Few people have changed the world of fashion and people’s perception of femininity as Christian Dior. Revered in his own lifetime as a fashion god at the forefront of post-war modernity with his celebrated ‘New Look’. At his side was friend and lifelong collaborator René Gruau who would create some of the most enduring fashion images of the 20th century.
In the third of its fashion based exhibitions Somerset House has gathered together a strong collection of Gruau’s work from the 1950s right up until the time he finished working with the house of Dior in the 1980s.
Whether translating Dior’s floral inspiration or producing illustrations for the ever masculine Eau Sauvage fragrance, rx seek it is the simplicity in Gruau’s work that always jumps to the fore. All at once the work is of its own time but also undoubtedly modern and timeless. The exhibition takes you through several distinct elements of Gruau’s work and his progression as an illustrator of not just Dior but the inspirations of the time are clear.
The collection is divided into sections including Gruau’s Flower Woman and his work on Gesture and Attitude, cost which contains some of his most recognised works. Also present is a series of L’Homme Gruau. When Gruau first illustrated for the Eau Sauvage fragrance the worked caused quite a stir for showing a man in the intimacy of just his bathrobe. Gruau would continue to push this further in future pieces, this such as the scandalous naked man shaving concealed in shadow.
The sincere friendship between Dior and Gruau can be seen throughout the collaborative works; a shared vision of two of the most creative men of the 20th century. The exhibition highlights Gruau’s influences in several pieces such as Japanese prints. Accompanying the illustrations (behind a rather heavy gauze) are several pieces of Dior Haute Couture. The New Look coat is a sight to be hold, as is the painted dress from the Autumn/Winter couture collection 2010 by John Galliano, displaying both Christian Dior and René Gruau’s enduring influence.The final part of the exhibition shows the dramatic influence Gruau has had on the world of fashion illustration with a collection of contemporary works by modern artists.
At £6 this exhibition isn;t expensive in comparison to large-scale London exhibitions, but at the same time it isn’t enormous. However, for anyone with even a passing interest in Dior, the 1950s, contemporary culture, advertising or illustration this exhibition is a must see. Photography is not allowed of the exhibits so make sure you spend your time soaking in the work: the clarity of the lines, the extensive range of techniques, the boundaries pushed – from a time before Illustrator or Photoshop were even dreamed of.
For visiting information, visit the Somerset House website.
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