Opera coat

Designer: Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris)

Date: 1912

Culture: French

Medium: silk, metal

Dimensions: Length at CB: 16 1/2 in. (41.9 cm)

Credit Line: Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1982

Accession Number: 1982.350.2


Of all his collaborations with artists, Poiret was proudest of his introduction of Paul Iribe to a wider audience through the album Les robes de Paul Poiret (1908). Distributed without charge to Poiret's elite clientele, the album, like that of Georges Lepape's Les choses de Paul Poiret published three years later, was exhibited at the Galerie Barbazanges, a commercial gallery on the premises of Poiret's couture house. It was Iribe who designed Poiret's rose motif, as depicted in the dress "La Rose d'Iribe," and as used in the couturier's label.

In his memoirs, however, Poiret dismisses the suggestion that his collaborations with Iribe and Lepape implied that they were anything more than interpreters of his fully formed expressions. In his description of his relationship with the two artists, they emerge as disseminators of his designs, representing his works through their talents as illustrators, never as creators of the designs themselves. The reality, however, is likely to have been much more complicated.

The charming renderings of Iribe in Les robes de Paul Poiret, and Lepape in Les choses de Paul Poiret (and later in the Gazette du Bon Ton) conveyed a contextual reality to Poiret's exquisite creations. Comparing extant costumes to their representation, however, often reveals that accuracy was sometimes sacrificed for dramatic intention. Nevertheless, Iribe and Lepape's subtle stylistic elisions and exaggerations imbue Poiret's fashions with a beauty less seductively conveyed by the harsher documentary evidence of photography.