Poiret: King of Fashion

May 9–August 5, 2007

The Chemise

Poiret's most radical achievement, underestimated by the designer himself, was his development of the chemise silhouette, which he introduced in 1910, perhaps as a response to his wife's second pregnancy. While other couturiers, including Lucile and Madeleine Vionnet, arguably might share credit with him for advocating the abolition of the corset, it is Poiret who, with the free-spirited confidence of his wife, Denise, created gowns that foresaw the styles of a decade later. With his T-shaped dresses in silk damask, the emancipation of the body was complete. Nowhere is the liberation of the style more evident than in the photographs of Denise en repose at the Plaza Hotel in New York during Poiret's first trip to America, in September 1913. The sinuous line of her body and the suppleness of her posture preclude the presence of any structural underpinnings.

Poiret's chemise dresses were even simpler in cut than the undergarments from which they were derived. Although the nineteenth-century chemise had a similar cut, Poiret eliminated the shaping of shoulder seams, the insertion of shoulder yokes and underarm gussets, and the accommodation of the bust through darts and inserts. His chemise was completely reductive, with the front cut like the back, except for the shaping of the neckline. So simple was its construction that the dress came to be known as the "robe de minute," as it took but half an hour to make. Any fit or transformation of the sacklike form was accomplished by knotting decorative sashes. When the gowns were introduced, Denise preferred the sash high at the waist. Later, however, in the 1920s, when she continued to wear the same gowns, she placed the sash fashionably low at the upper hipline.

  • Dress

    Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

    Date: 1925
    Accession Number: C.I.50.117