René Gruau was born in 1909 with an aristocratic title: Renato Conte de Savagli-Ricardelli, in Rimini on the Adriatic coast of Italy. His French mother, Maria Gruau de la Chesnaie, left his father when René was but three years old. While in his young teen years, he managed to sell some of his fashion sketches to magazines in France, Germany and Italy in 1923. He thereupon took the maiden name of his artist mother, Gruau, and reinvented himself as René Gruau. They moved together to Paris the following year.
His many accounts included Balmain, Givenchy, Schiaparelli, Jacques Fath and Edward Molyneux, and advertisers of high end textiles, automobiles and cognac. He also designed costumes and sets for the ballet. By 1940 his drawings appeared in Marie Claire, Femina, L'Officiel and Le Magazine de Figaro.
His most significant achievement was his collaboration with Christian Dior from 1947 through the end of the 20th century. While he was known as a fashion artist at the top of his field, I prefer to remember him as an exquisite designer as well, and offer these dynamic examples to prove the point.
Click on images to enlarge them.
Advertisement for a glove manufacturer in Vogue (USA) 1955
His startling use of solid color and black set his work apart from others
More startling use of color and solid black combined with his signature heavy brush-drawn outline and intimate detail continued for decades
An earlier depiction of an Argentine tango utilized a lighter outline but similar use of solids
Very much stylistic Gruau with tension between the solid black hat, detailed flowers and a lovely portrait
A fantastic flow of design and color
More design than illustration
A sample of superior illustration carefully balanced with a compementary design
Two compelling portraits
Model Cindy Crawford showing off an original portrait by René Gruau
Greta Garbo, 1950
1983, with a partial close-up of the detail, below