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Rene Gruau, the most famous and influential fashion illustrator in the world.

Updated on August 10, 2016
TessSchlesinger profile image

Globetrotter, author, and thinker with interests in environment, minimalism, health, dancing, architecture, décor, politics, and science.

An Italian Count who never used his title.

He was born, an Italian Count, Renato Zavagli Ricciardelli in Rimini, Italy in 1909 to Italian aristocracy and could have chosen to use his title, but never did. Initially, however, because his parents were divorced when he was three, he did not have the luxury of his father's connections. He was taken by his mother to Paris after she divorced and it was left to him to forge a path for himself. His talent for illustration, particularly fashion, showed up early and by the tender age of 14, some of his work had been published locally. Such was the impact that by the time he was 18, he was published internationally.

Ilustrations from Rene Gruau

Unique Illustrator Style

What set him apart from the other fashion illustrators of the time was his rendering of long slender women with red lips and elegant clothing. He was able to do this with only a few lines, and those lines were so skilled and spoke with such eloquence that fashion houses actively sought him out in order to promote their clothes. That minimalistic style has become the standard for today's fashion artists.

The Moulin Rouge posters he designed have become museum pieces as well as collector's pieces. His work was hosted at the Bartsch and Charlau Gallery in Munich in 1980 and is on permanent display at the Louvre in Paris.

Designers for whom Gruau Sketched

Gruau’s fame spread quickly and he was hired by virtually all the major fashion houses of the day. These included Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli, Rochas Lanvin, Elizabeth Arden, and Hubert de Givenchy. In 1947, he was appointed artistic director for Dior's designs. The two worked well together, with Christian explaining the designs and Gruau translating them onto paper. Gruau mentioned that it was the closest relationship he ever had. Christian Dior’s New Look of the 50s was put on paper by Gruau.

Ren? Gruau Poster Femme a L'oeillet
Ren? Gruau Poster Femme a L'oeillet

As an illustrator, Gruau changed the face of the fashion industry. While, once upon a time, they were illustrations in glossy fashion magazines, they are now collector's pieces and are mounted as finishing touches to elegant rooms.

 

Rene Gruau's Strongest and Most Enduring Client - Christian Dior

Rene Gruau's art was commissioned by many different famous people. Specifically, his strongest and longest relationship was with Christian Dior, a personal friend, to design the bottle for his perfume 'Miss Dior.' He did the designs for many of his perfumes subsequently, in spite of the fact that photographry was gaining a foothold and replacing fashion illustrators. He continued with Dior Perfumes until 1980 when he accepted a commission to do the illustrations and design for the male perfume, "Jules.'

Some newspaper and magazine articles about Gruau

American Fine Artists

With his stunning, passionate, figures, his arresting use of color and dramatic, explosive element of line, Rene Gruau developed his distinctive “New Look” in the 1940’s which greatly impacted haute couture, theatre, art, and commercial design. With his trademark use of his powerful minimal line, Gruau’s style combined seductive sophistication with classic beauty, grace and sensual elegance.

René Gruau, 95; Drew Elegant Fashion Ads
René Gruau, an Italian-born artist who made his name in Paris and New York as an illustrator for fashion houses, women's magazines, nightclubs and ballet companies, died in Rome on March 31. He was 95. His death was reported by the Italian news service ANSA. Mr. Gruau, whose posters often echoed both classical Japanese drawings and Toulouse-Lautrec's sketches ...

Rene Gruau as a young man working on his illustrations
Rene Gruau as a young man working on his illustrations | Source

Famous illustrator in America

Rene Gruau relocated to the UNA in 1948 in order to take up a position with Harper's Bazaar, the exclusive fashion magazine. He also worked for Vogue Fashion Magazine at the same time. Later,he worked solely for Flair. His fashion illustrations wree also used by Elle, Madame Figaro, and L'Officiel de la Couture.

His services as an illustrator were highly desirable as fashoin photography had not yet become dominant. A year later, his range spread to using his illustrative skills to the world of advertising, specifically to posters.

Bal du Moulin Rouge - Paris, France - Watusi Dans Frénésie (in Frenzy) - Les 40 Doriss Girls - Moulin Rouge Cabaret - Vintage Theater Poster by René Gruau c.1970 - Fine Art Print - 11in x 14in
Bal du Moulin Rouge - Paris, France - Watusi Dans Frénésie (in Frenzy) - Les 40 Doriss Girls - Moulin Rouge Cabaret - Vintage Theater Poster by René Gruau c.1970 - Fine Art Print - 11in x 14in

Most people recognized this poster. Interestingly, whenever I have seen it, it has always been a talking point. In some way, it tugs at something in the heart.

 

Gruau's Theater Posters 1956 - 1963

Rene Gruau was invited to design posters for theater and film. Subsequently designed posters for Moulin Rouge, La Dolce Vita, French Cancan, Les Ballets Roland Petit and the Opera Comique. Those posters have become very valuable today, and, can, in fact be purchased at various poster websites.

Why Gruau's work was special and why it influenced later artists.

There are several reasons why his work was so influential. I'm going to list them in bullet form.

  1. He had a long working life - sixty years. That's a long time for anyone to be in any industry.
  2. He worked on two continents - both in Europe and in the States.
  3. He worked in several industries - fashion, theatre, textiles, alcohol, and the auto industry.
  4. His style was appealing to many, quick, simple, and startlingly attractive. It was also very different to anything that had been done before.
  5. He was one of he first artists to use his talents for promotional and commercial purposes.
  6. He started his career in France, directly after WWII with Christian Dior, and was responsible for pushing French fashion into the international public eye.
  7. He had very well known clients - Balmain, Givenchy, Schiaparelli, Jacques Fath and Edward Molyneux.

Born a count; died a prince.

Rene Gruau was born a Count of Italy and died a Prince of International Fashion Illustration. He was still working at the time he died when he was 95. Details vary as to whether he died while choking on a fish bone or a heart attack while playing cards. There is also another story - this one from Baron de Rede, that Gruau was having an intimate encounter when the exertion led to a heart attack. No official explanation has ever verified exactly how he died...

© 2015 Tessa Schlesinger

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