Count Renato Zavagli Ricciardelli delle Caminate was born in Rimini, Italy, on February 4th, 1909. His father was an Italian nobleman, and his mother was French. He used the name Rene Gruau for his sketches.
While still a teenager, in 1923, Gruau made fashion sketches which were accepted by German, French and Italian magazines.
He moved to Paris with his mother in 1924, and designed to become a fashion designer. He started by drawing fashionable women. His bold, rhythmic, colourful drawings of modish women are still relevant today. Between 1935 and 1946, he illustrated the couture clothing of many designers, including Pierre Balmain in 1946 in magazines such as Marie Claire, Femina, L'Officiel and Le Magazine de Figaro.
In 1940, he settled in Lyon, working as a fashion designer for the magazine Marie Claire. In 1946, he started a collaboration with the magazine International Textiles, which lasted till 1984, designing cover pages.
In 1947, Gruau met Christian Dior, and assumed artistic direction for perfume advertising. From then on, he illustrated the advertisements for Dior perfumes. From 1948 to 1950, he lived in the United States, initially working as a fashion illustrator for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and later exclusively for Flair, the celebrated fashion, art and society magazine published by Fleur Cowles.
From 1948 to 1950, Gruau designed costumes for stage productions, including posters for the Moulin Rouge. His work elevated the art of fashion illustration to a belle époque and he became the favoured artist of the haute couture world.
During the 60's and 70's, he worked primarily in advertising. In the 80's and 90's, Gruau has contributed to magazines and acted as an artistic consultant to major fashion houses such as Dior and Givenchy.
In 1982, the first exhibition of his work at the Bartsch and Chariau gallery in Munich, marked the beginning of a Gruau renaissance, with major solo retrospective exhibitions following in Paris, Rome, New York and Tokyo.
His design career successfully spanned six decades. His style ranged from open-faced friendly women, who look as if they enjoy wearing fashionable clothes, to elegant seductive creatures who wear their garments with an air of mystery. He was truly, an icon of the fashion world.
Rene Gruau died on 31st March 2004, in Paris, at the age of 95.