Paul Poiret – Designs From The War Years

Label Poiret

For Paul Poiret, the war years were a professional void. Recalled to military service in 1914, Poiret spend most of the war serving in a number of positions centered around the provision of uniforms. for the French Army. To read his autobiography, it’s evident that the war years were both financially and professionally unsatisfying. However, Poiret was able to keep his hand somewhat by creating designs that were to be licensed for production in the United States. Below is just one design that appeared in the March 1916 issue of The Women’s Home Companion:

Poiret Dress Design March 1916

And here’s some more details:

Suitable for sorts of afternoon and informal evening occasions, this costume designed by the couturier Paul Poiret can be made at home from a Woman’s Home Companion pattern. The price of the pattern is $1.50; its number 2990 and it is cut in 36, 38, and 40-inch bust measures. It may be ordered from the Pattern Department, Woman’s Home Companion, 381 Fourth Avenue, New York City.

The illustrator has done an excellent job of presenting this design in the most optimal manner, portraying a simple, one-piece unstructured garment with a relatively short skirt and pleated hem. With it’s simple lines reminiscent of his earlier Nouveau Directoire and Classical Greek inspired styles, this dress was a reflection of the the changes fashion was undergoing during the second decade of the 20th Century.

Poiret’s signature hobble skirt is gone, replaced by something far more free-flowing and practical. Spurred by the impacts of the war, fashion had evolved to more practical styles and it would seem that Poiret was adapting. Of course, this also could simply have been his effort to keep his name out in the market (and supplement his meager Army pay) by churning out quick and simple designs. It certainly poses some interesting questions in that it’s clear that Poiret was quite capable of designing practical garments in spire of his learning towards the more fantastical.

This is an area that bears further examination and hopefully we’ll be able to unearth further examples to post here.

Structuring & Silhouette…

With the shift towards unstructured fashions during the 1910s, it appeared to many that the corset’s days were numbered as a major fashion item. Leading the way, designers such as Paul Poiret and Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix introduced styles that harkened back to Classical Greece and the Directoire, styles that were diametrically opposed to the tightly structured s-bend corset/pouter pigeon silhouette of the early 1900s.  However, while garments themselves were no longer structured to follow the lines of the corset, the corset still lived on in modified forms such as the ones pictured in this advertisements published in the August 15, 1914 edition of Vogue Magazine:

Vogue Aug 15 1914_Corset Ad

Now the emphasis was on styles that were free and unrestrained yet at the same time, the body was still structured. What is also interesting is that the advertisement refers to a style created by Margaine-Lacroix, a designer who had recently acquired notoriety for a series of skin-tight body contour dresses that defied convention. However as seen below, many of Margaine-Lacroix’s designs were squarely within the major trends of the time:

Margaine-Lacroix 1914

Margaine-Lacroix c. 1908 - 1910 Dress

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

Margaine-Lacroix c. 1908 - 1910 Dress

Flat Detail View

As with fashion in general, foundation garments were also changing but their effect was somewhat more muted and in another ten years, fashions would evolve into even more unstructured styles. Stay tuned for more as we bring forward various bits and pieces of fashion history for your please. 🙂


Fashion Advice From Paul Poiret


Label Poiret

In the course of researching something completely different, I came across some fashion advice that was attributed to Paul Poiret in the September 24, 1913 edition of the Los Angeles Herald:

…”select your gown according to the temperature, your mood, your temperament, whether you are at the seashore, in town or in the country, because gowns express every motion or condition.” M. Paul Poirot, the great Paris costumer, who is the creator of the tight skirt and other Innovations which were regarded as equally audacious when they made their advent, so declared today and added; “The simplest thing always looks the most original and I always strive for simplicity above everything…”

Poiret’s advice is timeless (although we could take issue with the always strive for simplicity part) and it could just as easily been said by any number of designers part or present. However, what is unique is that what a person wears does express every motion or condition, a fact that’s been noted by both designers and psychologists. 🙂

Poiret Sultan

Color And The Perfect Dress…

Color is one of the cornerstones of any dress design and as such, it’s one of the designer’s first considerations along with silhouette, line, and fabrics. So, once the color and fabric are selected, that’s it- on to the other parts of the design, right? Well, most of the time, yes. Generally, fabric color is set during the manufacturing process either by dying the filaments before they’re spun into threads or yarns; dying the yarns/treads before weaving the fabric, or dying the fabric after it’s been woven. So it would seem that’s settled…or is it?

Well, there are exceptions…through the use of specific fabric types and fabric manipulation, the designer can present new colors as well and even create the illusion of changing colors to create new color effects while adding variety and interest to the basic design. One of the simplest techniques involves the layering one or more fabrics over each other, a style characteristic of the Nouveau Directoire style that was popular during the years 1908 -1913. One such example is this evening dress from circa 1909:

Evening Dress c. 1909

Whelan-Hannan, Evening Dress, 1909; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1981.518.3)

Evening Dress c. 1909

Rear View

Evening Dress c. 1909

Side Profile

In this example, the underskirt is a medium hued turquoise colored silk satin covered with a black net overskirt. The turquoise underskirt is still visible under the black net but now it’s become considerably darker. At the same time, the shiny luster of the silk satin fabric has disappeared and the luster has been dulled down.

Below is a close-up of the upper front. In the center above the waistband, there’s a cut-out portion in the lace/net overlay where the underskirt fabric is visible and one can see the difference between the two colors side-by-side.

Evening Dress c. 1909

Close-Up of Bodice

Finally, just for completeness, the label:

Evening Dress c. 1909


In terms of color theory, the color palette of the above dress is monochromatic: the colors one sees with and without the netting are both a turquoise but one is a darker hue than the other with the dark hue created by the addition of the black net. This is a somewhat simplified explanation but important point is that the original fabric color was modified merely by the addition of another fabric. Of course, for this to work, it relies on a more solid structured fabric to be covered by one that’s thinner and semi-transparent such as net.

The layering effect described above is more pronounced in some eras more than others with the late Edwardian Era being one of the most prominent for this style. Here are a couple more examples of this style:

 Evening Dress Jeanne Paquin 1912

Color has always been area fascination for us and we hope to present a little more of this in future posts so stay tuned.

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:

Jupe Culotte1

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. 🙂