René Gruau was one of the most influential fashion illustrators of the 20th century. Gruau was born Renato Zavagli Ricciardelli delle Caminate in Rimini, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. When Gruau was 3, his father (an Italian count) and mother (a French aristocrat) separated. Gruau moved with his mother to Paris, where he was raised with her name. Unfortunately they fell on hard times, and in an effort to help support his mother, Gruau (fortunately) took up commercial art.
Though it’s hard to believe now, Gruau’s drawing style was not particularly popular when he started out – a finer, more detailed style was in demand. As this was before the advent of photography, however, there was a lot more work for illustrators so Gruau did find plenty of work and was internationally published, just not famous …yet.
(He preferred) the heavier brushed ink or charcoal outlines and restricted, powerful palette of those pre-1900 Parisian artists, especially Toulouse-Lautrec, who produced arresting calligraphic posters. Not until the 1930s, when Gruau began to sketch for Parisian newspapers and magazines, including Le Figaro and Fémina, did the general graphic mood veer towards his taste, after Carl Erickson introduced a thicker line and oilpaint colour to the glossies. Gruau delineated the clothes of Balmain, Lanvin, Schiaparelli and his favourite, Balenciaga; and befriended Dior, then also an illustrator.
- from Gruau’s obituary in the Guardian UK
When he started working with Christian Dior, however, Gruau firmly established himself as one of the most important figures not only in illustration, but in fashion as a whole.
Gruau worked for many patrons including Balmain, Givenchy, Schiaparelli, Jacques Fath and Edward Molyneux, and also for suppliers of top-quality textiles, cars and brandy. He did ballet sets and costumes. But arguably it was his creative collaboration with Christian Dior and the House of Dior that stamped his reputation. Beginning with Dior’s New Look in 1947, Gruau’s connection with the couture house continued well after Dior’s death in 1957, until the late 1990s.
Whether you are interested in fashion or not, it is easy to be captivated by Gruau’s bold brushwork and easy, graceful line. From advertising to fashion plates, Gruau’s versatility and expressiveness make his work timelessly enchanting.
Explore the official René Gruau site for more.