My last post of June focuses on one particular man – Paul Poiret. You probably haven’t heard of him, and I hadn’t either until I took a history of fashion course. Paul was a fashion designer. He was unique for his time in a lot of ways. What time period are we talking about? Paul thrived in the time period right before World War I. And in case you couldn’t tell from his last name, he was French!
The reason I think Paul is so important is because he set up so many things in fashion that are standard now. But before he did them, they were unheard of, and even shocking! You’ll see as we go through the list. Without further ado, I give you 10 pretty cool things about Paul.
#1 – Paul LOVED color!
Before Paul came on the scene, the colors women wore were pretty bland, soft and pale. Paul went in a completely opposite direction. He said clothes should be filled with “fire and joy.” Paul used deep, vibrant shades and plenty of bright colors, with a palette that included purple, red, orange, blue, and bright green.
#2 – Paul was obsessed with Orientalism.
Orientalism was all the rage in the early 1900’s. If you don’t know what Orientalism is, you’re not alone. It’s basically from a time when we referred to anything that wasn’t European as exotic and from “the Orient.” It could be something from India, North Africa, China, or Japan, it didn’t matter! It just mattered that it seemed cool because we hadn’t seen it before!
Paul was inspired by art from the Middle East and Asia. He took examples of how people dressed in those regions and made them his own. Cultural appropriation? Perhaps. He popularized turbans and kimonos, feathers and fur. His looks were exciting and exotic, and women loved them!
#3 – Paul made a lampshade dress incredibly popular.
Yep, you read that right. One of Paul’s most popular designs was his lampshade dress. Check it out!
#4 – Paul was called “the King of Fashion.”
In America, we called Paul “The King of Fashion.” In Paris, he was known as “le Magnifique.” He was all the things we see in designers of today: creative, a slave to their art, egotistical, and flamboyant. Paul was absolutely convinced in his vision, and for a time, the world agreed.
He was definitely innovative. Besides his lampshade dress, he also popularized harem pants and the hobble skirt.
Another way Paul was different had to do with how he created his designs. He preferred cutting and draping. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but this was a BIG deal! Before Paul, you would have gone to a pattern maker with a pattern you liked and they would have made it for you. Paul liked designs cut from basic rectangles, simplifying the silhouette.
Another way to simplify the silhouette? No corset! This is an even bigger deal than not being a pattern maker! Women had worn corsets for 500 years, and now Paul just said no!
#5 – Paul threw the BEST parties!
Paul’s wild, extravagant parties served as a clever marketing technique. In 1911, he threw a party called the Thousand and Second Night. It was an amazing costume party with a Persian theme! It had water fountains, cool lights, and for you animal lovers out there – parrots and monkeys too!
The next year, the theme for his party was Les Fêtes de Bacchus. Given that Bacchus is (I think) the god of wine, I’m sure the alcohol was abundant! At another party, Paul brought his guests to three barges moored on the Seine River for an evening of gambling.
The parties got Paul lots of great publicity and even landed him jobs as a costume designer for different Paris productions. But they were spendy….
#6 – Paul’s muse was his wife.
Paul married Denise in 1905, and together they were a powerhouse duo! She was beautiful and slender, and served as his muse and inspiration. She wore his creations, hosted his parties, and helped to manage his business. In return, women flocked to be dressed by Paul so they could look like the lovely Denise. In 1913, he told Vogue:
“My wife is the inspiration for all my creations; she is the expression of all my ideals.”
#7 – Paul created the first signature fragrance.
Nowadays, it seems like EVERYONE has a fragrance with their name on it. Designers, artists, singers, anyone and everyone does it. But you know who did it first? Paul Poiret! He invented and marketed the first ever signature fragrance. It was called Rosine, named after his first daughter.
Everyone talks about Coco Chanel and her Chanel No. 5, but let’s remember that Paul did this a a full decade before she did. Again, he was the first.
#8 – Paul created the first lifestyle brand.
Paul was absolutely a fashion designer, but he saw the business potential straight away of expanding into other markets. Besides perfume, he created furniture, textiles, and other items for the home. He created a company called Atelier Martine, named after his second daughter. This was the very, very beginning of what we now know as interior design. Again, Paul did all this first.
He was happy to work with other artists, and was the first to collaborate on licensed collections for firms across Europe. A smart business move!
#9 – Paul was a feminist
Paul and Denise had five children together. Two of the children were girls, and Paul had very strong feelings about children in general being exposed to things that would help them enhance their creativity. Paul set up a school just for young girls called Ecole Martine (again, named after his second daughter). It occupied the second floor of his interior design firm, Atelier Martine. The girls were taught art and how to weave. And they had frequent field trips to the botanical garden. As they got older, they could create designs for rugs and textiles for the company. In fact, Paul took pride in training women as designers and crafters, and happily hired them!
#10 – Paul gave us trunk shows
This is yet another area in which Paul was first! In his heart, he was a showman. And what better way to show off than to go on a tour! He went to Berlin in 1910, spent six weeks the following year traveling across Central Europe with his models. And in 1913, he even went to America! He was determined to bring his vision to everyone!
Sadly, poor Paul died a pauper. After serving in World War I, he came back to find his business in shambles and the world no longer excited by his designs. He sold his business and the rights to his work in 1929.
The good news is that Paul’s designs live on. A company called Shumacher is selling fabric with Poiret’s designs in a collection they are calling Fashion Forward.
And a few years back, a South Korean company bought the rights to Poiret’s name and all his historical drawings. They want to bring back the House of Poiret! Hooray! Check out their website. They recently previewed their first collection, for Fall 2018 Ready To Wear. Take a look:
That’s all for now! I hope you enjoyed learning about Paul.