Poiret: King of Fashion

May 9–August 5, 2007


Poiret's technical and commercial innovations were fundamental to the emergence and development of modernism. Yet even though he had ushered in modernism, Poiret rejected its postwar embrace of the engineer aesthetic governed by functional rationality. In the face of modernism's repudiation of explicit narratives, decorative strategies, and historical references, Poiret continued to endorse the ideal of artistic originality and the aesthetic of artisanal workmanship.

Poiret's vision of beauty was also at odds with la garçonne, the feminine archetype of modernism. While Denise Poiret's slender, small-boned figure was the prototype for the boyish fashion silhouette, Poiret dismissed its postwar emphasis on androgyny, describing its followers as "cardboard women, with hollow silhouettes, angular shoulders and flat breasts. Cages lacking birds. Hives lacking bees." Poiret's ideal of beauty still clung to his wife's body type—slight but not bony, irrefutably feminine, and never masculinized.

Despite Poiret's rejection of modernism on the grounds of ideology and aesthetics, he still produced fashions of remarkable structural modernity. His "Pré Catelan" coat of 1918 and his "Irudrée" gown of about 1922, for instance, continued to be defined by an economy of cut. The "Irudrée," which recalls the gold lamé creations worn by Denise Poiret before World War I, is particularly noteworthy for its astonishing simplicity. The skirt is made from two pieces of fabric sewn selvedge to selvedge and gathered at the waist of the bodice. In turn, the bodice is made from one length of material with no side seams, and Poiret has used the selvedge of the material to define the neckline. Indeed, with its emphasis on process and truth to materials, the "Irudrée," despite the low-slung, tubular rouleau and its nod to the hip roll, or "farthingale," of the Renaissance, stands as icon of modernist design.

  • "Pré Catelan"

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: 1918
    Accession Number: 2005.205

  • "Irudree"

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: 1922
    Accession Number: 2007.146