R.I.P. to legend whose pen inked fashion's greatest era

As a child, Alfredo Bouret Gonzalez said he couldn't remember a time he didn't have a pencil in his hand. The legendary fashion illustrator's talents took him places far beyond the wildest imagination of a boy born in Mexico in the 1920s.

Influential fashion illustrator Alfredo Bouret Gonzalez died in Vancouver at the age of 90

Alfredo Bouret Gonzalez at work in the atelier of Cristobal Balenciaga. According to fashion journalist Mario Hume, the photographer took this picture surreptitiously, releasing it after Balenciaga's death. (Thomas Kublin)

Although he joked he wasn't born an artist, Alfredo Bouret Gonzalez said he couldn't remember a time he didn't have a pencil in his hand.

The legendary fashion illustrator — who died in Vancouver last Saturday at the age of 91 — travelled around the world on the strength of his talents.

He was celebrated in Paris, London and Sydney, places far beyond the wildest imagination of a boy who grew up in Coyoacan, a Mexico City suburb renowned today as the home of Frida Kahlo.

Known as Bouret, he drew for fashion royalty: Balenciaga, Chanel, Vogue. And real royalty — from Princess Anne and Princess Margaret to Princess Diana — admired his Latin-inspired designs.

A collection of Alfredo Bouret's illustrations in the March 15, 1953 edition of Vogue. (Vogue Magazine)

"When I draw, I just lose contact with the rest of the world," Gonzalez told the makers of a documentary retrospective of his life.

"I'm in my own world. It's wonderful. I feel I'm flying. It's a wonderful sensation."

'Curious women not welcome'

According to fashion journalist Marion Hume, Gonzalez moved to Vancouver to be with family in 2013, after the death of his partner, renowned interior designer Lex Aitken.

As a young man, his big break came when his drawings won him a trip to France in 1947.

In a blog posting, Hume — who was once a next door neighbour to Gonzalez and Aitken — recalled the tales the pair told of post-war Paris where they saw Marlene Dietrich in nightclubs and befriended actresses Claudette Colbert and Bette Davis.

In the retrospective on his life, Gonzalez described sketching outfits designed by a young Pierre Cardin and an aging Coco Chanel. He was also one of the few people invited into the studios of the legendary Cristobal Balenciaga.

"Balenciaga had an aversion to attention and never granted an interview. He rarely saw his loyal clients and had his minions rebuff hopeful customers with a curt: 'Curious women are not welcome here,'" Hume wrote in a feature story called The Man Who Drew Balenciaga.

"However he did grant unique access to illustrator Alfredo Gonzalez, who signed himself 'Bouret'."

A vital link with a vanished world

Gonzalez' elegant line drawings evoke a bygone era of classic fashion. He was a favourite of Vogue. But after several decades in the business, he said he saw a coming change.

"Fashion photography became more and more the medium, and the model girls became the queens," he told the documentary makers. "The interest in fashion drawing was going out, so I saw a red light and decided that I'd better do something about it before I was made redundant."

Gonzalez resigned from Vogue and opened a boutique in London — Mexicana — to sell clothes he designed himself to echo the styles of his native country.

Queen Elizabeth's daughter, Princess Anne, was photographed in one of Gonzalez' evening dresses by Anthony Armstrong Jones — whose marriage to Princess Margaret was recently dramatized in The Crown.

Gonzalez claimed that Diana, Princess of Wales, kept two of his evening dresses for her honeymoon.

He moved to Sydney to open a second branch of his boutique, living there until Aitken's death in July 2013.

In an Instagram post, Australian fashion illustrator David Downton paid tribute to Gonzalez's influence.

"Bouret was a vital link with a world now almost completely vanished. His gestural, decisive drawing — graphic and insouciant — described an era," he wrote.

Hume remembered him in an email as "a very special man."

"It was a joy to know you dear Alfredo," she wrote in a public post. "Vale dear friend."

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.