Rediscover the inimitable drawings of René Gruau who captured on paper the timeless elegance of the flower-woman conceived by Christian Dior. 

René Gruau loved fashion – the fashion of his couturier friends, with Dior heading the list – that aspired to a form of sophisticated elegance in which the accessory reflects a lifestyle and a mindset.

Under his real name of Count Zavagli-Ricciardelli delle Caminate, the Italian-born man met Christian Dior in 1936 when the future couturier was still just a fashion illustrator. Both sketchers socialized together immediately, sharing common friends such as the magazine editor Michel de Brunhoff, the composer Henri Sauguet and the poet Max Jacobs. In reality, René Gruau and Christian Dior had the same vision of fashion. In their way, the story they told was one and the same: that of the eternal Parisienne. They both thought like architects, meaning in volumes, in proportions and in balance.

In 1947, René Gruau did a charcoal sketch of the Bar  jacket that defined Dior’s New Look:  long skirt, narrow waist and proud bust. With a deceptively simple drawing style, his lines brought gestures and clothing to life on the Canson paper he used. Later, he would turn his eye and his pencil to the dresses Ardente  and Isaphan.  For the latter, the model, surrounded by men in dark clothing, sports gloves, high heels, a row of pearls and red lips. It was the Dior spirit par excellence! In 1949, the couturier asked his friend to produce a series of drawings around the perfume Miss Dior.  He sent three options: a swan, a fan and a woman’s hand on a leopard’s paw – one can well imagine that it’s the hand of Mitzah Bricard, Christian Dior’s muse who regularly tied a leopard-print scarf around her wrist. The response from Christian Dior was immediate: “I am absolutely overjoyed, your drawings are wonderful”.  In reality, the couturier was blown away by their force. By liberating himself from the literal product, René Gruau captured a strong and indelible image of the House. Going further than just a fragrance, the illustrator crystalized the couturier-perfumer’s style and sensibility. The three drawings found their way into the fashion press of the period.

What followed was a long collaboration between the illustrator and the couture house. René Gruau’s signature – a stylized G topped with a star – came to be found on a great number of images of gloves, hosiery, girdles and lingerie, and the Dior perfumes especially. First came Diorama  which Gruau evoked with a pair of gloves and a scarf abandoned on a neo-Louis XVI chair. Then Diorissimo  magnified by a woman with a bare back accompanied with bouquets of luxuriant flowers. In 1966, for the launch of Eau Sauvage,  the House’s first fragrance for men, René Gruau drew the hairy legs of a man, introducing humor and everyday reality into his images. Over the years, his drawings would reveal a bit more of this Eau Sauvage  man, almost like a strip-tease. As his career advanced, the Gruau style became more simplified, his compositions clearer, his brush strokes more incisive, all the better to capture the timeless attitude and elegance that was all the house of Dior’s own.

Summer Saga: Dior and Art, Crossed Paths – The Great Illustrators, Episode 2

© SARL René Gruau