Poiret: King of Fashion

May 9–August 5, 2007


Poiret's radical approach to dress-making was inseparable from his ideas about the body, which found their ultimate expression in his advocacy of an uncorseted figure. While Poiret was not the only designer to promote an integrated and intelligible corporeality, he was among the first to link it to the naturalism of Greco-Roman dress.

The earliest display of his classical sensibility appeared in Poiret's fashions of 1906, the year he abandoned the corset. However, as seen in his "1811" dress, which reflects the proportions and cylindrical silhouette of the Directoire, it was classicism through the lens of the late eighteenth century. The same allusive, rather than academic, classicism is manifested in Poiret's "Théâtre des Champs-Élysées" evening dress, which Denise Poiret wore to the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's Sacre du Printemps, marking the opening of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on April 1, 1913.

Denise's slender figure was the perfect canvas for Poiret's classicizing tendencies. Unlike the odalisques of the Belle Époque, she possessed a svelte, gamine beauty that conformed to the active body type emerging in the twentieth century. Among the more explicitly classical clothing that Poiret made for his wife was a series of provocative baby-doll-length nightdresses. With their one-shouldered necklines, they cite the bareness of the Amazon, who allowed one shoulder of her tunic to fall open, exposing her breast. These "classical" negligees recall the costume Denise wore to Poiret's classically inspired "Les Festes de Bacchus" party on June 20, 1912. Made from a fabric by Mariano Fortuny, a designer Poiret promoted in his maison de couture, Denise, in the role of Juno, queen of the gods, represented both the ideal of classical beauty and the paradigm of the modern woman.

  • "Théâtre des Champs-Élysées"

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: 1913
    Accession Number: 2005.193a–g

  • Tunic

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: ca. 1920
    Accession Number: 2005.195