Renato Zavagli Ricciarelli delle Caminate, known in the fashion world as René Gruau, was a fashion illustrator who celebrated femininity and fashion through his illustrations. His work reflects the glamour and sophistication of Fifties couture. His work was a tantalising mix of old-world and contemporary art. He was one of the most iconic fashion illustrators of all time, having worked with many big brands and fashion houses such as Balenciaga, Dior, Givenchy, Lanvin, and Schiaperelli.
How was also a much sought-after illustrator in the fashion magazine circles and worked with leading fashion magazines such Marie-Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and Flair magazine.
Let’s take a look at the work of this legendary illustrator and what made him an artist who transcends time.
With bold strokes and vibrant colour, René Gruau has managed to translate movement and motion onto paper in this illustration. This untitled piece of art was done by him in 1982. This is a contemporary illustration that manages to be both glamorous and fun at the same time.
Perhaps one of the most iconic illustrations in the field of advertising is the swan image that Gruau did for Dior’s ‘Miss Dior’ perfume. It featured a white swan with a big black bow and pearls around its long elegant neck. The image was iconic because it broke-free from the age old practice of depicting the product in the advertisement. So instead of drawing a bottle of the perfume, Gruau went in for a symbolic representation of all that the perfume stands for with his image of the swan.
Although he was besotted with the female figure and his work primarily portrayed femininity and woman’s fashion, Gruau did create some fascinating illustrations of male figures as well. In his signature style, he created bold figures who where unabashedly male. René Gruau did not believe in moderation; his illustrations of women were super feminine and elegant, just as his illustrations of men were virile and oozed masculinity (as witnessed in the above picture).
He did justice to minimalism by managing to convey both simplicity and sophistication with a few strokes.
He loved the colour red and many of his illustrations were created using just three colours – red, black, and white. This became his signature style and many artists have since then replicated this colour combination to create images that are powerful.
While Gruau worked with many brands and fashion magazines, most of his iconic works were done for Dior. René Gruau and Christian Dior formed a close friendship, thanks to their similar childhoods. Both Gruau and Dior were heavily influenced by their mothers, who were elegant women who displayed class and style. They both also held the similar ideals of elegance and sophistication when it came to depicting women in their work. It is no wonder then that Dior roped in Gruau to do the illustrations for his perfume and couture line. Here are some of the most famous illustrations that Gurau did for Dior.
Inspired by animal print clothing, Gruau created this illustration for Dior’s perfume. It shows a woman’s slim dainty hand placed sensually over a leopard’s paw. The image is intriguing and unforgettable, two of the qualities that can be used to describe many of Gruau’s work.
Gruau was a storyteller; his illustrations did not simply depict images on paper. He used fluid lines and a quirky and vivid imagination to paint incidents and stories. In the image created for Dior’s Diorama perfume, you don’t just see a chair with a tulle stole and silk gloves draped on it. You see an elegantly and stylishly dressed woman coming home from a social event, a dinner party or so, and shrugging off her stole and removing her gloves, draping them over the chair. It almost feels like the image was captured just seconds after the lady had walked off. Such is the power of a well-drawn illustration and nobody knew this better than the grand master of fashion illustrations himself.
Gruau also added a healthy dose of humour to his illustrations. He knew how to make a lasting impact and used different modes from minimalism to intrigue to humour to do so. Here’s a great example of his sense of humour. This illustration showing a man’s hairy legs was used for Dior’s men’s perfume Sauvage. It was quite revolutionary and controversial for its time, but as we all know, most successful ad campaigns have proven to be controversial.
At a time when illustrators were not given much respect because their work was commercial and was not considered worthy enough to be called art, René Gruau – a visionary illustrator made both the fashion and art world stop and take notice. His work was bold, vibrant and thoroughly engaging. Even as the fashion magazines moved away from illustrations towards studio photography, Gruau still managed to stay on top of his game, proving that talent and creativity can hold its own.