Paul Poiret

Paul Poiret is a leading French fashion designer during the first two decades of the 20th century. He is the creator of extravagant exotic looks and of the elegant columnar dresses, surprising his society with each new creation. The King of creativity and luxury, who made enormous progress in the Belle Époque of the Fashion style.


In 1906 the founder of the Ballet Russes, Serge Diaghilev, arranged an exhibition of the Russian Art. In 1909, under his leadership the Imperial Russian Ballet performed Cléopâtre with extraordinary costumes and sets created by Léon Bakst. The Ballet Russes held its performance in London during 1911, by which time the first Post Impressionist exhibition, organised in 1910 by the critic and painter Roger Fry, had created a furore and made had a major or strong influence on the London’s artistic world.

Poiret led the movement away from the full, complicated silhouettes of the early 1900s fashion towards a longer, leaner line. He was responsible for liberating women from the tyranny of corsets and he was the first designer to start to treat bright and strong colours with caution. He widely used pale and violet hues under the influence of a trend for orientalism. Bakst’s vivid designs and Poiret’s looser garments for the Ballet Russes had a great success by the audience.

Poiret opened his own house in 1903. He was the most extraordinary couturier in the years before the First World War. The fashion editors gave his exploits prominent coverage. With his fantastic imagination he created a lifestyle which enhanced his dressmaking activities.

Poiret ‘s wife, Denise Boulet, was his ideal kind of woman to create the garments for. Silhouettes were absolutely feminine, fancy and free cut. Poiret loved the exotic details and was influenced a lot by foreign fashion. He created the garden where he held his famous celebrations, including the notorious Thousand and Second Night in 1911, when all guests were required to come in exotic and fancy dresses.

He was an absolute master of colour, fabrics and texture. His creativity was seen in combining the latest luxury materials with specific ethnological textiles. All this produced fascinating and exciting results. In eight years of work he opened a significant number of new venues for the profession.

Poiret’s success may be compared to those of Lucile, or in other words Lady Duff Gordon, who had established branches in London, New York and also, Paris in 1912. Nevertheless, her works were way less radical. She mounted no challenges and basically, she was only meeting the needs of her clients by producing elegant pieces of clothing.

In 1909-1914 a lot of women, even the most liberated, adopted that curious fashion, promoted by Poiret – the hobble skirt. It was his peculiar innovation, which did not allow the women to walk comfortably. When teamed with the large carwheel hats created by Lucile, the effect was promoted as fantastic. However, the look was lampooned and ignored.

It became clear that society’s codes became generally less rigid and that the Europeans revelled in succession of lively dances – many imported from the continent named America. Tango was one of the most influential ones. The world was obviously facing a new fashion era. By 1914, just before the outbreak of the war, the large hats of the Belle Epoque had been discarded and classic columnar silhouettes became narrow and old fashioned.



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