The 1002 Nights/La Mille et Deuxième Nuit

Poiret Sultan

Publicity has always been a part of the fashion world and it’s the fashion world’s life blood. Paul Poiret was one of the first couturiers to actively utilize publicity as a marketing tool on a large scale and one of his most notable efforts was the 1002 Nights or Persian Celebration that he staged on June 24, 1911. Poiret intended the event as a launch for his brand of perfumes under the “Rosine” label, named after his eldest daughter.

Rosine Poiret

 

But there was more to the event than simply promoting perfume, he was also promoting his entire line of Oriental-themed fashions and in particular, the jupe cullotte or harem pants style. Harem pants (or any kind of pants for women) represented a radical departure in fashion and was considered by many to be scandalous- it was considered tantamount to being naked.

Lepape’s illustration ‘La fete Persane’, most likely Paul and Denise Poiret’s “The Thousand and Second Night” party, 1912

 Georges Lepape, La Fête Persane, 1912; attributed to the 1002 Night 

So, let’s take a closer look at the jupe cullotte…here’s one of the more iconic examples that was worn to the 1002 Nights:

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

Jupe Culotte2 Poiret

Jupe Culotte3 Poiret

Close-Up View

Jupe Culotte4 Poiret

What is especially interesting was the theatrical element to the 1002 Nights. The event was held at Poiret’s 18th Century mansion at  26 Avenue d’Antin and Poiret invited some 300 people, making it explicitly clear that everyone was expected to wear Persian dress (if they didn’t have any, a suitable outfit would be provided at the entrance before they were allowed to enter). Poiret provided a feast accompanied by some 900 liters of Champagne along with all manner of entertainments.

1911 Paul & Denise Poiret 1002 party with Denise being released from her golden cage

 

The centerpiece of the 1002 Nights was Poiret’s wife Denise modeling the new jupe cullotte style, sitting in a large golden cage with Poiret taking the part of a sultan. The finale of the show was when at an appointed time, Poiret then made a big show of “releasing” Denise from her cage:

George Le Pape, "Denise Poiret at The Thousand and Second Night Party" : Paul Poiret designed this ensemble for  his wife to wear to his infamous  "Thousand and Second Night" party in Paris, 1911. in Paris, 1911

George Le Pape, Denise Poiret at The Thousand and Second Night Party, 1911

The 1002 Nights was a huge success and was widely reported in the press. Although Poiret denied that he’d staged the party as a publicity stunt, it was evident that it had been just exactly that and the publicity led to a subsequent explosion in sales of Poiret’s Oriental-inspired fashions.

1911 Denise and Paul Poiret at the 1002 night party

Denise and Paul Poiret at the 1002 Nights

In contrast to earlier couturiers, Poiret was a consummate showman and constantly strove to attract the public’s attention to his designs and for a long time he was successful. Unfortunately, the First World War was an interruption that Poiret never full recovered from and while Oriental themes still informed his designs, the public had moved on, favoring more simple designs that were being put forth by Chanel and others.

Stay tuned for more on the most remarkable Paul Poiret. 🙂

 

 

Charles Frederick Worth & Early Haute Couture

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Costume College was busy for me this year. Besides delving into the world of Paul Poiret, I also delved into the world of haute couture during the later 19th and early 20th Centuries, an ambitious topic to say the least- one could easily go on for days and barely scratch the surface. 🙂 Fashion  history has always been fascinating and even more so when one makes little discoveries that link the world of the past with today and the research process never fails to disclose tiny nuggets of useful information.

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In many respects, the world of haute couture, as we know it today, got it’s start in Paris largely through the efforts of one man- Charles Frederick Worth. Moreover, he was able to capitalize on a series of trends that had been developing for quite some time. Specifically, going back to reign of Louis XIV, royal patronage driven by the consolidation of the monarchy as the supreme ruling power in France combined with France’s growth as an economic, military, and cultural power served as a catalyst for the development of the textile industry and the needle trades. All the right elements were in place and over the next 300 years a thriving garment began to develop, spurred by patronage both by the Crown and nobility (as they sought to remain in good graces with the King).

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By the mid-19th Century, industrialization served to further spur the growth of the textile and needle trades (can you say sewing machine?) and the ground was fertile for a man like Charles Worth. Worth transformed a relatively decentralized industry composed of many individual dressmakers working in small establishments into a large-scale industry employing hundreds, if not thousands. Worth consolidated fabric procurement with production (before this, it was customary for clients to bring their own fabrics to the dressmaker). Also, for marketing, he employed the technique of having his clients choose from a series of sample models, modeled by an army of pretty young women; the client would make a selection and a custom garment would be created. The model was intended to give the client an idea of the final product- often, the fabrics and trim would vary to the individual client.

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What also makes Worth unique is that in 1860 he was able to secure the patronage of the Empress Eugénie and this cemented his reputation; as the center of the French court, the Empress set the styles and naturally everyone of importance wanted to emulate her.

With the demise of the Napoleon III and the Second Empire, Worth was forced to seek expanded markets- no longer did he have a guaranteed client base founded on royal patronage- so he was forced to seek a wider client base. Worth was ultimately successful in this endeavor and by the time he died in 1895, he had clients on all seven continents.

In many ways, the demise of the Empress’s patronage was the best thing for both Worth and haute couture in general in that it pushed couture out to a wider audience and stimulated greater design/style creativity- styles were not determined by the whim of a few people but rather transferred the power to the designers (and ultimately their clients). It also helped couture to reach a wider audience and facilitate the diffusion of fashion.

