Monday, 24 August 2015

Passage 5: The Creation of a Dior

Photo by Laziz Hamani
Image courtesy of: Royal Ontario Museum

Video courtesy of: christianzh ~ YouTube

In 2011, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto commissioned, along with an accompanying fifty-minute documentary film—Passage #5—a Christian Dior haute couture ensemble for its 2012 exhibition ‘BIG.’ A one-piece tulle-and-silk faille coat-dress originally modelled by Olga Sherer, ‘Passage 5’ was the fifth garment—in a collection of thirty-two pieces—in what proved to be John Galliano's last haute couture collection (Spring-Summer 2011) for the House of Dior; it was also, by Galliano's own admission, his most technically challenging collection to date.

Based on a loose re-configuration of the epoch-defining ‘New Look’ silhouette (cornerstone of the House of Dior), the creation of ‘Passage 5’ alone required 166 meters of fabric and five-hundred hours of labour to complete by a multitude of ‘petites mains’—not only those of the Maison Dior ateliers but also other attendant craftsmen and women of satellite ateliers. These other ancillary ateliers involved Ateliers Gérard Lognon, one of the last remaining (and celebrated) plisseurs in Paris (member of Paraffection since 2013—an assemblage of several Chanel subsidiary ateliers, which currently include: Maison Lesage, master embroiderers and beaders; Maison Massaro, the bespoke shoemakers;  Maison Desrues, button-makers and costume jewellers; Marcelle Guillet, makers of artificial flowers; Maison Lemarié, featherers as well as creators of  flowers; Goossens Paris, jewellers; and in 2012, the Scottish cashmere manufacturer Barrie Knitwear), and Maison Hurel, embroiderers and designers/manufacturers of luxury textiles who were responsible for the design and execution of the beadwork for ‘Passage 5’. (Sources: ROM Collections: Dior Gown, Royal Ontario Museum, undated; Blanks T.,, January 24, 2011)

(Olga Sherer)
The above two images are courtesy of: Studio H2O (Vimeo channel)

The Christian Dior Spring-Summer 2011 Haute Couture collection was Galliano's homage to the artwork—and career—of René Gruau, a close friend of Dior's and for whom Gruau was artistic director of Christian Dior Parfums advertising. (A little-known fact is that at Central Saint Martins, John Galliano had originally studied fashion illustration, fully intending to become an illustrator; he is even alleged to have signed a contract to work as an illustrator in Manhattan, New York City.) The collection was specifically inspired by ‘Dior Illustrated: René Gruau and the Line of Beauty,’ the 2010 exhibition—curated by Vincent Leret—held at London's Somerset House (for which Galliano personally selected an assortment of Dior haute couture dresses, including one especially designed by Galliano for the exhibit) and was based on Gruau’s illustrations for Christian Dior in the late 1940s and 1950s. Galliano's interpretation of Gruau's work for Dior—which certainly contributed to the House's iconic imagery—took the ambitious and difficult form of translating the impressionistic, two-dimensional free-form strokes of an illustrator's pencil or chalk to the three-dimensional forms of thirty-two ensembles. As Tim Blanks of, in his review of Galliano's collection for Dior, noted: “The graphite smears, pencil strokes and scribbles, erasure marks, and gouache washes of Gruau's illustrations were duplicated in cloth and embroidery, used, said the designer,in an illustrative way.’ ... It was remarkable that such extravagance managed to capture the speed, the spontaneity, the airiness, even the economy of the illustrator's work.” Mr. Blanks goes on further to state: “The most dramatic effects were chiaroscuro—the interplay of light and shade, duplicating the wash of Gruau's watercolors and the shadows of Irving Penn's classic couture photography. Where it seemed that hand-painting fabric would have been the simplest way to achieve the desired result, Galliano and his studio used seven layers of tulle to create a shimmering depth of dégradé. ... Embroidery was used on one side of the fabric only, so it cast a subtle relief shadow. Ostrich feathers made swooshes of ink on a huge ball gown, pencil lines were picked out in sequins. And Stephen Jones was in his element—his hats were trompe l'oeil strokes of paint, soaring heavenward.” Viewing the video of the collection, the mind reels at the concerted efforts necessary—not to mention the inordinate amount of time, patience, and scale of the astounding skills of the combined ateliers—to achieve such effects (“in an illustrative way”) and make them seem so decidedly effortless. (Quotes: Tim Blanks,, January 24, 2011)

(Olga Sherer)
Top image is courtesy of: Cool Chic Style & Fashion
 The bottom two images are courtesy of: beauties from Belarus

