4 July 2008

Fashion's Picasso

"To know where you are going, you must know where you have come from"

A quote that I find works on multiple levels, yet is often overlooked. Not only do I believe in knowing yourself well, for many of the decisions we may think we may instinctively are actually shaped by something in the past, often we follow a pattern or are shaped by an event that has redefined us or changed our outlook. After all scientists tell us we are creatures of habit.

However I am talking about knowing the history of things you take an interest in. If you look at anything in a vacuum you will only appreciate it from your own viewpoint, which has the potential to be very limited, however understanding the history behind something and its wider context allows one to appreciate that thing to a far greater extent. This could apply to a certain author's most famous work, a piece of art or indeed fashion.

Paul Poiret is a name that may be unfamiliar to many, yet his role in 20th Century fashion has been likened to that of Pablo Picasso in 20th Century art. Born in Paris is 1879, Poiret worked as an apprentice to a umbrella maker. He would collect the scrap pieces of silk from the cut patterns and create dresses for a doll his sister had given him (ok is it weird that I used to make clothes for my own toys?). Poiret not only designed these doll dresses, however he also made a number of sketches, which were to catch the eye of famous fashion designer, Jacques Doucet. He later worked in the House of Worth (click for my overview of the House of Worth and the Father of Haute Couture), however his designs were considered as too modernist for the conservative clientele of Worth.

Poiret found little creative freedom working for fashion houses, his designs were thought of as being far too flamboyant and elaborate. Therefore in 1903 he set up his own house, creating clothing, furniture, decor and even perfumes. Poiret was famous for his use of oriental inspirations and translating artistic movements such as Art Deco and Surrealism into fashion. The Metropolitan Museum of Art writes that he played a 'pivotal moment in the emergence of modernism' and that he 'effectively established the paradigm of modern fashion, irrevocably changing the direction of costume history'. Indeed Hamish Bowles wrote that his pieces were 'all evidence of his extraordinary vision'.

Inspired by Classical clothing, many of Poiret's designs employed the use of drapery, done from pieces of cloth cut in a rectangular shape. This construction method in itself was revolutionary as it seemed almost immature compared to the pattern cut methods of the time. This love of drapery also helped to move women's fashion away from the corset and its implied notion of a beautiful body shape. His luxurious designs, especially those inspired by the Orient also made use of bright primary colours, a far cry from the watered down washes of the Edwardian and Victorian periods. Those enamoured with the wonderful Sex and the City will be interested to know that Poiret's signature was actually a flower, specifically the rose, often incoporated into an outfit either through an actual flower pinned on or through hand embroidery - no doubt Carrie would approve.

It is sad to note that following the First World War, he returned to Paris having worked with the military and was suddenly out of fashion. His elaborate designs had no place among the conservative and austere designs of a grieving post war Europe. He was to die in 1944 long forgotten by the fashion world despite arguably making changes that would influence fashion long after his death.

Currently playing: Suddenly I See - KT Tunstall / Everyday I'm Hustlin ft. Jay Z & Young Jeezy - Rick Ross



  1. Love this mammoth ode of a post you made to Poiret....

  2. Lovely post. I would totally wear any of those designs today.

    Love that song by KT Tunstall.

  3. Paul Poiret is a genius. And his designs are still beautiful even today!

  4. An amazing post. I've learned something today. Thanks. Very cool blog, too.

  5. First of all, I have to tell you how much I love reading your blog... and although I have heard about Paul Poiret in the past, I had no idea of how much influence he had on the fashion world.I love his work and the simplicity of it. P.S. that short pink dress is breathtaking, it is absolutely perfect.

  6. I wasn't quite sure who Paul Poirot was until now.

    I think I heard my mum mention him a few times though.

    Anyway, hope your not still ill.


  7. oh wow, reading through your post brings me lots of memories back in LCF lecture days. lol

  8. Those pictures are stunning, and I feel a lot smarter having read about them because I've hardly picked up a book this entire summer

  9. It's nice to find a fashion blogger who writes about historical fashions, not just the current trends. The latter half of the 20th century receives so much attention in regards to fashion (especially now 'vintage' is the in thing), but I feel the first 30 years of the 20th century are sorely overlooked. Poiret is one of my favourite designers. I rather wish his influence would filter through to the fashions available today in the same way his later contemporaries are still referenced.

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