Fashion Illustration Archives: Pochoir

A simple word, yet has provided the world of fashion with such beautiful, exquisite and admirable artworks. I credit what I do to the inspiration that this word has provided for me. So what is it? Essentially, it's a stencil. However, in the peak of its time, all fashion posters, prints and published works were created using this process. 

This hand-colouring process rose to fame during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in France. Upon observing, we can see consistency in the use of vibrant, flat-laid colours with silhouettes and designs that reflect the trends of the decade. The Pochoir method is famous for being used in Art Nouveau and Art Deco publications throughout the years, originating in Paris. A series of steps follows the development of such prints, beginning with an artisan called “découpeur” (cutter) who cuts the stencil provided from the artist on thin sheets of copper, zinc, aluminum, or oiled cardboard. They must have an individual stencil corresponding to each colour of the artwork, as it becomes a layer of the final print. Then, colourists form an assembly line and are each responsible for one colour of the print, making sure to match the Pochoir pigments with the colours found in the original painting. They apply a layer of gouache or watercolor pigment using a specific brush called a pompon. They use this wide brush because it is time effective and covers a large surface area ensuring a smooth finish, although it is important to note that the brush varies in size depending on the desired opacity of the final print.

Although the style rose to popularity, the French artists did not use it on a constant basis until they discovered how sophisticated the colours were in Japanese Woodblock patterns and prints. After that, the practice became much more famous and by the 1920’s, Parisian ateliers hired hundreds of colorists to speed up the process of printing. By then, the technique was used for everyday items such as journals and playing cards. They also began using the stencils for home decorations such as rugs, textiles, and furniture and wall décor. Only five years later in 1925, Pochoir printing was so important to artists that they warranted a treatise by the name of Traité d’Enluminure d’Art au Pochoir, which was created by a printer named Jean Saudé. During its popular years, Pochoir printing was seen in journals and by designers such as Gazette du Bon Ton, and Journal des Dames et des Modes, which document the heights of Parisian fashion.  It was also found in books, which were often filled with patterns and designs for use in the home. 

Most of my passion and source of inspiration lies in the Pochoir archives and to celebrate this, I have started a collection of illustrations in contrast to original prints from many decades ago. Check it out here!


- Sabina