About the author: Nina is our guest shopper for London. She’s on the road this weekend, so will be slow to respond to comments.
Once upon a time, print ads for Christian Dior perfumes consisted of beautiful illustrations, rather than photos of Jude Law.
If you love those illustrations, then you’re a fan of René Gruau, who drew them all.
Somerset House in London is currently hosting an exhibition of most of Gruau’s original artwork for the House of Dior, including several drawings that were never used. It’s a joyful insight into the shared vision of Gruau and Christian Dior, who were close friends as well as colleagues.
Dior and Gruau (it’s pronounced Grooh-oh) were both illustrators when they met on the fashion desk of Le Figaro in 1936. They seem to have taken to each other at once, coming from similar bourgeois backgrounds, with the same wistful attraction to the memory of Belle Epoque elegance.
When Dior launched his New Look in early 1947, he asked Gruau to illustrate his designs. Launching Miss Dior, his first perfume, later that same year, Dior called on Gruau again. “Do exactly what you want,” he said. “We speak the same language.”
It became one of the most fruitful relationships in the history of illustration. In fact, so successful was Gruau’s work for Dior, he continued to illustrate for Christian Dior Perfumes for over twenty years after Dior’s death in 1957. His last work was the 1984 campaign for Jules, for which the company had originally commissioned photographers; inspired by the challenge, Gruau produced a series of illustrations anyway, and the company were so impressed, they used his work rather than the commissioned photos….