René Gruau, Cover Art/International Textiles Magazine

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Cover for International Textiles No.363, 1962
Cover for International Textiles No.363, 1962

With the recent resurgence of interest in René Gruau’s distinct, striking and highly sophisticated illustrations and to coincide with a presentation of his works in Dior Illustrated at Somerset House and Drawing Fashion at the Design Museum, Fashion

With the recent resurgence of interest in René Gruau’s distinct, striking and highly sophisticated illustrations ­­and to coincide with a presentation of his works in Dior Illustrated at Somerset House and Drawing Fashion at the Design Museum, Fashion Illustration Gallery owner William Ling thought it the perfect time to showcase the illustrator’s International Textiles cover art. Teaming exuberant and elegant brush strokes with an incredible eye for composition, Gruau’s unique designs graced the covers of this first-ever international rag trade magazine from 1946 to 1984. A lasting influence on decades that followed Gruau’s mature style, with its bold, solid colours, daring use of negative space and sweeping black line signaled optimism and opulence after World War II. Working for numerous high fashion magazines of the time ­– such as Vogue, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle ­– Gruau was also hired by major designers ­including Christain Dior, Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli, Rochas, Lanvin, Elizabeth Arden, and Hubert de Givenchy. Here Ling expresses the importance of fashion illustration and the dynamism and unprecedented vision of the man labeled “the 20th century’s greatest fashion illustrator.”

Why did you choose to focus on René Gruau’s International Textiles in particular?
The works Gruau made for International Textiles have never before been offered for sale. So it was a unique opportunity I couldn't resist. What's more the works show Gruau not only to be a brilliant creator of fashion imagery but also a genius of graphic composition. The body of work was made over an incredible 38 years and each one is fresh and original.

What do you particularly like about Gruau’s illustrations?
The life of Gruau's vision extended beyond the era of Dior's New Look and pretty much lasted the duration of his career and they still speak to us today. The works are just so powerfully seductive and consistently so. They embody his genius and have a special place in the history of visual art.

What do you think today’s illustrators and graphic designers can learn from Gruau?
Gruau's work for International Textiles is a perfect example of how illustration and graphic design can work in harmony. There is no sense that one dominates the other or that the illustration has been “dropped in”. The illustration is woven into the composition and the two have become one.

Why do you think there has been a resurgence of interest in his work and fashion illustration as a medium?
What we are witnessing isn't just a resurgence of interest in Gruau's work and that of fashion illustration in general, it is the long overdue recognition that this work, principally made for reproduction, is worth exhibiting and the paintings and drawings are very often of the highest caliber as are the artists who made them. Joelle Chariau whose collection is exhibited at The Design Museum has known this for some time and way before most of us and her reward for acting on her insight is clear now for all to see.

Photography has taken over illustration for magazine cover art – would you like to see a revival of the illustrated cover?
Yes wouldn't it be lovely. The received wisdom is that illustrated covers don't sell as well as photographic covers. However when David Downton recently illustrated Cate Blanchett for the cover of Australian Vogue, the sales went through the roof.

Why do you see illustration as such an important representation of fashion?
Fashion constantly needs to find new ways in which to touch/communicate and make contact with its audience. In this respect it is important as it provides an alternative to the dominant and obvious use of photography.  In terms of what it tells us about the aesthetic/mood of the moment and ideas of beauty it is as fascinating and interesting as any other art form.

Who are your favourite up and coming illustrators?
At the moment that gallery is talking to Barbara Hulanicki and has just taken work from Daisy de Villeneuve but I'm not sure that you would call them “up and coming”.  We can't wait to find the next Mats Gustafson or Jean-Philippe Delhomme stepping out of art school and we want to encourage any who think they might be it to make contact.

Text by Lucia Davies

René Gruau (1909­–2004) Cover Art/ International Textiles Magazine runs until 4 December at Fashion Illustration Gallery, London.