Whether his invention was a clever way to save on printing costs or a stylized way to portray beautiful women, Clarence Coles Phillips is best remembered for creating the “fadeaway girl.” Phillips, often referred to as Coles Phillips or C. Phillips, was born in Springfield, Ohio in 1880. He left Ohio for New York where he attended his only formal art classes at the Chase School of Art for only four months.
He attracted the notice of J. A. Mitchell, the publisher of Life magazine in 1907 and was hired to work for the magazine. His illustrations of women were in an art deco style and quite popular but it was in May of 1908 that he introduced to the concept of the “fadeaway girl.” The technique employed using a background color that matched the girl's clothing. Though shadows, brief glimpses of petticoats or other visual tricks, the mind naturally filled in the missing edges. Full-color magazine covers were virtually expected and Phillips' technique allowed the magazine to appear to have a fully colorized image despite only using one or two colors.
In late 1907, Phillips met a nurse named Teresa Hyde. Phillips often used Hyde as his model and in early 1910, the two were married. They had four children. From the time he was eight, Phillips raised pigeons.
He was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the kidney in 1924. He turned to writing in 1927 due to problems with his eyesight. Coles Phillips died in New Rochelle, New York in 1927 from the disease.
Even if it was developed as a cost-cutting measure, the fadeaway girl became quite successful for magazine covers and print advertising. Along with Life, Phillips produced cover art for Colliers, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, Liberty, McCalls and The Saturday Evening Post. His illustrations were used to advertise a huge variety of products Willys Overland Automobiles, Florence Oil Stoves and Ranges, Apollo Chocolates, Community Plate flatware, Onyx Hosiery, Holeproof Hosiery Company and Vitralite enamel paint; to name a few. He also drew the illustrations for a number of books.
His original watercolor paintings remain quite popular and often sell at auction for tens of thousands of dollars.