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Poiret: King of Fashion

May 9–August 5, 2007

Historicism

Poiret's revival of historical visual tropes may be seen as an expression of his nationalist tendencies. The couturier was fiercely patriotic despite having been criticized during World War I for his German affinities, the result of a cartoon in the German magazine Simplicissimus that featured a hausfrau being assured by her soldier husband that she would soon get a new Poiret dress.

After the war, Poiret's patriotism was revealed in a series of designs that harked back to fashions from periods of extreme French pride. While continuing to produce dresses with high waists reflective of Directoire and Empire fashions, Poiret also made gowns with panniered and crinolined skirts that evoked Ancien Régime and Second Empire styles. Less directly Francophile were his citations of medieval and Renaissance costumes. In the dress Denise wore to the wedding of Germaine Boivin, her husband's niece, in 1921, Poiret merged elements of both periods with an Italianate flair. His historicism, like his Orientalism, was governed less by reverential accuracy than by artistic interpretation.

Like Poiret's prewar collections, those he produced in the 1920s were a synthesis of all his interests. Instead of having a unified theme, his presentations invariably contained styles referencing various periods and cultures and presenting radically differing silhouettes. Unlike his peers, Poiret insisted that the truly stylish woman should wear what suited her most, even if it contradicted prevailing trends. Thus, the diverse choices Poiret presented in his collections reflected his constant admonition to women to dress according to their own body type, coloring, and preference.

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  • Coat
    Coat

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: ca. 1919
    Accession Number: C.I.61.40.4

  • Fancy dress costume
    Fancy dress costume

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: 1911
    Accession Number: 1983.8a, b

  • Afternoon dress
    Afternoon dress

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: ca. 1923
    Accession Number: C.I.43.85.2a, b

  • Dress
    Dress

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: 1925
    Accession Number: C.I.50.117

  • "Le Bal"

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: 1924
    Accession Number: 2005.192a, b

  • "Théâtre des Champs-Élysées"

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: 1913
    Accession Number: 2005.193a–g

  • Tunic
    Tunic

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: ca. 1920
    Accession Number: 2005.195

  • "Bois de Boulogne"

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: 1919
    Accession Number: 2005.197a–c

  • "La Perse"

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: 1911
    Accession Number: 2005.199