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