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An illustrator’s influence.

Rene Gruau is a hugely influential illustrator and graphic artist, one whose contributions to fashion and art are being honoured with an exhibition at Sommerset House.
Gruau led a bit of a charmed life – an Italian count (dad’s side) and a French aristocrat (mum’s side) by birth, he was raised amidst the splendour of the Belle Epoch. The aesthetics that surrounded him as a child would play a huge role in his creative output in his later years. Not that he had to wait until he was of age – Gruau’s illustrations had already been published by the age of 14.
Although he worked as a designer for several European magazines, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue in the US, his most famous work came from his collaboration with the house of Dior. The campaigns and drawings he created for his friend Christian Dior and Co. are evocative, sensual, and astonishing in their simplicity and beauty. Oh, and SEXY!
The print nerd in me was impressed to see this above image imprinted onto ribbon fabric! As well as advertising, the drawing was a component of the perfume’s packaging.
Next are some excellent uses of negative space (the redhead is Saty’s favourite, I’m on constant ebay watch for it). Aren’t they amazing?
Gruau was himself influenced by other greats, Toulouse-Lautrec and Hiroshige are two notables. A Japanese way of expression manifests itself in many of Gruau’s drawings, in particular the subtlety of gesture – a flick of a wrist from a geisha or kabuki performer found it’s way into a gloved hand holding a handkerchief.
I would guess that he was also a fan of a Japanese colour palette, as seen in the ongoing use of lacquer reds and blacks, and this example that is reminiscent of an Aizuri-e print by Hiroshige.
Lots of creative folk have Gruau’s illustrations on their inspiration boards, his work has been lovingly interpreted by many great art directors (see Acne Paper above). If you aren’t familiar with Gruau already, I urge you to go on a inter-web-induced rabbit hole-ing mission pronto! Or, if you’re a local, visit the show at my favourite building in all of London, it’s on until January 9th.
While you’re there, check out the Matthew Williamson exhibit, and the Kevin Cummins gallery of Joy Division photos! The shot of the boys on the Epping Walk bridge in Manchester is super iconic.

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