Before Balenciaga, Dior and Chanel, there was Poiret. Considered the Godfather of all things fashion, Paul Poiret is arguably the most influential designer of all time. His name is known within the upper crust of the fashion elite, revered amongst aspiring fashion students and whispered in European ateliers. Yet the master designer, who lived in Paris during the Belle Epoch, is hardly a mainstream name.
Poiret changed the face of 20th Century fashion and recently two of the most respected fashion forces – Vogue and the Costume Institute at the Met – have paid homage to his over the top oeuvre. If you study, analyze and slowly turn each page of Vogue, then you could not have missed one of the best editorials to have been produced by my favorite fashion magazine. For it was in the May 2007 issue of Vogue, that pages upon pages were dedicated to the art and science of the man that was Poiret. Vogue had beautifully done what I wish I could do on a monthly basis – pine the couture archives of fashions greats and interpret how their visions have translated to today’s runways.
Poiret was the first couturier to use primary colors after the muted, dull Edwardian period, and while he claims to have kept the legs shackled with his hobble skirt, he freed the bust by introducing the first brasserie. He introduced the chemise dress which evolved into the modern day t-shirt and he was the first clothing designer to create a perfume – which he named Rosine after his eldest daughter. No stranger to the power of a muse, Poiret drew inspiration from Rosine, but it was his wife Denise, a fashion iconoclast of her own kind, who helped launch Poiret onto the fashion social scene.
Poiret was mesmerized by the exotic style and feminine aesthetics of the Far East and he created opulent Asian gowns that adorned the body of his wife, muse and in house model, Denise. She attended Parisian parties decked out in off kilter and taboo gowns and evoked whispers from conservative circles. When she was pregnant Poiret would alter the silhouette of his clothes to complement and flow with her changing body shape. It was through her figure changes that the chemise dress was born.
Galliano and Alaia have cited Poiret as their inspiration for artistry and inventive cuts and on last year’s runways, Proenza Schouler and Prada echoed his designs. Note: the retro satin turban worn by Gemma in the Prada print ads is not a new concept. Oriental kimono coats, extravagant peacock headdresses and bold modern prints are all aesthetics that Poiret owned and invented.
If you are lucky enough to live in New York, you have until August 9th to visit the Met and view a wonderfully edited collection of his greatest hits.
The May New York Fashion Industry Report by Marilyn Kirschner