Paul Poiret And Fashion Trends: 1907-1908

By 1907, a seismic shift was happening in the fashion world that saw a repudiation of the tightly controlled architectural styles defined by tight corseting to styles that were seemingly unstructured and free-flowing (although undergarments still played a key role, albeit more subdued) a more freer. One manifestation of this new fashion trend was a return to the Directoire and Neo-Classical styles of the early 1800s, styles that were incorporated by Paul Poiret in his couture collections such as with his iconic “Josephine” evening dress that he created in 1907:

Poiret, Evening Dress (aka “Josephine Dress”), c. 1907; Musee de les Arts Décoratifs (UF 70-38-10)

This dress was constructed from an ivory silk satin and cut in an empress silhouette, a silhouette characterized by a fitted bodice with a high waist that ended just below the bust line combined with a loosely fitted skirt that flowed over the body. The dress is trimmed with a fitted black net shawl, trimmed in gold braid along the edges and hem. Finally, on the bodice front is a large silk fabric rose that draws the eye. Here’s another view:

Here’s a comparison between the dress and concept illustration that was published in 1908:

And here’s a close-up of the dress front. Note the black net covering:

This dress definitely looks back to an earlier time and it could be argued that the style completely repudiates the tightly structured styles that had dominated fashion for over half a century. To draw a further parallel, the Directoire and Neo-Classical fashions of the late 18th Century and early 19th Century was also a repudiation of the earlier tightly structured styles that were characteristic of most of the 18th Century up until the 1790s. Just for comparison, here’s just two examples from the early 1800s that are very similar to Poiret’s design:

Merry-Joseph Blondel, Felicite-Louise-Julie-Constance de_Durfort, 1808

And here’s the concept illustration that appeared in Les Robes de Paul Poiret which was a design album illustrated by Paul Iribe that served to promote his fashion concepts1Les Robes de Paul Poiret was a limited edition book- only some 250 copies were printed and almost impossible to find on the used book market. But you can download an electronic version for free from https://archive.org/details/lesrobesdepaulpo00irib[/mfn]:

Poiret’s Josephine dress is a perfect illustration of the basic fashion cycle of action and reaction and it pointed the way forward for fashion into the 20th Century.



The Philosophy Of Paul Poiret – Principles Of Correct Dress

Poiret_Studio

Paul Poiret was one of the most influential designers during the early 20th Century and he played a major role in shaping haute couture and the fashion industry as we know it today. Most notably, Poiret helped ensure the demise of the corset, and especially it’s most recent incarnation in the form of the s-bend corset, and introduced new designs that moved fashion away from highly structured silhouettes to more loose ones based on draping rather than tailoring. Also, Poiret was noted for the development of the hobble skirt and the “lampshade dress” as well as incorporating oriental elements in his designs. Here we see just one example of the “lampshade” dress style from 1912:

Poiret, Evening Dress, 1912; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.385&A-1976)

Poiret, Evening Dress, 1912; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.385&A-1976)

However, lost in all of Poiret’s achievements is consideration of his ideas, or “philosophy” were about dress itself. One charge that is often laid on haute couture and their designers is that wealth automatically equates to good or “correct” dress. To Poiret:

This art has little in common with money. The woman whose resources are limited has no more cause for being dowdily dressed than the woman who is rich has reason to believe that she is beautifully gowned. Except in so far as money can procure the services of a good dressmaker, of an artist who can judge his customer’s style and garb her accordingly, the wealthy woman stands no better chance of being correctly dressed than the woman who must turn every penny before spending it. [1]

While the above is almost a truism when it comes to fashion, at least today, it’s still revealing coming from the man who had crowned himself the “King of Fashion.” Poiret further expands on this theme, stating that dressing is:

…not an easy art to acquire. It demands a certain amount of intelligence, certain gifts, some of them among the rarest, perhaps—it requires a real appreciation of harmony, of colors, ingenious ideas, absolute tact, and, above all, a love of the beautiful and clear perception of values. It may be resumed in two words, good taste. [2]

So, what is “good taste” to Poiret?

Taste is by no means developed by riches; on the contrary, the increasing demands of luxury are killing the art of dressing. Luxury and good taste are in inverse proportion to each other. The one will kill the other as machinery is crowding out handwork. In fact, it has come so far that many persons confuse the two terms. Because a material is expensive they find it beautiful; because it is cheap they think it must be ugly. [3]

The above is as true today as it was back then and we see it in the fashion nearly every day. Naturally, “good taste” can be somewhat subjective, depending on time and place but it still gets to the idea that one cannot simply buy their way into good taste, or by extension, good fashion.

