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Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher

The first time that the commercial artist Mr René Gruau turned his skillful hand towards men's style was in 1938, when he was commissioned by the London fashion house Olaf to draw its men's collection. His talent for drawing was informed by his appreciation of men's style. Assouline's new title, Gruau - Portraits of Men, represents the first time a book has focused exclusively on his menswear illustrations.

Mr Gruau was born Renato Zavagli Ricciardelli delle Caminate in 1909 to an aristocratic Italian father and a French mother. However, he took his mother's surname, having moved to Paris with her after his parents divorced in 1912. He started to sell illustrations to an Italian fashion magazine at 14, was internationally published at 18, and went on to work for brands including Givenchy, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Christian Dior and Balmain.

Mr Gruau pictured at Villa Camille Amélie, his home in Cannes, France

While Mr Gruau is best remembered for his womenswear images he was just as talented in the field of men's style, in which he worked as both an illustrator and a journalist. His style of reporting was almost anthropological, something that was typical at the time; Mr Gruau would cover what he saw stylish men wearing in the best restaurants and the most fashionable holiday resorts, rather than simply reporting what the clothing brands proposed they ought to wear.

The illustrations are stylish, playful, cheeky and, crucially, make plain the role of fashion in the pursuit of romance. All of which is just as relevant in 2013 as it was in 1938.

Gruau - Portraits of Men by Réjane Bargiel and Sylvie Nissen is published by Assouline and available on MR PORTER


Gruau: Portraits of Men
by Réjane Bargiel Hardcover Book

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