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



Inspiration of the Day…

Image result for canada northern lights

Fall colors have always been a favorite with us but we also like winter colors- colors that suggest a time of year when the weather gets cold and crisp. Having recently returned from our neighbor to the North, we’re been inspired by a more color palette more commonly associated with the Arctic Circle (OK, we’re reaching here) rather than Southern California and when it comes to styles, we found this c. 1900 – 1901 evening dress to be the embodiment of that:

Evening Dress 1900 - 1901

Madame Memot, Evening Dress, 1900 – 1901; Norsk Folkemuseum (NF.1962-0398A)

Evening Dress 1900 - 1901

Rear View

In terms of silhouette, this dress is consistent with c. 1900 styles with its slender, upright profile. However, it’s hard to determine if it was worn with the newly-emerging s-bend style corset or with the earlier style. The fashion fabric is a light turquoise/blue brocade with a floral pattern and trimmed with black embroidered and jeweled netting and a matching turquoise chiffon. Here’s a close-up of the bodice:

Evening Dress 1900 - 1901

Close-up of bodice

The above close-up gives a better idea of the color palette at work; here’s another way to look at it:

Color Palette_Northern Lights

It’s interesting that what we’d consider “turquoise” is termed “steel blue”…but in the end what counts is the color itself. We’ll close with a few more pictures just to stir the imagination:

Image result for canada arctic ice cave

Image result for canada arctic colors

Enjoy!

And For Some Style From Maison Rouff

Maison Rouff Card 1910.

Recently, we came across this interesting evening dress style that was offered by Maison Rouff from circa 1895:

Rouff Evening Dress c. 1895

Maison Rouff, Evening Dress, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2339a, b)

Rouff Evening Dress c. 1895

Three-Quarter Rear View

The interesting thing about this style is incorporation of a short sleeve jacket/vest into the bodice, reminiscent of an 18th Century waist coat. This is a feature that’s not usually encountered in evening dress styles of the 1890s (at least what we’ve come across so far). Here’s a close-up of the back of the bodice:

Rouff Evening Dress c. 1895

Close-up detail of bodice back.

The dress and under-bodice look like a fairly conventional silk chiffon with a silk underskirt but where the jacket/vest definitely gives this a unique look. We would love to know more about this imaginative dress. 🙂

 

Fashion In Transition: The Early 1900s

The Edwardian era of the early 1900s was a time of transition and change in the fashion world. The bustle era was long past and the fashion silhouette was now upright. By 1900, the s-bend corset with the distinct “pigeon-breast” (aka Pouter Pigeon) set the basic style and it was reflected in both formal and informal day and evening styles. But as the “early aughts” (i.e. 1900s) progressed, the extreme pigeon-breast silhouette began to soften, gradually transitioning to a looser, flowing style such as that created in 1908 by Paul Poiret with his Directoire collection.

Corset Before and After Poiret

The transition from s-bend corset to…

The distinct “pigeon-breast” (or “Pouter Pigeon” because the resulting bust looked like the puffed out chest of the pouter pigeon) was created by the mechanics of the s-bend corset which created a rounded, forward leaning torso with the hips pushed back. Compared to corsets of the 1880s and 90s, the s-bend corset had a straight front that started relatively low on the bustline. Often padding and corset covers were worn to achieve the perfect bust silhouette. Here are some examples for visual reference of the basic silhouette:

S-bend corset patent -Original- Pre 1929 Historical Pattern Collection

Patent documentation for a patent for an s-bend corset.

1903 s-bend corset

S-Bend Corset_2

S-Bend Corset

S-Bend Corset

And the final product:

Les Modes Sept 1901 Maison Rouff

S-Bend Corset_3

And here are a couple of examples of the s-bend corset:

corset_1904_3

Corset, c. 1904; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3123a–e); Made for the parisian department store Bon Marché.

corset_1904_4

Side Profile

From the above picture of the side profile, it’s easy to see the distinctive “s” bend. In comparison with other extant examples, this one is somewhat restrained in the curve.

corset_1904_5

Rear View

CI40.141.3ab_F

Corset, c. 1904 – 1905; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.40.141.3a, b)

CI40.141.3ab_TQL

 

 

And here it is in action, so to say:

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Advertisement, c. 1905

And more fully clothed:

tumblr_msssyo0gms1r7jm73o4_1280

Although not as extreme as some examples, one can still make out the distinct silhouette created by the s-bend corset.

[De Gracieuse] Wedren-toilet van blauw zijden batist (July 1903)

Here are some examples of extant dresses:

Doucet Afternoon Dress 1900 1903_1jpg

Doucet, Afternoon Dress, c. 1900 – 1903; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.579a, b)

Doucet Afternoon Dress 1900 1903_2jpg

Rear View

Ball Gown Evening Dress Worth c. 1902 Lady Mary Curzon

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1902; Fashion Museum Bath

Day Dress 1902 - 1904

Day Dress, c. 1902 – 1904; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1994.192.18a–c)

Day Dress 1902 - 1904

Day Dress 1905

Day Dress, c. 1905; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.21 to C-1960)

Day Dress 1903 1905

Day Dress, c. 1903 – 1905; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo.

Here’s a similar type of dress on a live models:

 

Robe_d'après-midi_par_Redfern_1905_cropped

Robe_tailleur_par_Redfern_1905_cropped

Interestingly enough, while the s-bend corset reshaped the bosom, the bosom itself was de-emphasized and the bust was often softened by additional fabric and trim. By the end of the 1900s, one can see the shift towards a more upright silhouette. Designers such as Paul Poiret sought to create a new silhouette that more “natural,” unconstrained by severe corsetry such as the s-bent corset. Here are a few examples:

Noveau Directoire2 Poiret

poiret_1910

Day Dress Designed By Paul Poiret, 1910

Paul Iribe 1908 Poiret Noveau Directoire

Noveau Directoire 1908 Poiret Josephine Dress

Paul Poiret, Day Dress, 1908; Les Arts Décoratifs

But Poiret was not the only designer working towards a more upright, cylindrical silhouette. There was also the designs of Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix:

1909 Margaine Lacroix

Robe de courses, Margaine Lacroix, 1909

Margaine Lacroix

Dress for the races by Margaine-Lacroix, photo by Félix, Les Modes July 1910.

Image result for margaine lacroix

Margaine-Lacroix c. 1908 - 1910 Evening Dress

Margaine-Lacroix, Evening Dress, c. 1908 – 1910; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.346.32)

Paquin Walking Suit 1910 Front 2

Jeanne Paquin, Walking Suit, Spring/Summer 1910; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.474a–d)

1910

Evening Gown, c. 1910; Kerry Taylor Auctions

Finally, even the House of Worth was moving in the same direction but there’s still some structure in this dress…

Worth Afternoon Dress 1907

House of Worth, Afternoon Dress, 1907; Manchester City Galleries (1947.4254)

Worth Afternoon Dress 1907

Close-Up Of Front

The preceding examples give a pretty good overview of the changes in the basic fashion silhouette in the first decade of the 20th Century. In the next installment, we’ll take a look at changes that occurred in the 1910 – 1914 time frame.

(To be continued…)