In the early decades of the 20th century, Paul Poiret was a crucial figure in the French fashion industry, notably by adding a deep oriental flavour and rich colours to contemporary clothing. This was influenced by the dramatic settings and costumes by Leon Bakst and others that first took Paris by storm in 1908 for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Fashion illustrators widely disseminated the work of Poiret through publications such as Paul Iribe’s Les Robes de Paul Poiret raconté (1908) and Georges Lepape’s Les Choses de Paul Poiret vues (1911).
Founded Atelier Martine
Poiret had moved into dress design after meeting leading couturier and collector Jacques Doucet in 1896, working for Worth until independently starting up in 1904. He founded the Atelier Martine in Paris in 1911, after meeting Josef Hoffmann in Vienna in 1910 and seeing the multidisciplinary outlook and activities of the Wiener Werkstätte first-hand. This decorative art school was named after his second daughter. Working-class girls with no formal training attended it. They created bright, vibrant designs for textiles, wallpapers, ceramics, murals, and furniture that were perhaps partly influenced by the Wiener Werkstätte’s flower-patterned textiles that drew on folk art themselves.
Early in the twentieth century Diaghilev’s Russian dance company, Ballets Russes, performed in Paris—reigniting the taste for orientalism in Europe with its exotic sets and costumes. As this ensemble illustrates, Poiret excelled in recontextualizing western dress with fantastical eastern influence. He was also a maverick modernist in creating a stir, taking promotion of his inventive ensembles to new levels with his infamous spectaculars. This fancy-dress ensemble was made for and worn to Poiret’s 1002nd Night party in 1911, which was designed and organized to promote his new creations in the full splendor and glamour of the orientalist trend.
This dress is an elaboration of the simpler construction of Poiret’s chemises. Like the earlier versions, it was designed to be worn with a sash that cinched the dress to the body under the bust in an Empire silhouette.
This mantle is made of bright yellow wool and lined with black chiffon. Based on a deconstructed kimono, it is composed of two rectangles folded on the shoulders and joined on one side with a stylised bow. It illustrates how Poiret was able to combine with rare harmony the bold colours of Fauvism, the vision of Cubism and the exoticism of Eastern garments.
Poiret arranged for the work of the Martines to be shown at the Salon d’Automne in 1912 (as the participants in the Atelier were known), leading him to create an interior design company under the name of L’Atelier Martine. He provided advice for the interior decoration of cafés, hotels, offices, and private homes. The venture proved to be so successful that a branch in London was opened in 1924. The Atelier Martine also created designs for the Île de France (1927), a prestigious luxury liner that several leading French designers collaborated on.
Poiret showed three barges moored on the Seine near the entrance entitled Amours, Délices, and Orgues at the Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels of 1925, including hangings by Raoul Dufy and room arrangements, chairs, and Atelier Martine furnishings. Nevertheless, Poiret’s fashion company went into decline due to the harsh economic times of the late 1920s.
Woodham, J. (2004). Poiret, Paul. In A Dictionary of Modern Design. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 Feb. 2021, from https://www-oxfordreference-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/view/10.1093/acref/9780192800978.001.0001/acref-9780192800978-e-638.
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