First fashion designer Paul Poiret
First fashion designer Paul Poiret
“Fashion needs a tyrant”, – declared Paul Poiret. Thereby he, albeit for selfish reasons, because as a despot – liberator he saw only himself, precisely formulated, what vogue was missing at the turn of centuries. In this situation, the liberator and fashion legislator was supposed to be someone pointing the way, the man of new ideas. He must love life, art and women, should have an unquenchable thirst for beauty and desire to realize himself. In short, it was Paul Poiret.
Paul Poiret was born on April 8, 1879 to a wealthy family. His parents were merchants. Paul Poiret found his calling very yearly. He had too much imagination and too little perseverance, but he should become an artist. The idea was supported by a loving mother and three sisters. However, his father forced him to study at school, after which he found a work for him – at the famous maker of umbrellas, as a messenger. He wanted his son to become acquainted with the prose of life.
“Perhaps – says Poiret about this sad period of his life – while I sometimes forgot to wash my neck, but the white-collar I changed daily. For nothing is more important than appearance,”- stated he.
So he leaves his “umbrella boss”, taking the only thing that will help his future career – scraps of silk. In the evenings, he creates extravagant masterpieces, trying them on a 40-centimeter wooden doll donated by the sisters, who admired him and his models. Such attitude, he demanded of women throughout his life.
The only thing he cared about – his own glory, and the measure of all things was only his own taste. This taste and talent of the painter helped him take the place of assistant at the successful couturier Jacques Doucet, the famous art lover and collector. The talented Paul Poiret learned from him not only skill, but also graceful manners necessary for communication with theater stars.
After his military service in 1901 Poiret finds work in the leading house of models of the time – at Worth. However, the sons Jean-Philippe and Gaston Worth, who inherited the business, did not appreciate Poiret’s talent, and did not let him develop his career. But all went well, because there were women who unconditionally believed in his talent. Mother of Poiret gave 50 thousand francs to her son in 1903, to be able to open his first fashion shop.
Popular actress Réjean left Doucet, former patron of Poiret, and became his first client. She acted like a magnet on her contemporaries: when she appeared anywhere with her two white donkeys, a gift of the King of Portugal, as a crown of fans gathered. Just three years later, Poiret himself has become a star: people recognized him on the streets and in restaurants, and on his holidays gathered nearly all Paris.
Poiret was able to gather around him talented artists and designers: Paul Iriba, George Lepapa, Erte, Mariano Fortin, Vlaminck, Andre Derain, Raoul Dufy. He rested and worked with them, and felt the same as they were. However, after some time his fame had faded, the other stars began to shine on the fashion horizon, notably Coco Chanel, who felt well what’s wrong with women’s fashion.
Poiret “declared war” on corset, he considered simply ridiculous the division of the female figure into two parts – the towering front bust and protruding ass. Inspired by the Art Nouveau style and ideas of the XVIII century, and influenced by English artists and defenders of women’s rights, demanding “reform dress” Poiret created in 1906, a simple sheath skirt starting right from chest and flowing down to the floor. He creates a silhouette, repeating curves of the body, like a gentle wave. That brings him immortal fame, and the name «La Vague».
Compared with laced beauties, “Belle Epoque” new woman by Poiret looks modest, young and mobile; under her light dress is obviously hidden a good figure instead of a good corset. Who knows, had he ever had the courage to such sensational models, if his own wife had been less slender and graceful.
Since 1905 he is married to Denise Boulet, with whom they were familiar from childhood; she was the mother of his five children and, in addition, one of the most elegant women in Paris. Suddenly all Parisians wanted to look just like Denise. Poiret, whose name becomes a brand name, promises that every woman is free from out-of-fashion dress, showing the beauty in the original and lovely garments created by him. He replaced the corset with flexible bra and easy belt for stockings, allowing women to look younger and braver. He also used rich colors and clear patterns instead of faded pastel tones. He rejected black stockings, and created the illusion of bare legs, putting them in a skin-colored silk.
However, what started out so ingeniously simple, soon crossed the line. Poiret shifted waistline, made deeper neckline and skirts narrower. In 1910 he introduced the notorious “lame skirt,” which was so narrowed down that woman moved in tiny steps, a la geisha. But he was wrong, this time women did not follow him, his skirts were not successful.
The fashion dictator didn’t care much about it, he has long considered himself the Sultan, who clothe his harem in luxury oriental garments – caftans and kimonos, trousers and tunics, turbans and veils. Finally, again a real luxury: magnificent bright embroidery, lace interspersed with gold and silver threads, shiny brocade, fringe, fringe trimmed with pearls and precious feathers – solid exotic.
After all, with everything Eastern have become passionate since the first tour of “Russian Ballet” in 1900 in Paris, which had a sensational success. Baroque setting of Diaghilev’s “Scheherazade” and “The Blue God” had an impact on the art and fashion, and the whole lifestyle.
Poiret brings oriental splendor to perfection only after the “Russian Ballet” has prepared the “soil” for this. In 1911, he arranges “1002-th night” – one of the most spectacular costume events of the century. The boundary between the dress and fancy dress seems vague.
Poiret rapidly and wastefully tried to imagine life as one big party. He travels with the troupe of models around the world: London, Berlin, Vienna, Brussels, Moscow, St. Petersburg and at the end, New York. And everywhere he goes back with new ideas. Following the example of the Wiener Werkstätte, he founded a school of applied arts, which created furniture, fabrics and objects of decorative art.
He organizes his own production of perfumes – a decade before Chanel! And created by him mini-skirt caused a scandal. Even Pope Pius X anathematizes immoral Parisian named Poiret. The same year Poiret founded workshops where sketches of the artist Raoul Dufy were transferred to the finest silk. This was a real revolution in the textile industry, which had previously only produced cheap fabrics with primitive patterns. During his travels, he sees everywhere his copied models, so he decides to found Syndicat de Defense de la Grande Couture Francaise (Syndicate for the Protection of the Rights of the great French tailor’s art) that would protect their original creations.
Poiret was the first designer of the century, who has given to everything that surrounded him, his aesthetic imprint. Only eight decades later, the designers have returned to this concept: Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Gucci and others presented in the 1990s their “home collections”, including everything down to scented candles, but they have long been used by Poiret on the eastern balls.
And yet he was not a seer, he completely lived in his time, even when it seems that life is in order. Poiret was called to military service, and returned from the front four years later. He saw how things have changed, and first of all, women. He calls his new rival Coco Chanel “inventor of luxurious poverty”. And he refuses to recognize his own inadequacy.
He still hopes to regain his former clientele with a few great
festivals, which he organized. The more clearly he saw the collapse of his hopes, the more luxuriant his methods were: champagne and oysters, and the performances of great artists, such as Isadora Duncan, Pierre Brasseur and Yvette Gilbert. After just six months, he has half a million of debts. He finds financiers who benefit from his genius, but at the same time want to subordinate him to market laws.
Poiret is depressed, but still waiting for the first opportunity to once again become the king of all fashion designers. And it seems that it becomes possible to him in 1925 at an exhibition of decorative art. He sends cruising on the Seine three ships with his sketches: on one of them is located a luxury restaurant, on the other – the Salon of models, and the third – a boutique of perfume, accessories and furniture. It was grand, and expensive. His financiers refuse to compensate the costs.
Poiret – bankrupt, but still lives in a big way. Consciousness that other couturiers gained success due to his ideas poisons his life. When his wife left Poiret, he returned to Provence and died in 1944 in poverty and forgotten by all. But Fashion continues to live.