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Poiret: King of Fashion

Curator Harold Koda explains Paul Poiret's significant contributions to the world of fashion.


Harold Koda: Paul Poiret was given the appellation "King of Fashion" by his American public. He was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, perhaps the most influential haute couturier in Paris. Known in fashion history for getting rid of the corset and hobbling women's gait, he was in fact much more important in influencing designers that followed him.

Among his most important contributions was the way in which he approached dressmaking. Unlike the nineteenth-century practice of cutting and shaping pattern pieces, Poiret worked directly with the fabric on his mannequins, that is, his fashion models. By doing so, he was able to innovate an extraordinary, simplified, almost reductive minimalist cut that one sees particularly well in a cocoon coat that he designed for his wife Denise. Fifteen feet of silk velvet in a simple rectangle is spiraled around the body with one continuous seam to form this marvel of three-dimensional sensuousness.

As you watch the animation, you are able to see the fabric deconstruct into its original planarity. The idea in clothing, of course, is it always begins in two dimensions. The marvel with Poiret was he was able—with the most minimalist gesture—to make these two dimensions into the most dramatic three-dimensional and sculptural configurations.

This is Harold Koda, curator in charge of The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Poiret: King of Fashion is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through August 5, 2007.

The exhibition is made possible by Balenciaga.

Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.

The animation is by SOFTlab.

This has been an Antenna Audio production.

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