Friday, August 28, 2009

Poiret, Orientalism and the Pre-Jazz Era

Born in 1879, Paul Poiret's contribution to twentieth-century fashion is likened to that of Picasso's contribution to twentieth-century art.
Poiret trained at the House of Worth and Doucet and set up on his own in 1903, making straight tube-like sheath dresses in 1908. The styles were known as directoire as they were similar to fashions of the early 1800's. The columnar style he introduced meant that women had to abandon their S-bend corsets and wear a longer straighter corset that almost reached the knees to achieve his early look. Later he encouraged women to free themselves from corsetry and adopt the bra.
Poiret was very sensitive to the mood of society and to trends among painters and designers. He was very influenced by Orientalism in Leon Bakst's Ballets Russes costume designs. He adopted an orientalizing style in the theatrical costumes he designed later for Nabuchodonosor, first performed in January 1911 at the Theatre des Arts in Paris; Le Minaret, performed during the spring of 1913 at the Theatre de la Renaissance in Paris; and Aphrodite, performed during the spring of 1914 at the Theatre de la Renaissance.
Over the years Poiret worked with several artists who drew fashion drawings and textile print designs for him. The artists portraying Orientalism included Paul Iribe (1908), Georges Lepape, Raoul Dufy and Erté. Poiret's influence on fashion illustration and fashion presentation was enormous and attractive prints by these artists are still used in interiors to set a mood.
Poiret loved bright colours and introduced brilliant hues whilst the sweet pea colours of the Edwardian era were still very fashionable. His lampshade tunic and turbans were all in vibrant glowing shimmering colours, with beaded embellishment.
Dominating Paris couture from 1909 to 1914, Poiret revolutionized fashion with his designs for the “new woman,” ending wasp waists and constricting corsets, reviving a simple, Empire-waisted silhouette, and introducing pantaloons. His first fashion house was on the Rue Auber in Paris. There he produced innovative designs such as the kimono coat, and enlarged his clientele of famous customers. The richness of materials, violence of colouring and style and taste for orientalism in such designs as that for the Sorbet dress all suggest a profound affinity with the Ballets Russes. In 1910 he opened a new salon in a large 18th-century house, in the Avenue d'Antin, where he created his famous 'hobble-skirted' dresses, drawn in at the hem. Poiret's major contribution to fashion was his development of an approach to dressmaking centered on draping, a radical departure from the tailoring and pattern-making of the past. Having liberated women by putting them into pants Poiret then sought to design extremes and became famous for designing a hobble skirt which drew the legs closely together as it was so narrow. To increase the hobble effect women needed to wear a 'fetter', a kind of bondage belt that held the ankles together and prevented the wearer from making any movements other than small steps in imitation of Geisha girls.
The hobble skirt was probably Poiret's last real success as new designers like Chanel and Lanvin opened up fashion houses and began to design nonrestrictive clothes that women really felt comfortable wearing.
At the same time the V neck for daywear was introduced and it was thought so shocking that it was denounced from the pulpit.
Poiret was influenced by antique and regional dress, and favored clothing cut along straight lines and constructed of rectangles. The structural simplicity of his clothing represented a pivotal moment in the emergence of modernism, and established the paradigm of modern fashion.
During World War I, Poiret left his fashion house to serve the military by streamlining uniform production. When Poiret returned after being discharged in 1919, the house was on the brink of bankruptcy. New designers like Chanel were producing simple, sleek clothes that relied on excellent workmanship. In comparison, Poiret's elaborate designs seemed poorly manufactured. It must be noted that while Poiret's designs were groundbreaking, his construction was not. Poiret was suddenly out of fashion, in debt, and lacking support from his business partners. In 1929, the house itself was closed, and its leftover clothes were sold by the kilogram as rags.

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