avenir session.

Howard shared memories of his career with the students while Engel-Enright showed off some of his illustrations. Then he sat down with a pad and spent about 30 minutes sketching an 1842 dress draped on a mannequin in a corner of the classroom. 

“What comes down the runway now, I’m sure glad I don’t have to draw it,” he said with a laugh, referring to today’s fashion designs. “Besides, I’m a little shaky now. I think I’m most inspired today by TV and movies, like the costumes on Game of Thrones.

Howard, who estimated that he used to complete about eight drawings a day, also gave the students some advice. “Call. Don’t wait for them to call you. You just can’t wait around to be discovered.”

When asked about some of the secrets to his success, Howard replied, “I showed up on time.” 

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