Worth Ballgown 1898

House of Worth, Ballgown,, 1898; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1324a, b)

 

Of course, Worth wasn’t the only couturier- there were many others. Some of Worth’s leading contemporaries were Jacques Doucet, Emile Pingat, John Redfern, and Jeanne Paquin- all fascinating as designers. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information out there on many of these designers and they’ve become almost forgotten.

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Jacques Doucet

John Redfern

John Redfern

Emile  Pingat

An early portrait of Emile Pingat; Courtesy of Jacques Noel

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Jeanne Paquin

The above is only a very broad sketch of the topics that I covered in my presentation and I felt that it went pretty well. For the future, I may narrow my focus a bit but nevertheless, it wasn’t bad for a first outing. Stay tuned for more… 🙂

And Presenting Paul Poiret!

Poiret Sultan

Yesterday was a big day for me, giving two new presentations at Costume College. The first presentation was entitled “The King of Fashion: Paul Poiret, The Early Years”, a survey of Paul Poiret as a couturier/designer during the years 1898 through 1914. Researching for this presentation was not the easiest and it seemed to raise more questions than answers. Poiret was certainly a force in fashion during the years from 1906 through 1914 and although he continued to work intermittently through the First World War and into the 1920s, it was never quite the same.

Poiret_Early Portrait3

One of the most interesting aspects in researching Poiret was that he was not only a fashion designer (dictator, as some critics would charge), but he was one of the first “lifestyle designers” where they worked in all aspects design to include perfume, shoes, furniture,  rugs, textiles, and even interior design.

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Poiret’s designs and his claims were sometimes questionable, if not controversial and nowhere is this more evident when in 1905-1906 he set out to introduce styles that ran counter to what was in fashion at the time. Most notable was his advocating a Nouveau Directoire style based on draping rather than carefully constructed flat patterns. This meant flowing fabrics, cut into rectangles and seamed with straight seems. The precisely tailored, form-fitting styles characteristic of the early 1900s were rejected in favor of loose, flowing lines and this meant the elimination of the corset as a major foundation garment.

Corset Before and After Poiret

From s-bend corset to…

The s-bend corset was a complete abomination to Poiret, declaring that women had been turned into “decorated bundles” who believed that they must hide their bodies under layers of fabrics. Poiret characterized the corset’s demise as “liberation”:

It was in the name of Liberty that I brought about my first revolution, be deliberately laying siege to the corset.

But if there was to be no corset, what then? Poiret is largely silent on this subject and I was unable to uncover anything definitive except that it women were now to wear a form of girdle and bra that functioned as a “corset light” but was flexible enough to allow a full range of movements. It’s an area that could definitely needs further research.

Turning to Poiret’s Nouveau Directoire style, it was definitely a reaction characteristic of fashion change. Below are some illustrations from a catalog that Poiret put out in 1908:

And here are the dresses themselves:

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Noveau Directoire7

Noveau Directoire3

The above is just a small part of what I presented and I hope to present a revised and improved version for next year’s Costume College. I will say that the presentation was a pleasure to give although I wound up ending early (better than running over, I guess) but that’s OK. Stay tuned for more. 🙂

 

Almost Ready For Costume College…

Isincerely apologize for things being quiet here but I have been in hibernation for the past few weeks furiously working on a series of presentations that I will be giving at Costume College. Why the last minute rush? Well, unfortunately life has a habit of getting in the way and with our relocation and all, time has been at a premium. Costume College is an annual three-day costuming arts convention sponsored by the Costumer’s Guild West and it covers all periods and genres.

Adam 1918

Last year, I gave a presentation on American military uniforms entitled “US Army Uniforms, 1915 – 1918” and I had such a fun time with it that I decided to give an expanded version this year and this is scheduled for Friday July 28. But wait, there’s more…

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On Saturday July 29, I will also be giving presentations on Paul Poiret, entitled “The King of Fashion: The World of Paul Poiret” which will give an overview of his early career. Also, I will be presenting “Haute Couture: The Early Years” where I give an overview on the rise of haute couture during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (1870 through roughly 1905) both in terms of designers and the various styles.

Stay tuned for more!

Black- Not Just For Mourning

Mourning wear was a major element of Victorian clothing, governed by elaborate protocols that dictated style, color, and material. Naturally, the use of the color black was central in mourning wardrobes and early on, the color was for the most part co-opted for this express purpose. However, by the end of the 19th Century, we see some relaxation of the “rules” and the color black started to make it’s appearance in more everyday wear and especially with evening wear. Below is just one example that was created by the House of Worth sometime in the 1897 to 1899 time frame:

Worth Evening Gown c. 1897-99

Worth, Evening Gown, c. 1897 – 1899; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy (00000113)

Worth Evening Gown c. 1897-99

Three-Quarter Rear View

The use of the term “evening gown” is a bit misleading in that this dress would have worked either as an evening dress (any event that was not a ball) or a ballgown. The sleeves are relatively restrained, lacking the gigot silhouette. The bodice has a deep wasp-waist and the skirt has a minimal train. Although it’s hard to see with the lighting, the skirt front is decorated in two patterns of jet beading using a vine motif. For the skirt back,  we see beading on an overlayer of net. The bodice front is also decorated with floral bead patterns that extent to the neck line. Along the front neckline, the black fabric has been cut out so as to create the appearance of leaves rising up on their own combined with a lighter silk/net inset. To complete the look, there’s a strip of ivory/cream lace running along the rear neckline.  Overall, the beaded black fashion fabric combined with artful cutting has created a very dramatic effect using a minimum of color- this dress definitely depended on the ambient light to create its effect.

As with many of the examples we find online, there always seems to be a lack of information and close-up pictures. We would have been very interested in seeing the details of the beadwork and the bodice inset panels. So, there it is- black can be used in ways that are by no means limited to mourning so why not give it a try? 🙂