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Paul Poiret, c. 1913

Paul Poiret (20 April 1879, Paris, France - 30 April 1944, Paris) was a French fashion designer. His contributions to twentieth-century fashion have been likened to Picasso's contributions to twentieth-century art.[1][2]

Contents

Early life and career

Poiret was born on April 20, 1879 to a cloth merchant in the poor neighborhood of Les Halles, Paris.[1] His parents, in an effort to rid him of his natural pride, apprenticed him to an umbrella maker.[1] There, he collected scraps of silk left over from the cutting of umbrella patterns, and fashioned clothes for a doll that one of his sisters had given him.[1] While a teenager, Poiret took his sketches to Madeleine Cheruit, a prominent dressmaker, who purchased a dozen from him.[1] Poiret continued to sell his drawings, eventually to major Parisian couture houses, until he was hired by Jacques Doucet in 1896.[1] His first design, a red cloth cape, sold 400 copies.[1] Poiret later moved to the House of Worth, where he was responsible for designing simple, practical dresses.[1] The "brazen modernity of his designs," however, proved too much for Worth's conservative clientele.[1] When Poiret presented the Russian Princess Bariantinsky with a Confucius coat with an innovative kimono-like cut, for instance, she exclaimed, "What a horror! When there are low fellows who run after our sledges and annoy us, we have their heads cut off, and we put them in sacks just like that."[1]

Poiret's influence expands

Poiret illustrations by Paul Iribe, 1908

Poiret established his own house in 1903, and made his name with the controversial kimono coat.[1] He designed flamboyant window displays and threw legendary parties to draw attention to his work; his instinct for marketing and branding was unmatched by any previous designer.[1] In 1909, he was so famous that H. H. Asquith invited him to show his designs at 10 Downing Street.[1] The cheapest garment at the exhibition was 30 guineas, double the annual salary of a scullery maid.[1]

Poiret's house expanded to encompass furniture, decor, and fragrance in addition to clothing.[1] In 1911, he established the company Parfums de Rosine, named for his eldest daughter. Poiret's name was never linked to the company, but it was effectively the first fragrance launched by a designer.[3][1]

He launched the Ecole Martine, named for his second daughter, to provide artistically inclined, working-class girls with trade skills and income.

Collapse of the Poiret fashion house

During World War I, Poiret left his fashion house to serve the military by streamlining uniform production.[1] When Poiret returned after being discharged in 1919, the house was on the brink of bankruptcy.[1] New designers like Chanel were producing simple, sleek clothes that relied on excellent workmanship.[1] In comparison, Poiret's elaborate designs seemed dowdy and poorly manufactured.[1] (Though Poiret's designs were groundbreaking, his construction was not--he aimed only for his dresses to "read beautifully from afar."[1]) Poiret was suddenly out of fashion, in debt, and lacking support from his business partners, and he soon left his fashion house.[1] In 1929, the house itself was closed, and its leftover clothes were sold by the kilogram as rags.[1] When Poiret died in 1944, his genius had been forgotten.[1]

Aesthetic

Model in a Poiret dress, 1914

Though perhaps best known for freeing women from corsets and for his startling inventions including hobble skirts, "harem" pantaloons, and "lampshade" tunics, Poiret's major contribution to fashion was his development of an approach to dressmaking centered on draping, a radical departure from the tailoring and pattern-making of the past.[4] Poiret was influenced by antique and regional dress, and favored clothing cut along straight lines and constructed of rectangles.[4] The structural simplicity of his clothing represented a "pivotal moment in the emergence of modernism" generally, and "effectively established the paradigm of modern fashion, irrevocably changing the direction of costume history.[4]

Personal life

In 1905, Poiret married Denise Boulet, a provincial girl; they would later have five children together.[1] Denise, a slender and youthful woman, was Poiret's muse and the prototype of la garçonne.[4] In 1913, Poiret told Vogue, "My wife is the inspiration for all my creations; she is the expression of all my ideals."[4] The two later were divorced, in a proceeding that was far from amicable.[1]

Poiret was notorious for throwing lavish parties and plays featuring his designs.[5] For one of his famous parties, the June 24, 1911, "The Thousand and Second Night" (based on The Arabian Nights), he required his over 300 guests to dress in Oriental costuming.[5][3] Improperly dressed guests were requested to either outfit themselves in some of Poiret's 'Persian' outfits or to leave.[3]

References

Model in a Poiret suit, 1914

See also

External links

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