Drawing Conclusions

The Fabulously Fashionable Life of Charles Chandler

Jonathan Postal

Thirty-plus years spent painstakingly sketching details. Perching and propping and directing models to stand just so. Thousands of inkpots and paintbrushes worn at the handles. Hundreds of beautiful magazine and newspaper ads capturing a mood, showcasing designer clothing that would draw the fashion-hungry into stores to get that "look" for themselves.

And the man who made it all happen?

Charles Chandler.

Before photography became the medium to showcase clothing for advertisements, artists drew the images by hand, spending hours at drawing boards shading, shadowing, and creating, well, more than mere ads, but art. And if you lived in or around Memphis in the 1960s, most of those ads you saw were created by Chandler's talented hand.

The young man from Milan, Tennessee ("I love to pronounce it the Italian way!") knew from an early age he wanted to be a fashion illustrator, and in 1950 enrolled at the Memphis Academy of Arts (now Memphis College of Art) to learn the trade. After graduating, Chandler was snatched up by upscale retailer Julius Lewis, and became its fashion illustrator and art director.

Chandler, with his easy laugh and never-met-a-stranger attitude, also worked part-time at the school teaching the next generation the craft of fashion sketching.

"That was a different era," recalls Chandler, his eyes glittering behind his signature round tortoise-shell glasses. He looks around his living room, which is filled with art, books, flowers, and says simply, "I appreciate beautiful things. I like to see women and men dressed. And by that, I don't mean flip-flops and baggy sweatpants!"

Chandler worked at Julius Lewis until the shop closed its doors for good in 1983, and then went to work for Goldsmith's. (In fact, some of the ads he created for the department store appear in early issues of this magazine.) From there, it was on to Catherine's for 16 years, and then, it was time to retire from the corporate world.

"The last commercial work I did was for Maybelline, about 10 years ago," he says. He does keep one account, with the Arkansas-based Aromatique home fragrance company, and designs their catalogs. "I do miss it," Chandler says. "But this way I still get to do what I love but without all the pressure and the deadlines."

Many of his sketches have been given away to friends, all wanting a piece of that bygone fashion era. With every image, there is a story, and Chandler knows it well. "A friend of mine once told me I ought to be in sales," he laughs. "I looked at him like he was crazy and said, 'What do you think I do all day? I sell the romance! I sell the dream.'"

And he did. Below, you'll see some of Chandler's handiwork from his 23 years at Julius Lewis, and "hear" him explain what you're seeing in each ad.

"This sounds awful, you know," he says, "but I look back at some of the things I did and I just wonder, 'How on earth did I do that? That is damn good work!"

We agree.

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