Video courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum ~ YouTube

As a fashion illustrator par excellenceRené Gruau (1909-2004)—born Count Renato Zavagli Ricciardelle delle Camminate, in Rimini, Italy, to an aristocratic Italian father and a socialite French mother, Marie Gruau de la Chesnaie (whose maiden name he later adopted, after his parents' divorce when he was three, and following his mother's relocation to Paris where he subsequently lived and worked)—was considered to be one of the 20th century's finest (his work is “characterized by his fluid, expressive, and seemingly effortless lines, and by his ability to distill his subjects to their essence for maximum effect – a mouth, a coiffure, a gesture, the structure of a garment is each described so convincingly, and with such graceful economy of means[Quote: René Gruau: Master of Fashion Illustration, Christie's, 2013]); his long career, begun at a very early age, encompassed work for such prestigious American and French fashion magazines and newspapers as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Flair, Femina, Marie-Claire, L’Officiel and Le Figaro, as well as some of fashion's most illustrious names of the mid-20th century (these ranked Balmain, Fath, Molyneux, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Lanvin, and Schiaparelli among them). But Gruau's output was not confined solely to fahion, producing commercial posters for the famed Parisian cabarets Moulin Rouge and Lido de Paris, advertising campaigns for Air France and Martini, and the cinema poster for Federico Fellini’s 1959 film, La Dolce Vita, for example, thereby reaching a far greater audience. His name, however, is most intimately associated by his creative collaboration with Christian Dior. (Gruau's early work is distinguished by his signature, ‘Gruau,’ topped by a star, later simply reduced to the distinctive cypher of an elegant capital ‘G,’ also surmounted by the same star.) It was René Gruau's close association with and understanding of Christian Dior—a relationship begun in 1947 with the début of Dior's eponymous collection, in February of that same year, and the advent of  his ‘New Look’—and Dior's distinctive post-Second World War aesthetic that allowed Gruau to perfectly and graphically capture the momentous spirit of the Dior brand.
(Sources: René Gruau: a new look at the influential Dior illustrator, Beyfus,  D., The Telegraph, October 23, 2010; Blanks T.,, January 24, 2011; René Gruau: Master of Fashion Illustration, Christie's: 3436, 2013; René Gruau, Fashion Illustration Gallery, 2015)

“[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.” ~ John Galliano

For centuries, as a genre, fashion illustration (in the form of ‘fashion plates’—engravings, paintings, sketches, and even dolls that were sent travelling abroad) was the primary means of disseminating new developments (and changing attitudes, changing styles) in fashion; it was not until the 20th century that fashion illustration was inevitably and finally usurped by a more immediate medium: photography. Still, illustration survived (“...a reminder of what the brush, pen and ink achieved before the camera took over[Quote: Drusilla Beyfus, The Telegraph, 2010])—albeit in a much narrower, less extensive margin than before. That said, there have been other illustrators of note (some, perhaps, better known than others) who have sustained the art of fashion illustration—Antonio Lopez, Thierry Perez, David Downton, Kenneth Paul Block, Joe Eula—all of whom are/were immensely talented in their own right and have/had reached the apogee of their respective careers. But it was by virtue of Gruau's enduring, sixty-year-long career—a rare longevity—and his adaptability (by way of broadening his work, outside the confines of fashion, for commercial purposes) that set him apart from his peers. To this day—and most likely well into the future—the name and work of René Gruau continues (and will continue) to abide and be inextricably linked, and with good reason, with the golden era of haute couture. It is only apt, then—if somewhat ironic—to conclude by borrowing the introductory line from Christie's 2013 online auction of Gruau's prints (René Gruau: Master of Fashion Illustration, Sale no. 3436): “The art of René Gruau is a timeless expression of style, elegance and sophistication.”

(Olga Sherer)
Above left image, courtesy of: Ma Cherie, Dior | Above right image, courtesy of: Afterblack

Video courtesy of: Alexei Crombez ~ YouTube

Suggested readings:

René Gruau (1984), by René Gruau & Joëlle Chariau: Rizzoli

Gruau (1999), by René Gruau: te Neues

Gruau (2003), by François Baudot: Perseus Distribution Services

100 Years of Fashion Illustration (2007), by Cally Blackman: Laurence King Publishing

Gruau et la mode (Gruau and Fashion) (2008), by Elisa Tosi Brandi: Silvana

Dior Illustrated: René Gruau & the Line of Beauty (2010): Somerset House

Gruau: Portraits of Men (2012), by Sylvie Nissen & Rejane Bargiel: Assouline Publishing


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    1. Dear Ms. Naaz:

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      PS: nice website & wedding photos.

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