His Impact Won’t Fade Away : A Look at C. Coles Phillips

Artist and illustrator C. Coles Phillips would have been 134 years old this October.  He is best known for his “Fade Away Girl” illustrations.

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ad for Oneida silverware by C. Coles Phillips, 1911

These women would wear clothes the same color as the image background, causing them to “fade away.”  The outline of the woman’s shape could always be easily filled in by the viewer’s imagination due to careful placement of shapes and patterns.

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ad for Wamsutta, by Coles Phillips, Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1924

Phillips conceived the idea for the fade-away technique when visiting a friend in a dimly-lit room.  The friend was wearing a tuxedo and was playing a violin, but due to the lighting, Phillips could barely see him.  However, the artist realized that due to the placement of the violin, the shine of his friend’s shoes, and glimpses of his friend’s white shirt, he could figure out his friend’s outline.

Phillips got the chance to try out his idea in 1908.  Life had decided to use color covers on a regular basis to increase sales.  The magazine wanted to create a new image, and Phillips was asked to come up with a color cover illustration for the February 1908 issue.  Phillips had only started freelancing for the magazine less than a year before, drawing black and white centerfold illustrations.

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The Fade Away Girl was a success for Life and over the next four years, Phillips would draw 54 covers.  He would later draw covers for Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, plus 16 additional covers for Life.

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by C. Coles Phillips, Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1911

The Fade Away Girl was always beautiful, but on Life covers, she was also portrayed as a beautiful woman being pursued by lots of men.  These men were often drawn as tiny men that the Fade Away Girl could pick up by hand and discard at her whim.

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by C. Coles Phillips, Life, August 24, 1911

This artistic success led to advertising clients also wanting the Fade Away look.  Although Phillips was a cover artist, he saw no difference in painting for a magazine cover or painting for an advertisement.  His clients included Oneida silverware, Luxite Hosiery, Holeproof Hosiery, Palmolive, Wamsatta linens, and Naiad Dress Shields.

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ad for Naiad Dress Shields by C. Coles Phillips, Life, March 7, 1912

Phillips also expanded by creating Fade Away Men.  Often these gentlemen were paired with a Fade Away Girl, especially in advertisements.

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ad for Oneida Community Silver, by Coles Phillips, Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1911

Occasionally, the men would be featured independently for advertisements for men’s wear.

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ad for Boston Garters, by C. Coles Phillips, Life, 1911

Although Phillips only lived to be 46 years old, his name and his artistic talent live on.  His innovative technique would also used throughout the years by other renown artists, including Garrett Price, Coby Whitmore, and Bernie Fuchs.

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by Garrett Price, Life, May 13, 1926

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by Coby Whitmore, Saturday Evening Post, June 11, 1949

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by Bernie Fuchs, TV Guide, March 18, 1967

Credits

The Ladies’ Home Journal cover is from the Periodicials Collection.

All other images are from the Walt Reed Illustration Archive.

Information about C. Coles Phillips is from:

Coles Phillips Biography. Illustration House, n.d.

Kitch, Carolyn. The Girl On The Magazine Cover. University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Platnick, Norm. Coles Phillips And The Fade-Away Lady. American Art Archives.com, n.d.

Vadeboncoeur Jr., Jim. Coles Phillips.  JVJ Publishing, 1998.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.