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Today, kittens, we are going to talk about the most recognizable fashion illustrator you've never heard of. Does this look familiar? How about this? Or this? They're three of the most famous--though in my opinion, hardly the best--works of the game-changing artist, Rene Gruau.

The son of an Italian count and a French aristocrat, he was only 14 when his first piece was published in an Italy; by the age of 18, he was appearing in fashion bibles the world over. It wasn't long before the A-list began vying for his talents; in the course of his career he worked with most of the biggest names in fashion, from Balmain to Schiaparelli. His most notable relationship, however, was probably with fashion icon Christian Dior; the two began collaborating in 1947, and Gruau's vibrant, whimsical illustrations have been largely credited with influencing the House of Dior's iconic New Look.

Gruau's work is heavily influenced by traditional Japanese design, Art Nouveau, and decadent, fin-de-siecle Paris (think Toulouse-Lautrec or Bonnard). Also a hallmark: a sense of incredible whimsy and energy. Notoriously selective about the models he chose to paint, Gruau preferred to work with women with strong personalities, such as model Bettina Graziani, finding their movements and attitudes a vital part of the creative process. For Gruau, fashion was only as striking as the women who wore it.

And that, friends, is what really gets me about Gruau's work. Yes, I adore it on an empirical level: I love his use of color, the way he uses negative space, the expressive linework. I love that it is a three-in-one power punch of several of my favorite artistic movements. What I love most, however, is the fact that the women he paints come across so strongly. They always seem like real people, as opposed to ciphers in couture; though stunning, they seem to have depth.

The strong personality that Gruau demanded shines through clearly, allowing the woman and the clothes (or whatever product he's displaying) to amplify, rather than distract from, one another's beauty. Gruau's models can probably swear in four languages, drink me under the table, and would have no qualms about walking home barefoot in their beautiful Dior dress. In short, they are the women I would like to be if I ever grow up.

Also, you know. The paintings are just fucking gorgeous.

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