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The fashion heavyweight behind Poiret

By Weixin Zha


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The fashion heavyweight behind Poiret

The revival of Poiret may be one of the most closely watched shows this Paris Fashion Week. Not only because a heritage French label will be resuscitated by fashion business angel Anne Chapelle but also as it bears the name of the most influential designer of the early 20th century.

Paul Poiret introduced numerous rituals that the fashion industry still abides by today. Almost a hundred years ago, he freed women from corsets and dictated trends, introduced the catwalk shows and sold his own range of perfumes.

Take a look at Poiret’s oeuvre and hover with your mouse over the symbols in the images to see how big of a shoe the revived label has yet to fill.

Pioneer at the beginning of the century

The fashion heavyweight behind Poiret

Born in 1879, as the son of mercers in Paris, Paul Poiret first worked with two prestigious couturiers of the time, Doucet and Worth, before founding his eponymous label. His hallmark high-waisted dress called “La Vague”, specially designed to be worn without a corset, gave women as much freedom of movement as it sent shockwaves throughout the fashion world at the time.

Poiret is also credited with introducing catwalk shows as a way to present his collections which he sold to a wealthy elite as unique pieces of art. While hawkishly guarding his creations against counterfeit, he also explored ways to sell copies of his designs to the less affluent, seeking to solve and capitalize on one of fashion’s oldest contradictions.

His wife as his muse

The fashion heavyweight behind Poiret

Poiret married his life partner Denise in 1905 and she went on to become his favorite model. “Slim, dark, young, unlaced and untouched by make-up or powder”, as Poiret described her in Vogue in 1913, she represented a contrasting type of beauty to the corseted and dolled-up ladies of the Belle Époque.

The art collector

The fashion heavyweight behind Poiret

Paul Poiret built an impressive art collection and gathered some of the most talented artists of his time such as Paul Iribe and photographer Man Ray around him. They were regulars at his extravagant parties and helped him develop and promote his works. Finally, he also declared his clothes a work of art. “Am I a fool when I dream of putting art into my dresses, a fool when I say dressmaking is an art?,” Poiret wrote in his memoirs.


The fashion heavyweight behind Poiret

The influence of Poiret extended far beyond the realm of fashion due to his clever commercial strategies. He launched a perfume range named after his daughter Rosine a decade ahead of his rival Coco Chanel. As one of the first couturiers to strive for a “Gesamtkunstwerk”, a total work of art, Poiret shaped far more than just clothing. His boutique Maison Rosine de Poiret also sold accessories and interior and he founded Maison Martine, a workshop that produced fabrics designed by artists, furniture and other decorative objects. For some, he even stood at the epicenter of the Art Déco movement.

One Thousand and two nights

The fashion heavyweight behind Poiret

Never short on champagne, lobster and cocaine, Poiret gave his most lavish party in 1911 when he invited 300 guests to celebrate ‘1002 Nights’. Taking their cue from the Arabian nights, the couturier and Denise dressed as the sultan and his favorite wife. Guests were only permitted entry to this party if they wore Persian robes.The whole city of Paris fell into an exotic fever after a performance by the Ballets Russes with its dazzling oriental costumes. Poiret also rejoiced in ornate opulence when designing his kimonos and harem pants, foregoing his initial liberating simplicity.


The fashion heavyweight behind Poiret

After the First World War, a new style was on the rise, embodied by the sleek and versatile jersey dresses of Coco Chanel. Poiret tried to stage a come back at the Paris Art Deco exhibition in 1925. He chartered three boats on the river Seine which boasted a couture salon, a high-class restaurant and a boutique with perfumes, accessories and furniture. But all to no avail. Left by his beloved wife and muse, Paul Poiret died in poverty in 1944 in the Provence, where he finally settled down as a painter.

Rebirth - March 4, 2018

The fashion heavyweight behind Poiret

Snapped up by Chung Yoo-Kyung, the president of Shinsegae which operates department stores in South Korea, Poiret will be headed by Belgian businesswoman Anne Chapelle who is also known for backing designers like Ann Demeulemeester and Haider Ackermann. The brand seeks to stage another comeback at the hands of Chinese-French designer Yiqing Yin. Sunday will provide the first hint at whether it’s set to succeed where Poiret failed 90 years ago.

Photos: Gemeente Museum Den Haag 'Art Deco – Paris', 14.10.2017 – 4.3.2018; Poiret website

Sources: Gemeente Museum Den Haag ‘Art Deco – Paris’, 14.10.2017 – 4.3.2018; ‘Fashion: 150 Years of Couturiers, Designers, Labels’ by Charlotte Seeling; ‘Poiret’ by Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton

Paris Fashion Week