Friday, July 11, 2008

Picture This: René Gruau

Daily, for the moment, I walk a few blocks through a faceless commercial district just outside DC, subjecting myself to another day's indoctrination in things bureaucratic.

En route, I pass a sad little dress shop, the kind that's clearly just holding on until it, too, turns into a McCosiQuiznoChipotleBucks, of which there apparently can't be enough in any neighborhood through which pass commuters.

On the far wall, wrinkled, stained, and just off-center, is a fading framed poster, one that calls up a world infintely distant from the dowdy frocks on offer:

It is, of course, a work by the late, great René Gruau, an artist who is just a fashion illustrator only in the way that Ella Fitzgerald was just a girl singer.

That said, he was of course an extraordinary fashion illustrator, one whose bold, graphic style did much to cement in the popular imagination the High Fashion worlds of Dior, Balmain, and other mid-century greats:

Much of his work, though, balances delicately between illustration and abstraction, fueled by his tremendous gift for fast, swooping lines that evoke anything from an eyelash to a jetliner to, as here, a LoieFulleresque skirt:

His best works not only show a product - a line of Van Cleef & Arpel baubles, for example - but make it clear that owning it would transform the wearer:

His women are impossibly glamourous, elegant - languourous houris who combine a nineteenth century hauteur with a very modern élan.

When called on, however, he had a fetching way with The Opposite Sex as well...

He was that rare specimen, someone whose birthname was actually a great deal more interesting than his professional one: Count Renato Zavagli Ricciardelli delle Camminate.

Something in his exotic Franco-Italian heritage clearly rubbed on his sensibility.

He was for decades as much associated with American magazines like Flair and Harper's Bazaar as French couture, which perhaps accounts for something insouciant and approachable in even his most chic creations.

And the man himself? In the measured words of one obituary, in the veddy British Guardian, "His private life remained discreetly private."


  1. I adore the educational aspects of your blog. I had never heard of the dear man before and now I'm wild for him. "Discreetly private." Code for Sicilian rentboys, no doubt.

  2. thank you for this lovely and ever so complete post on Rene Gruau, always a great favorite of mine.
    I took th liberty of adding you to my blogroll

    kisses from Xico