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Dior Illustrated: Rene Gruau and The Line of Beauty at Somerset House

by laurie
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« To be inspired by Dior is to be inspired by Rene Gruau. His skteches capture the silhouette and spirit of Dior and a new era of fashion and feminity. His illustrations are timeless, ever youthful, ever faithful to the moment he saw; they capture the energy, the sophistication and daring of Dior, and equally are a token of an enduring friendship. » (John Galliano in the preface of « The First Century of Rene Gruau »)


This winter, Somerset House celebrates one of the most creative and prolific collaborations in the history of fashion. Although Rene Gruau (1909-2004) worked with many great designers, including Balmain, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Fath and many others, a special bond linked him to Christian Dior.
The pair met at the French newspaper Le Figaro, where they both worked as illustrators in the 1930’s. Not only did they share a similar background and upbringing, with an aristocratic Italian father for Gruau and a very wealthy family for Dior, but architecture and the elegance of the Belle Epoque society were a great source of inspiration for both of them. They immediately clicked, having a deep understanding of each other’s views and ideas on style and fashion. This marked the beginning of a great friendship and of an enduring creative collaboration, focusing on a common ideal of the Parisian woman, inspired by their aristocratic mothers.

When Christian Dior launched the New Look in February 1947, then his first perfume, Miss Dior, later this year, he naturally turned to his friend, and Gruau started to work on the campaigns. The exhibition showcases Rene Gruau’s original illustrations, including the most iconic ones – such as this very famous picture for the perfume Dior-Dior, an oriental fragrance launched in 1976 in Marrakesh, which features a woman enveloped by a billowing white cotton dress, expressing the opulence of this perfume.  Or this 1963’s illustration for Diorling, with a young woman with dark hair nibbling a jasmine blossom. Or the 1949’s image for Miss Dior, showing the hand of Mitzah Bricard, Christian Dior’s muse and who Gruau declared « the most elegant woman I have ever met », resting on a leopard’s paw. And many, many, many other stunning images. There’s a sort of inner light and life that seem to come out of each Gruau’s illustration. Incredibly elegant women, beyond the sophisticated clothes, beyond the glamorous make-up, it just seems to come from inside. Everything is in the attitude, in a simple gesture, a movement of the hand, the poise of the head, a look.

Trying to dissect Gruau’s style in the hope of discovering what makes it so unique and outstanding would be like willing to uncover the secret ingredient in the perfect dish, this little something that makes all the difference and holds the magic of it all. Impossible and totally unnecessary. We know of course that Gruau believed the line always lead the movement of drawing, and that, beside architecture, his main inspirations were masters of Italian illustration, such as Marcello Dudovich and Leonetto Cappiello, as well as Japanese calligraphy and woodcuts, particularly Utamaro and Huroshige. As for the rest, let’s just enjoy and marvel at these iconic illustrations, among the most recognisable fashion images of the 20th century.

Curated by Christian Dior Parfums in consultation with Somerset House, the exhibition also presents vintage perfume bottles, magazines and poster adverts, as well as a selection of Dior Haute Couture dresses selected by John Galliano – including a special dress designed by Galliano himself in homage to Gruau, and specially commissioned pieces from five cutting-edge British illustrators: Jasper Goodall, Daisy Fletcher, Erin Petson, Richard Kilroy and Sarah Arnett.

One last word: GO!


Miss Dior, 1949

Diorella, 1978

Miss Dior, 1971

Eau Sauvage, 1978

Laurie Guillem

Dior Illustrated: Rene Gruau and the Line of Beauty – Somerset House – 10th November 2010/09th January 2011 

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