After many university students lugging hefty, hardback sketchbooks, busily scribbling and sketching saucy, seductive and wonderfully dressed figures at the Design Museum’s Drawing Fashion exhibition, Somerset House have also decided to open its doors to yet more fashion illustration fans. This time it sets out to explore the amazing relationship between Christian Dior and René Gruau.
There were many screeching girls who ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ at the sight of beautiful Dior Haute Couture clothed mannequins. Bright, unmissable pink paint splattered over a pristine white dress would usually be an utter tragedy to behold, but the Olga Sherer outfit inspired by Gruau for the Autumn/Winter 2007/08 collection makes this so-called “clumsiness” into a thing of great beauty. Attach a pink scrunched rose detail to the hip of the dress, pull up sleek, long, black gloves, embellish the neck with a chunky pearl necklace, tilt a paint palette hat on the head (Complete with generous dollops of thick crimson, navy and black paint, and a giant paintbrush) and voilá here is an outfit that screams glamour and stylishness. Vintage perfume bottles also got their fair share of admiration, and no wonder, since these golden beauties possess such a commanding elegance just begging for attention. All the bottles were shaped as gorgeous amphoras, and the Diorling 1963 bottle and the Diorissimo 1956 bottle used Dior’s favourite motif: flowers. The former perfume bottle has a delicate rosebud stopper, whilst the latter has a spray of golden roses and jasmine as an ornamental lid. These miniature cuties gain a great amount of respect as well-sculpted works of art.
Despite all the gaping jaws at the mannequins, the obvious star attraction of the show was Gruau’s exquisite fashion illustrations. One thing which I wasn’t expecting was a rather kinky and naughty looking cookbook. La Cuisine Cousu-Main is a Dior cookery book filled with recipes Dior himself liked to prepare, plus 10 original drawings by Gruau. One picture showed a naked woman having a bath in a frothy gigantic glass of alcohol. There is a huge nest of alcoholic bubbles resting on the woman’s head, whilst the woman gives a wide, mischievous and suggestive smile.
René Gruau’s fashion illustrations for Christian Dior show intelligence, humour and attitude. The five contemporary UK-based illustrators who contributed images inspired by Gruau, indicates how he continues to impress and influence artists today, and beyond.
Kimberley Chen is a London-based writer. She has previously written for a number of publications including Blueprint magazine and The Architect’s Journal.