Much of modern fashion was born with Paul Poiret, from the spectacle of the runway to the elevated status of couture as an art form. The designer, whose birthday is today, is remembered as an innovator who abolished corsets from daily dress and introduced new silhouettes like the hobble skirt, harem pants, and lampshade tunic. Poiret not only knew how to design commercially successful clothes, but he also knew how to market them, making his business model the blueprint for the contemporary industry.
The French designer began his career as a teenager at the turn of the 20th century, selling drawings of his fashion designs to couture houses that would use them as inspiration for their collections. He was quickly snatched up by Jacques Doucet, a prominent Parisian couturier, whose atelier he worked in for four years. During this time, Poiret began designing for famous stage actresses such as Réjane and Sarah Bernhardt.
In 1901, after serving his year of military service, the designer was welcomed to the house of Worth, the most elite in the industry, as an assistant designer. However, Poiret was not creating magnificent gowns there. Instead, he was responsible for designing more practical clothes for the house’s established clients. While he only stayed at Worth a couple years, the success of his designs familiarized him with what women wanted to wear in their daily lives.
In 1903, at 23 years old, Poiret opened his own couture house at 5 Rue Auber. Stars like Réjane returned to him as clients, solidifying the status of his atelier. He married Denise Boulet in 1905, who served as muse for the designer with her thin figure and unconventional beauty. It was around this time that Poiret began encouraging an uncorseted silhouette, opting for more sleek lines and draped construction that reflected influences from abroad, such as the Japanese kimono or Middle Eastern Caftan. Although some of his contemporaries were also beginning to forgo the corset, Poiret is most often credited with ushering in the modern look thanks to his knack for publicity.
At the time, fashion presentations were private affairs where a designer’s in-house models would promenade around customers in the atelier. By 1910, fashion shows had evolved into sometimes hours-long events where the designs would be paraded for the patrons. Instead of this stuffy format, Poiret stirred excitement around his new collections by garnering media attention. He was known to throw grand parties, such as his Thousand and Second Night fête, that would double as interactive runways with models attending the event in his latest designs. By the next morning, no one could stop talking about the parties or the fashions.
Along with his media-driven spectacles, Poiret also changed how fashion was presented in print. Before the designer’s 1908 publication of Les Robes de Paul Poiret, magazines showed clothes in black-and-white sketches or lightly colored prints or lithographs. The images typically focused on a model in a vague setting, either indoors or outside. With Les Robes, Poiret and illustrator Paul Iribe imagined the designer’s clothes in stylishly curated scenes, surrounded by chic interiors or decorative accoutrements. Poiret’s inventive designs were done in saturated colors that stood out against the black-and-white backgrounds. This new style of illustration would come to influence fashion media and photography, in addition to furthering the relationship between fashion and art.
In 1911, Poiret also became the first designer to release a perfume, boosting advertising for his brand through the beauty space. He applied his eye for the decorative arts to the art deco packaging and fragrance bottles. As fragrance remains a key faction of many fashion houses today, Poiret was an early example of how a designer’s influence goes beyond just the clothes.
While Poiret’s innovations established him as a tastemaker of early 20th century style, it was ultimately his dedication to fashion as an art form that caused him to lose influence as a designer. After World War I, modernism was favored over ornamental fashion, and Poiret’s sense of luxury was soon overshadowed by the simplicity of designers like Coco Chanel. Poiret shuttered his business in 1929, but his contributions are still evident in today’s fashion system.END
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createdAt:Mon, 20 Apr 2020 16:06:48 +0000