Paul Poiret & Resisting Change

Paul Poiret has always been fascinating to us and his designs and innovations never fail to amaze. At the same time, Poiret is also a cautionary tale on the dangers of not adapting to a changing zeitgeist (the spirit of a particular historical period). Poiret was a bit of showman and he utilized all manner of publicity in order to advance his innovations such as eliminating the corset-created silhouette as an essential design element (even though other couturiers were working on similar designs at the same time such as Jeanne Paquin) and the introduction of the jupe-culotte.

Paul Poiret, Jupe Culotte, 1911; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1983.8a, b)

Poiret was also instrumental in introducing a simpler, less structured silhouette starting with the Directoire style in 1906:

The First World War disrupted the French fashion industry and Poiret was no exception. Called up for military service, Poiret was assigned to work on simplifying the production of uniforms and while he was successful in this area, his fashion house barely kept itself afloat financially. After the war, Poiret tried to pick up where he’d left off in 1914 but the fashion world had moved on with an emphasis on more simple designs such as those created by Coco Chanel. Poiret’s designs failed to catch on and combined with financial mismanagement and a nasty divorce from his wife Denise, he was ultimately forced to close his fashion house in 1929. In future posts, we’ll delve into some of Poiret’s post-WWI designs and the overall decline of Poiret’s influence as a designer.

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