Dior: Rene Gruau & the Line of Beauty

Fashion illustration, far from being a dying art form, is currently enjoying a renaissance, with a number of exhibitions popping up across London this month celebrating some of the 20th century’s greatest illustrators. The latest offering pays homage to the work of Dior illustrator Rene Gruau at Somerset House’s Embankment Galleries, so being a fan of Gruau’s work and the sheer feminine luxury it exudes, I decided to go along and check it out.

Rene Gruau (1909-2004), often labelled ‘the illustrator’s illustrator’, is renowned for his iconic fashion drawings of the 20th century, and specifically for his role of illustrating for Dior. This unique collection houses some of the original illustrations Gruau created for Dior, including parfums, beauty and couture gowns, as well as a selection of Dior Haute Couture dresses from the 1950s. Delight can also be found in some of his more simple works, particularly the men’s parfum adverts, often revealing a scantily clad gentlemen holding a towel. A particular favourite shows a man’s legs hanging off an armchair, Eau Sauvage in hand.

It is the Dior ladies, however, for whom Gruau is most famous. His work perfectly captures the essence and spirit of the Dior lady and her charismatic, sophisticated character; this is evident in his playful and fluid lines and the use of simple, minimalistic silhouettes. Gruau’s work has also been characterised by the intrigue and the subtle art of suggestion it provides; for example, an illustration of a chair with a pair of gloves and a veil strewn across it, or a woman coyly peeking from behind a feather boa. It is what Gruau omits from a drawing that makes it unique.

Cally Blackman, author of 100 Years of Fashion Illustration, tells of Gruau’s timeless influence: ‘The exhibition captures Gruau’s work throughout the 20th century, and is not only a reflection of Dior, but a reflection of the times. Arguably, some of his best work was created in the ’60s, where his style became more reduced and defined.’

The exhibition also presents the work of five specially commissioned contemporary illustrators, including Jasper Goodall, Daisy Fletcher and Erin Petson, who each created a Gruau-inspired piece. Artist Jasper Goodall, whose piece for the exhibition is a 3D acrylic cutout of a woman, shows clear signs of Gruau’s signature style: ‘although my work is a more modern form of illustration. Because I’ve always worked with a computer, I’ve still found myself inspired by Gruau’s use of line and silhouette,’ he said.

Located in the beautiful setting of Somerset House, this exhibition really is a must-see for any fashion or art lover, a one-of-a-kind display that proves the pencil still has its worth alongside the camera.

Dior illustrated: Rene Gruau and the Line of Beauty is showing at Somerset House, the Embankment galleries, daily (10am-6pm) until 9 January, 2011.

Somerset House
The Strand
Covent Garden

Tel: 020 7845 4600

Fashion illustrations by Naja Conrad Hansen courtesy of Brent Borreson on Flickr

You may also like

Art in Urban Spaces
London Fashion Week: Faustine Steinmetz
London Fashion Week: Bora Aksu
London Fashion Week: Jean-Pierre Braganza

Reader Comments