In an era of instant images, the new exhibition of the work of the renowned illustrator René Gruau at Somerset House in London expertly shows how some of the fashion world’s most iconic images were born via paper and pen.
“Dior Illustrated: René Gruau and the Line of Beauty,” on show until Jan. 9, takes a bit of a stumble at the outset with a ground-floor display that exposes an array of Gruau’s advertising posters maddeningly cloaked behind a protective mesh fabric. Upstairs, though, is a long hall filled with the artist’s original illustrations from his famous and long-term collaboration with Christian Dior. Starting in 1947 with Dior’s “New Look” collection and continuing until the 1980s, Gruau, who died in 2004, was instrumental in translating the house’s vision for a worldwide audience.
An assortment of items surrounding his bold drawings, which favor a palette of red, black and white, help to put his illustrations into context. Vintage perfume bottles, Christmas cards, magazine cover illustrations and, perhaps most important, a selection of original haute couture Dior dresses that inspired the artist during his time at the house, give the drawings more depth.
The addition of one striking red dress that John Galliano, today’s Dior designer, created after he was inspired by a Gruau drawing is a clever way of showing the artist’s ongoing influence on fashion.
And the finale is forward-looking, displaying commissioned pieces from six illustrators in Britain who used some of Gruau’s favorite themes as the foundation of their modern creations.