Paul Poiret (1879 – 1944) – King of Fashion

UNSPECIFIED – 1922: Paul Poiret (1879-1944), French fashion designer and decorator, 1922. (Photo by Roger Viollet via Getty Images/Roger Viollet via Getty Images)

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 Wiener Werkstätte’s flower-patterned textiles that drew on folk art themselves.

Reputation established

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.

A Paul Poiret creation a skirt of black and white ostrich feathers.A Paul Poiret creation a skirt of black and white ostrich feathers. 05 Oct 1922, Thu Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, New York) Newspapers.com

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.

Lasting Influence

His style, innovations, and influence on fashion:

  • The first couturier to advocate the elimination of the corseted female body.
  • Conceived new fashion shapes such as the kimono-sleeved coat in 1906, hobble skirts in 1910, harem pants in 1911, and the lampshade tunic in 1913.
  • Influenced by the Orientalist designs of Leon Bakst for the Russian Ballets Ruse, Poiret introduced a new dramatic palette and combination of colours.
  • He chose to name his clothes instead of the customary practise of using numbers to arrange a collection. An example: is his “Sorbet” costume, a wire-hooped “lampshade” tunic atop harem pants in chiffon and gold fringe.
  • He was the first couturier to release fragrances; however, his were released by a company he created in his daughter Rosine’s name.
  • Artist Paul Iribe illustrated and released Les Robes de Paul Poiret racontees par Paul Iribe. This publication and other illustrations by Erte, Louis Barbier, and Georges Lepape served as early forms of visual marketing for Poiret’s designs.

Sources

Woodham, J. (2004). Poiret, Paul. In A Dictionary of Modern Design. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 Feb. 2021

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