René Gruau (Italian, 1909–2004) was a fashion illustrator, whose distinctive “New Look” of the 1940s revolutionized haute couture, theater, art, and commercial design. Born in Rimini, Gruau moved to Paris with his mother at the age of three. By 14, he was supporting himself by selling drawings to fashion magazine Lidel, and later found work as an illustrator for Femina, Marie Claire, and Vogue.

In 1947, Christian Dior commissioned him to create the Miss Dior advertisement, an ad which garnered international attention, and launched Gruau’s career. Featuring his now-famous dramatic, minimal lines and bold, block colors, the image combined Dior’s designs with Gruau’s modern twist on the old-style graphic illustrations of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Eastern painting techniques.

In 1948, he traveled to the United States to work for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, before becoming the exclusive artist for Flair. Also during this time, he produced ads for Lido, Moulin Rouge, and Bemberg.

Over the next several decades, Gruau was employed by some of the most familiar names in haute couture, such as Balenciaga, Givenchy, Pierre Balmain, and Lanvin. His illustrations were featured in every major fashion magazine of the era, including ELLE, Madame Figaro, and L’Officiel de la Couture. In 1959, he created the enormously influential poster for Federico Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita.

During his life, Gruau held shows in major museums around the world, including at the Paris Musée du Costume and the Musée de la Publicite. His works are also part of the permanent collections of institutions such as the Louvre in Paris.

He died in Rome at the age of 95.

Timeline

1909
Born in Rimini, Italy
1924
Settled in Paris
1935–1939
Worked with Femina, Marie-Claire, L'Officiel, Figaro, and other magazines
1947
Drew Miss Dior advertisement for Christian Dior
1948
Left for the United States to work for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue before becoming artist for Flair
1949
Devoted his time to advertising: Rouge Baiser, Lido, Moulin Rouge, Bemberg, Blizzard
1946–1984
Designed covers for International Textiles
2004
Died in Rome, Italy

Exhibitions

2010–2011
Dior Illustrated: René Gruau and the Line of Beauty , Embankment Galleries, Somerset House, London, England
2010
René Gruau (1909-2004): Cover Art, International Textiles Magazine, Fashion Illustration Gallery, London, England