Vintage Influencers: Paul Poiret

Believe it or not, there was a world before Chanel and a designer who wanted to rid corsets twenty years before her. Paul Poiret was a man of innovation in a time where people still dressed very conservatively. 

Poiret’s parents were cloth makers but in an effort to steer him away from the family business, they enrolled him into an apprenticeship to be an umbrella maker. With this job, he took all the scraps of silk and created dresses for his dolls. Once Poiret started sketching as a teen, he took his ideas to other fashion houses where they would buy his ideas and gain a reputation for himself.

While other designers were stuck in the corset-era, Poiret was exploring different shapes and techniques to creating his artwork. He is noted for inventing such startling creations as “hobble” skirts, “harem” pantaloons, and “lampshade” tunics. Pointer’s real skill was the techniques he used to create his designs. He worked with fabric directly on the body and pioneered a radical approach to dressmaking that relied on the skills of draping rather than tailoring and pattern making. Looking to antique and regional dress, Poiret advocated clothing cut along straight lines and constructed of rectangles. It was an approach that effectively established the paradigm of modern fashion, irrevocably changing the direction of costume history.

While Poiret’s career was filled with high end fashion, glamorous movies and working with the top fashion houses in the world, every good story comes to an end. The downfall of his fashion house came after WWI when Poiret left to serve in the army and came back to a borderline bankrupt business. Other designers, such as Chanel, has begun simplistic designs in efforts to ration materials for the war efforts and became mainstream. The world sadly forgot about Poiret and by the time of his death, he was only known as a poor man.

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