Paul Poiret

Poiret designs from the Library of Congress

Poiret designs, illustrated by Paul Iribe in 1908

Fashion designers are influenced by a variety of factors, but theatricality was always the muse for Paul Poiret. His work is seen as some of the most iconic of the late 19th and early 20th century. Poiret’s early admiration of the Far East was ahead of its time. Join us as we learn more about this creative talent and how his gowns inspired the direction of fashion for decades to come.

Who was Paul Poiret?

Born in 1879 Paris to a cloth merchant, Poiret started his creative life as a humble umbrella maker. Not to be limited by his original profession, he expressed himself through handmade dolls and beautifully detailed fashion illustrations. All this dedication paid off as he eventually became a member of various couture houses throughout Paris. His talents were noticed by Jacques Doucet and Poiret began working as a designer under his tutelage in 1896. As his career blossomed he went on to work for the iconic House of Worth. Yet his visions proved too austere for Worth’s clientele and by 1903 Poiret established his own studio.

What is Paul Poiret known for?

As we mentioned earlier, Poiret was a designer known for embracing the dramatic. That aesthetic extended to his business operations. He would often host incredibly lavish parties focused on his latest collection. This open expression of egotism mirrored his love for the avant-garde and this stance gained him a lot of attention. Soon his work extended to interior home accessories and perfumes. But despite these diverse enterprising efforts, his fashion sense was easily recognizable and stayed true to his ideals.

Poiret image from the Library of Congress

Poiret check suit, 1914

Poiret celebrated a free woman’s form – released from corsets and constriction. His admiration of a more boyish shape kick-started the overarching theme of the 1920s – the thin, nimble silhouette. He pioneered new shapes such as harem pants and “lampshade” tunics. Poiret’s love of the exotic also influenced his color palette and the unique selections he presented were deemed scandalous at the time.

Poiret design image from Library of Congress

Poiret dress, 1914

But perhaps his largest contribution is to the design process. Poiret worked by draping fabrics, rather than starting with a pattern and tailoring it accordingly. This more reductive approach, sometimes involving only two panels of silk fabric, was revolutionary at the time. As a result of this technique, he created simple yet modern clothes. When he passed away in his beloved Paris in April of 1944 he left behind a legacy that would go on to inspire countless designers of our modern time (that link is most noticeable with a designer such as Halston).

Cause A Frockus would like to thank their tremendous resources: “100 Dresses” by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikipedia, and “Icons of Fashion: the 20th century” published by Prestel.

For our readers: What do you think of the designs created by Poiret? What do you love or dislike about the shapes he created? Tell us in the comments below!

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