Here we see a sample of the fashion illustrations that Poiret commissioned by various avant garde artists such as Paul Iribe. Here we see a definite revival of the simple vertical lines of the empire dress style:

Paul Iribe, Les Robes de Paul Poiret, Plate I (1908)

Paul Iribe, Les Robes de Paul Poiret, Plate III (1908)

Poiret also notes that:

In order not to appear entirely at odds with her surroundings and the place where she lives, a woman is obliged to follow fashions to a certain extent. But let that be within certain bounds. What does it matter if tight skirts be the fashion if your figure demands a wide one? Is it not important to dress so as to bring out your good points rather than to reveal the bad? Can any idea of being fashionable make up for the fact of being ridiculous? [4]

And there it it- Poiret gets to the heart of the matter by pointing out that fashion is about emphasizing one’s good points rather than the bad, something that holds true today as it did then. The above has been only a small sample of the depth of Poiret’s fashion “philosophy” but it’s interesting to see that his ideas still hold true today in many ways and as such, they represent a distinct break with the 19th Century.

1. Principles of Correct Dress, Florence Hull Winterburn, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1914, p. 237.
2. Ibid., pp. 237-238
3. Ibid., p. 239
4. Ibid., pp. 240-241



Fashion Publicity & Reaching The Mass Market…The Beginning

Today we take a look at fashion industry/haute couture in France began to transform itself from an obscure, closed world into a form that more closely resembles today’s fashion industry. “Fashion” as we know it today began to take form during the late 19th Century. Moreover, fashion was something that was entering the public consciousness on a scale broader than anything ever seen before. The industrial revolution played a major role in the development of fashion in a rising standard of living combined with the development of new methods of manufacturing textile goods made clothing more affordable for more people. Along with this was the rise of the middle class who now had the money and the leisure time to be able follow fashion more closely.

Jean Béraud, Boulevard des Capucines,

Where fashion was once limited to a monarch and his court, fashion was now becoming far more defuse with a much wider audience following it. Just as important, fashion and clothing manufacturing were developing into large business enterprises and as a result, business concerns often drove fashion trends in a way similar today only on a more limited scale with a smaller clientele.

Pose de garnitures dans l’atelier de Worth, grand couturier parisien. Paris, 1907.

Along with the commercialization of fashion by Couturiers such as Charles Worth, Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret, and a host of others, was the need to more effectively market their fashions.1Interestingly enough, Worth was very adverse to the press and he limited his interviews with them and never allowed journalists into areas of his atelier where they might see new dresses. This was more out the fear of fashion piracy more than anything else. Where word-or-mouth was sufficient, more direct methods of getting fashion styles (i.e., product) before the public were needed and thus developed advertising, fashion journals, fashion plates, and later, fashion photography.

With the development of the fashion industry and marketing, those who followed fashion wanted to see these fashions “live”. The concept of the runway show as a public spectacle was still years off but other ways to show off the latest styles were employed.

If it's seen at Longchamps, then you're OK... :-)

If it’s seen at Longchamps, then you’re OK… As is the case today, being seen in a public place with the just the right outfit could make all the difference. 🙂

Once such method was dressing up models with the latest styles and sending them to various public social gathering, most notably the horse races at Longchamps and in particular, the Grand Prix de Paris which was held every year in July. More than just a horse race, it was a day-long affair that provided a venue for people to see and been seen and that of course meant what they were wearing. Naturally, the press covered these events and end was result was free publicity.

Races at Longchamps, Manet, 1867

Below are just a few of the examples of the styles worn at Longchamps during the period from 1900 to 1914.

Les Modes, 1904

Les Modes, July 1904

Longchamps1

Longchamps2

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The women in the above pictures are wearing versions of the lingerie dress and one can see the influence of the s-bend corset although the silhouette is somewhat muted by the fluffy layers of fabric on the dresses. These definitely fall in the 1900 –  1905 date range.

And sometimes, fashion at Longchamps could cause a sensation…below is a picture from 1908 of three models wearing designs by Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix (known simply as Margaine-Lacroix) and dubbed by the press “Les Nouvelles Merveilleuses”:

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c. 1908, “Les Nouvelles Merveilleuses” as dubbed by the press- these three models caused a furor at Longchamps when they arrived- these dresses, designed by Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix were considered scandalous at the time.

The above three dresses definitely got public attention, in part because they completely did away with the conventional corset while at the same time creating a skin-tight silhouette by utilizing stretch fabrics in the dresses themselves to create the form-fitting silhouette.2We would definitely like to know more about the underpinnings of these models because there’s no way this look could have worked without some corset-substitute. We’re thinking an early version of Spanx.

Here’s how Susie Ralph, a fashion historian, described it in an introduction that opened an exhibit on Margaine-Lacroix in 2013:

In 1908 Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix sent three mannequins to the Longchamp race-course clad in her form-revealing robes-tanagréennes. These corsetless dresses caused a sensation among Paris’ fashionable crowd – a riot according to some newspaper reports. Worn without corsets and slit to the knee on one side over the most transparent of underskirts, their impact on the fashion world was instantaneous and resulted in major press coverage not only in Paris but around the world. In today’s parlance the style immediately “went viral”….It was Margaine-Lacroix’s daring vision that brought to an end the ideal of the rigidly corseted hour-glass figure, and ushered in the new, slim twentieth century silhouette.

