Dior Illustrated is the latest offering on show at Somerset House, in a space previously used for the Margiela show which I enjoyed there a few months back. This is not a fashion show, or a show of clothes, although there are a few on display. Instead this exhibition celebrates the work of Rene Gruau, specifically his brilliant illustrations for Dior. Here we can see examples of how a book cover can alter the way we perceive things, especially in a business as fickle as fashion.
John Galliano importantly said of the artist:
‘To be inspired by Dior is to be inspired by Rene Gruau. His sketches capture the silhouette and spirit of Dior and a new era of fashion and femininity. His illustrations are timeless, ever youthful, ever faithful to the moment he saw; they capture the energy, the sophistication and daring of Dior, and equally are tokens of an enduring friendship.’
Gruau and Dior were great friends and this connection can be seen through the work shown, produced through bouncing off each others creativity, but with a central shared vision. There are certain themes that recur throughout the exhibition: flowers, attitude, line and silhouette. I found this show quite discreet and quietly relaxing to look round. The dainty pictures are hung in one large hall so it is easy to wander calmly without the pressure of a crowd behind you.
The work on display is simple and beautiful, though a little repetitive. Most of the pictures are drawn for the advertising of Dior’s perfumes, seductive and passionate, luring you into buying the scent. There are also some comical drawings for the men’s range, poking fun with risque nudity and suggestive poses.
The final part shows the work of other contemporary artists taking on Gruau’s main motifs. For me this rather ruined the exhibition, the pictures are verging on tacky, completely different in mood to the elegant Dior drawings and don’t fit with the show at all. Why curators feel they must modernise exhibitions baffles me.
As a bonus, afterwards I spent twenty minutes looking at the free Matthew Williamson show. A bijou exhibition celebrating the English Fashion designer's significant influence on the fashion world. It is nicely arranged and consists mostly of bright photographs taken from his first catwalk show or from magazine shoots. Definitely worth a peek.