George Barbier was one of the great French illustrators of the early 20th century. He was born in Nantes, France in 1882. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris from 1908 to 1910. His companions included his cousin Pierre Brissaud, Bernard Boutet de Monvel, Jean Besnard, Paul Iribe, Georges Lepape and Charles Martin, all of whom were to become world renowned fashion illustrators.
Barbier was 29 years old when he mounted his first exhibition in 1911 and was subsequently swept to the forefront of his profession with commissions to design theatre and ballet costumes, to illustrate books, and to produce haute couture fashion illustrations. For the next 20 years Barbier led a group from the Ecole des Beaux Arts who were nicknamed by Vogue as "The Knights of the Bracelet" – a tribute to their fashionable and flamboyant mannerisms and style of dress
In that year several important new Paris fashion magazines began to be published, Gazette du Bon Ton, Le Journal des Dames et des Modes, Feuillets d'Art, Femina and Vogue. He became the chief illustrator for many of these magazines.
Barbier also illustrated albums of ballet dancers and made wood engravings.
Barbier was one of many artists who illustrated limited "editions de luxe" intended as collectors items. A mania for these books swept France in the teens and twenties. In 1913, he made an album of drawings of Nijinsky, the principal dancer of the Ballets Russes, in his various roles.
The fashion plates Barbier drew for Bon Ton were almost exclusively for the house of Worth. They were prepared 6 to 12 months ahead of the collections and make one of the most complete couture series of the period. They are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
In 1925, several people joined Barbier deploring the boyish style of the 20's clothes, critical of the bisexual appearance, athleticism, and flat-chested asexual approach.
During his career Barbier also turned his hand to jewellery, glass and wallpaper design, wrote essays and many articles for the prestigious Gazette du bon ton.
Both Barbier and Erte were asked to design for American movies. Barbier sent his designs from Paris, where he was based. One of the films which used his costume designs was "Monsieur Beaucaire" starring Rudolph Valentino, in 1924. Barbier's designs were not so exotic as Erte's but certainly as lavish. He designed for many films up to 1930
The last show he worked on was "Paris Shakes" at the Casino de Paris with Josephine Baker.
He died in 1932 at the age of only 50.
Barbier's style seems to owe its outlines to Aubrey Beardsley and their colour to Leon Bakst. He was interested in both 18th century art and Art Nouveau and the strong influence of the latter can be seen in the curlicues and flowing shapes of his supple, fashionable women.