The Man That Changed The Shape Of Women

Art Deco in Paris was exuberance-in-form at a time when industrialisation was surrounded by nervous optimism. One of the leading figures of this theatrical period was Paul Poiret, a French fashion designer who translated the surreal into the design of everything. Poiret built the first lifestyle brand- from fashions to scents and interior design. 

With a particular fondness for the Ballets Russes, the clothes that Poiret designed always resembled the exaggeration of costumes but ultimately sought to display an appreciation of beauty. From this, he became widely renowned as the 'King of Fashion' in America.

He also built the adoration of the couturier who changed the shape of women, who killed the corset and invented the rubber girdle, suspender belt and trouser suit. From this, Poiret threw lavish fancy-dress parties, designed clothes for the most fashionable actress', and toured Europe and the United States with nine models all dressed alike to match his beige Renault Torpedo, causing a sensation wherever they went. When this Pope decreed that any women who wore a Poiret hobble skirt should be refused absolution, orders went through the roof.

Poiret's fashion revolution came in 1903 with the opening of his own fashion house and the launch of a new silhouette, inspired by his muse Denise Boulet, whom he later married. The New York Times described it as 'a lance in response- slim, dark, young, uncorseted untouched by paint or powder, untrammelled by high heels, pointed toes or tight gloves.' At the time, other fashion houses scoffed at first, then copied him.

Poiret achieved dresses that were designed to enhance a woman's natural figure rather than transmute it. Something that was at first omitted but quickly became extolled. Women had grown accustomed, to carrying three kilos of whalebone and horsehair padding, were initially disconcerted but came to feel liberated. 

In 1911, Poiret set up Ecole Martine, where teenage girls from impoverished families, with no art training, were sent out to sketch flowers and animals in the zoo. He chose his most favoured composition and brought in collaborators to turn the sketches into designs for fabrics, wallpaper, rugs, glassware and pottery for Atelier Martine, his interior design firm, or to sell in nine Maison Martine shops in France, Britain and Germany. 

He not only empowered women by moving fashion beyond the restrictive undergarment that had clung to women's torsos for centuries he, created opportunities for women. Wearing his clothes or owning one of his creations represented an essence of feminism in a time that it would have been discredited. 

So Poiret's slow decline in the decade after World War 1 was all the more poignant. He lamented the short skirts and gamine designs of the new, female designers Gabrielle Chanel, Madeline Vionnet and Jeanne Lanvin describing, their clients as 'emaciated telegraph poles.' In a bid to reinvent himself he transformed his garden into a nightclub, with a yellow pneumatic roof made of airship fabric. However, it seemed all too refined and middle-aged now that jazz and cocktails were a thing. His last throw came with the 1925 International Exhibition of 

Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts when he decorated an expensive restaurant to show his work. Alas, it was another financial disaster, and it resulted in him becoming bankrupt. He Lived out his remaining years without water or electricity in the caretaker’s hut of an unfinished house he had once commissioned. 

Poiret always stated ‘I feel I have many dresses inside me still,’ to the day he died.


By Cara Daisy Mulroy

Cara MulroyComment