René Gruau was born in Rimini, Italy, in 1909 as Renato Conte de Savagli-Ricardelli to a family of aristocrats. When he was only three years old his French mother Maria Gruau de la Chesnaie, separated from René ‘s father, an Italian count. While still a teenager, in 1923, he made fashion sketches which were accepted by German, French and Italian magazines. René took the maiden name of his mother, who was an artist, and they moved to Paris, in 1924.
René Gruau worked for many patrons including Balmain, Givenchy, Schiaparelli, Jacques Fath and Edward Molyneux, and also for suppliers of top-quality textiles, cars and brandy. He did ballet sets and costumes. In 1940, he settled in Lyon, and his drawings of elegant women, in bold, rhythmic, colorful designs were published in magazines such as Marie Claire, Femina, L’Officiel and Le Magazine de Figaro. During the long period spanning between 1946 to 1984 he collaborated with the magazine International Textiles. and from 1955 onwards, he turned to fashion advertising through photography of fashion accessories, gloves, perfume, cosmetics, lingerie,fabrics and so on. But, above all, it was Gruau’s creative collaboration with Christian Dior, starting with Dior’s New Look in 1947 and terminating in the late 1990s, that critically influenced his work and his reputation.
According to the fashion designer John Galliano; Gruau “captured Dior’s style and spirit better than any other because he understood his long-term friend… for me a Gruau sketch captures the energy, the sophistication and daring of Dior, and equally is testimony to an enduring friendship.” René Gruau was inspired by the Japanese kabuki theater, and woodcuts, which influenced his motif on a ground of flat tone, using broad, flowing brushstroke, pen, Indian ink and gouache. In 1989, a René Gruau Exhibition was held at the Musée du Costume at the Palais Galliera in Paris. His work is in national museums and galleries, including the Louvre, as well as in numerous private collections. René Gruau died in 2004.