Poiret: King of Fashion

May 9–August 5, 2007

Poiret and Raoul Dufy

In his memoir The King of Fashion (1931) Poiret wrote, "Am I a fool when I dream of putting art into my dresses, a fool when I say dressmaking is an art? For I have always loved painters, and felt on an equal footing with them. It seems to be that we practice the same craft, and that they are my fellow workers." Dismissing the sibling rivalries that have always dogged the fine and the applied arts, Poiret believed that art and fashion were not simply involved but indivisible. This belief was central to Poiret's vision of modernity, which, to a large extent, was achieved through his deployment of art discourse.

As well as presenting himself as an artist and a patron of the arts, Poiret promoted his fashions as unique and original works of art in and of themselves. He did so by marshaling the visual and the performing arts and by working with artists associated with the avant-garde. Among Poiret's various collaborations, the most enduring was with Raoul Dufy, whose career as a textile designer he helped launch. Such signature creations as "La Perse" coat, "La Rose d'Iribe" day dress, and the "Bois de Boulogne" dinner dress (which is made from a fabric that Dufy designed in conjunction with Bianchini-Férier) demonstrate how Dufy's flat, graphic patterns were ideally suited to Poiret's planar, abstract designs.

Dufy's textile prints reflected Poiret's preference for the artisanal. The postwar embrace of an industrial and mechanical modernity was antithetical to Poiret. Before the war, however, the art of the working man, like Dufy, or of the self-schooled, like Henri "Le Douanier" Rousseau—whom Poiret so admired that he created the "Homage à Rousseau" dress—was seen as modern in its repudiation of Belle Époque decadence and sophistication.