Friday, April 24, 2009

Poiret in his studio

Paul Poiret was a French couturier with lots of never-before-seen ideas for the fashion world.  He was known in America as "The King of Fashion" and “Le Magnifique” in Paris.  His exotic, new and exciting designs, along with his hard work and self-promotion made a big impact on fashion in the early twentieth century. He said in his autobiography, "I did not wait for my success to grow by itself. I worked like a demon to increase it, and everything that could stimulate it seemed good to me."  He is an inspiring example of someone who started out with little more than passion and worked hard to make himself into a huge success and a very influential figure.


A bedroom designed by Paul Poiret

Poiret was the first designer to have a fragrance line

Paul Poiret was born in Paris on April 20th, 1879.  He started his fashion career selling designs to prominent dressmakers, and became an assistant to Jacques Doucet at the age of nineteen.  After working under Doucet, and at the House of Worth, Poiret opened his own shop in Paris.  He was a very influential designer and introduced many new, innovative designs. He was the first designer to develop a fragrance line, which he called “Rosine”.  He founded a school of textile arts, called Atelier Martine and with that, expanded into interior decoration.  He also gets credit for pioneering both the boutique and the designer ready-to-wear system.  Despite all of Poiret’s many successes, he ended up losing his name to his business after he was drafted into the war.  His business ended up closing and he died in 1944 at sixty-five years old.

Breaking into Fashion

Poiret with his tailor and a model

Poiret’s rise to fame began with his first design for Jacques Doucet; a red cloak which sold 400 copies, customers demanded the design in other colors.  Poiret himself said that it was a mantle he made for the actress Réjane in a play called Zaza that really secured his place in the fashion world.  He became well known in both Europe, and America, and not only broke into fashion, he started a renaissance.  His career was interrupted during World War I, when he was drafted to serve with the French army.  Despite the war, Poiret was the dominant designer of the decade.

Signature Styles

Poiret's Oriental designs with his signature turban

Poiret introduced this new silhouette

Harem pants

Robe du Soir

Lampshade Tunic

Paul Poiret is known for many things, from his lavish parties to his “lampshade” tunic.  Perhaps what he is most known for is the abolition of the restrictive “S” bend corsets, with the introduction of the new, straight, upright silhouette in dresses.  He also introduced the hobble skirt, which was very narrow at the bottom, harem pants, and cocoon and kimono coats.  Poiret’s use of vivid colors and oriental-inspired designs were a great change from the muted colors of the Edwardian era.  Not all of Poiret’s designs were widely accepted, as they were considered too avant garde.  The “lampshade tunic” and harem pants made fashion headlines but were only worn by the most brave women.


Poiret's wife, Denise

A poster for the Ballets Russes

Poiret was greatly influenced by oriental costumes, especially from Diaghilev's Ballets Russes by Leon Bakst, and exotic oriental tales such as 1001 Arabian Nights.  The bright colors he used and his trademark turban are just a few examples of ideas inspired by the orient.  He is also quoted to say "My wife is the inspiration for all my creations; she is the expression of all my ideals." She was his muse, creative director of the fashion house, and his favorite model.


The following pictures are from a fashion spread in Vogue featuring designs inspired by Paul Poiret

When Poiret returned from the war in 1919, his fashion house was on the brink of bankruptcy.  With no money, and no support, he soon left the house, which ended up closing in 1929.  Without a fashion house to carry on his legacy, he isn’t as widely remembered as other designers of the century, but whether people know it or not, Paul Poiret’s influence can still be seen in designers’ collections today.  People still look to him for inspiration.

In 2007, some of Poiret’s designs were shown in a retrospective exhibition at the MET.  In correlation with the exhibit, Vogue did a fashion spread of designs inspired by Poiret.

Paul Poiret
In conclusion, nobody could express Poiret’s essence better than himself.  He says in his autobiography, "It was in my inspiration of artists, in my dressing of theatrical pieces, in my assimilation of and response to new needs, that I served the public of my day."  You can see it in his designs and you can see it in modern designs now, Paul Poiret was a groundbreaking and very influential figure in the world of fashion.