Margaine-Lacroix is an interesting designer in her own right although she is relatively unknown today. Hopefully we’ll be writing more about her in the future.

Here, is where the above picture originally was featured:

new-picture-7

Controversy is no stranger to the world of fashion then or now and the debate over what exactly is too “revealing” still rages on. Later, from 1910 to 1914, we see the public event-as-fashion show hit new highs, helped along by better cameras and film as with these:

1912-at-the-races

1912, Watching the races standing on chairs. The lines on these two dresses reflect the moved towards a more sleek, upright silhouette. Goodbye s-bend!

1914

1914, Here is an interesting design incorporating a waistcoat and cutaway coat.

Longchamps provided a venue for people to see “fashion in action” and for us it’s a fascinating archive of living fashion history. We can see just how garments were worn, how they fit, and even gain some insight into the people who wore them. We’ve only touched the surface here and in future posts we hope to gain further insight. Stay tuned!



Paul Poiret, Atelier Martine & Textiles

One of the most interesting aspects of Paul Poiret was that his design work was not limited solely to fashion but rather he expended into related areas such as fragrances, interior design, home furnishings, and textiles and as such such, he could be considered to be one the first “total lifestyle” designers. Of his various ventures was Martine which was Poiret’s home furnishings business. Named for his daughter Martine, Martine consisted of Atelier Martine, L’École Martine, and Maison Martine and opened on April 1, 1911. Inspired by the Wiener Werkstätte, Poiret created Martine as both a means of educating young working class girls in the decorative arts through L’École Martine and functioning as a design house through Atelier MartineMaison Martine served as the retail outlet for the venture, later adding on an interior design service. As part of this initiative, Atelier Martine designed textiles to be used for both home furnishings and clothing.

Collage of three photos showing three textile mills

One particular textile collection was made under licence in 1914 by the Duplan Silk Company of Hazleton, Pennsylvania and was intended as the fashion fabrics for several licensed dress designs. Interestingly enough, Duplan was originally established in 1897 by Jean Duplan, a French textile manufacturer as a means of avoiding the high import duty imposed on luxury fabrics by the Tariff Act of 1897. Pictured below are four of the original eight designs (Bishop, Bouquet, Lizeron, and Pekin):

Poiret/Martine, “Bishop” Silk Textile; National Museum of American History (TE.T01219)

Poiret/Martine, “Bouquet” Silk Textile; National Museum of American History (TE.T01218)

Poiret/Martine, “Pekin” Silk Textile; National Museum of American History (TE.T01221)

Poiret/Martine, “Pekin” Silk Textile; National Museum of American History (TE.T01220)

Poiret/Martine, “Bishop” Silk Textile; National Museum of American History (TE.T01222)

Poiret/Martine, “Lizeron” Silk Textile; National Museum of American History (TE.T01223)

Except for the Lizeron design, the above designs were cylinder printed on silk. In the case of the Lizeron, it was block printed and according to Duplan’s promotional literature, is was:

…the first hand block design ever printed by hand in the United States, on a heavy quality of silks. The yardage possible to produce per day, printed by hand by one man, in a design of the character, is only about 1/20th of what a silk printing machine can produce in the same length of time.

The Atelier Martine’s designs were heavily influenced not only by the Wiener Werkstätte, but also the Aesthetic/Arts and Crafts Movements with their emphasis on simple, bold designs that utilized bright colors. Martine was not only a business enterprise but also a repudiation of the prevailing design aesthetics of the Nineteenth Century, an element present in all of Poiret’s work. Although the Martine did not last long (Poiret sold the business in 1925), its legacy is a fascinating one.



Trending For 1918- Morocco & Paul Poiret

Paul Poiret was fascinated with non-Western styles and motifs and these often found their way into his designs. Morocco, in particular, was a constant source of design inspiration and one such design was a coat that he made in 1918 based on the traditional Berber Burnoose, cloak-like garment usually made from wool.

Image result for burnoose

Below are some pictures of the prototype made by Poiret’s for his wife Denise:

Paul Poiret, Jacket; Metropolitan (2005.201)

One of the interesting features of this coat is that while the collar was made as a funnel-shaped collar, it could also be worn open which Denise Poiret’s favored.

The prototype was made for Poiret’s wife Denise and she tended to wear it with the collar open as shown above. The coat was made of a finely woven wool that provided a luxurious feel while at the same time preserving the rustic hand-loomed natural effect of the traditional Burnooses. At the same time, coat was sewn together with a meticulous attention to detail and matching of the stripes along the seams. Subsequently, several versions of this design were made starting in 1921 and from all accounts, it was a success, reflecting the post-WWI trend towards looser, more comfortable clothing. In many respects, the design seems to us like something that Chanel would have done (which is ironic given the antipathy that both designers shared towards each other). To us, this design is almost timeless and would work as well today as it did when he made it in 1918 and the early 1920s.