Monday, 2:52pm
22 November 2010

Outline of beauty

René Gruau’s visual ‘personalities’ forged Dior’s brand language

Since founding her Munich-based graphic arts gallery, Bartsch & Chariau, in 1980, Joëlle Chariau has been an advocate of René Gruau, writes Liz Farrelly.

Across the river from the Design Museum’s Drawing Fashion exhibition (where Chariau discussed fashion illustration), the Embankment Galleries at Somerset House are staging Dior Illustrated: René Gruau and the Line of Beauty. The show explores his life-long collaboration with first the man, Christian Dior, and then the brands, House of Dior and Christian Dior Parfums.

Top: Miss Dior, ca. 1960 ‘Miss Dior’, Rene Gruau (ca. 1960). © SARL Rene Gruau

Many of Gruau’s most memorable images are here (rather than at the Design Museum). See the originals and their hidden depths are revealed; the impasto of white paint, the over-working of a forceful black outline, unexpected collaged elements, the paper surface’s evocative nap. Alongside are the printed reproductions; magazine ads, elaborate perfume packaging, and a fascinating set of ‘Christian Dior Parfums Season’s Greeting Cards’. From 1965 to 1981, Gruau designed this annual tour de force of expert engraving and print technology. Innovatively constructed, with sumptuous fabrics ‘compressed’ between sheets of embossed card, these acted as experimental dry runs for new packaging designs.


Taken together, this body of work reveals how Gruau developed a brand language for Dior. United a diverse range, he invented distinct ‘personalities’ for each product by visualising the ‘idealised user’ and a ‘mood’ in one, and then evolved those personalities through successive campaigns.

Beyond Gruau’s work for Dior, his collaboration with Dutch magazine, International Textiles, is mentioned; from 1946 to 1984 he drew every cover. On show are four ‘montage’ images; quickly drawn reportage views with calligraphic captioning. Using the most economic of means, black and red ink on creamy stock, Gruau informs us – via gesture and attitude – of proportion, texture and that season’s must-have accessories.


Today, perfume is big business; the most lucrative ‘franchise’ of a fashion brand. Gruau’s work with Dior, interpreting the essence of the designer’s vision, is a tutorial in how image-making can build a brand. There’s much to learn here; a talk scheduled for 2 December, on contemporary fashion illustration and advertising, shouldn’t be missed.


> 9 January 2011
Dior Illustrated: René Gruau and the Line of Beauty
Somerset House
London WC2R 1LA

Thu 2 Dec, 18.30–19.30
Dior Illustrated Talk: Fashion Illustration in Advertising
Screening Room, South Wing

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