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.

Christian Dior’s Rene Gruau Groove

Godfrey Deeny
January 24th, 2011 @ 6:54 PM - Paris

There was grand style and hyper opulent chic on display at Christian Dior Couture Monday afternoon, Jan. 24, in rainy Paris, when the house’s couturier John Galliano sought inspiration from Monsieur Dior’s most fruitful collaborator, illustrator Rene Gruau.

Staged over a massively elongated runway in the garden of Paris’ Rodin Museum, the show opened with a voluminous blood orange red silk coat wrapped over a half dozen layers of tulle. The ensemble floated by on model Karlie Kloss, on whose head sprouted a stiff Stephen Jones hat, mimicking the signature flourish of one of Gruau’s sketches.

Gruau, an Italian who was born Renato Zavagli Ricciardelli in Rome, adopted his divorced mother’s maiden name, moved to Paris, lived to be 95. He went on to become the single most influential illustrator ever in fashion history.

Much of this spring 2011 collection riffed on the extended volumes of Dior’s epoch-making New Look show, which Gruau himself played a key role in making so famous through his brilliant sketches.

“Rene Gruau’s crayons, his pencil marks and his paint strokes, all inspired us. I hope something of the results looked effortlessly chic,” Galliano said backstage. And it did.

Gruau’s squiggles and brush strokes were reproduced in three dimensions on a series of remarkable looks, pencil lines imitated by strips of sequins, paint strokes by dashes of stiff chiffon.

“And the play of light and darkness and the chiaroscuro was evident in Karlie’s first look,” added the couturier, explaining that the only question was why he had taken so long to base a collection on Gruau, given his fundamental role in the house’s history.

Gruau’s advertising sketches for Miss Dior perfume and his drawings of the legendary New Look collection of 1947 remain the most easily recognizable drawings in fashion history.

Throughout, elements of chiaroscuro were used artfully, eliciting a huge roar of applause from the understanding audience, which included Marisa Berenson, Pedro Almodovar, Elena Anaya, Lou Doillon, Michelle Hicks and Japanese opera singer Seia Lee.

It was as if Gruau’s images had come alive on this 200-foot-long catwalk via embroidered and degrade fauve silk coats, asymmetrical tulle fantasy dresses and a dramatic series of marvelously decayed crinolines that ended this show.

The U.K.-born designer took his bow attired in a hussar’s jacket from his own signature men’s Rudolf Nureyev-inspired collection (shown this past weekend in Paris) and a mop-top wig, capturing the period when the ballet dancer was hanging out with Mick Jagger. Now that’s what we call a neat New Look for Dior’s 21st century.

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