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Poiret: King of Fashion

May 9–August 5, 2007

Poiret and The Houses of Doucet and Worth

Poiret's induction into couture began at the House of Doucet in 1898. Under the tutelage of its founder, Jacques Doucet, Poiret learned many of the business strategies that were later to define his couture practice, including developing the patronage of actresses to advertise his fashions both on and off the stage. With his astute acumen for publicity, Poiret understood, almost instinctively, the power of the stage to influence the direction of fashion. After Poiret founded his own maison de couture in 1903, the theater provided an opportunity for the couturier to introduce his more avant-garde designs into society.

During the two years Poiret worked at Doucet, he dressed many of the most famous actresses of the period, including Réjane and Sarah Bernhardt. When Poiret left Doucet and began working for the House of Worth in 1901, both actresses continued to patronize him, as they did when he opened his own atelier two years later. It was while he was at Worth that Poiret's reductive approach to construction, with its emphasis on Platonic geometry, began to emerge. Inspired by the essential flatness of the kimono, Poiret created a mantle with Chinese-style embroidery from one large rectangle of black wool. Although its structural simplicity proved too shocking for Worth's royal clients, the mantle later became the model for a series of cloaks entitled "Confucius." The version on display, the "Révérend" of 1905, was especially popular. Worn in the photograph by the British actress and courtesan Lillie Langtry, it is the earliest surviving example of Poiret's concept of dress based on geometric lines and flat construction.