Designer Paul Poiret French

Not on view

Because of their bold coloring, rich detailing, dramatic (if simple) silhouettes, and immediately recognizable references, designs by Poiret in the orientalist mode came to represent the strongest identity of his house. In fact, Poiret's collections were an amalgamation of all his interests. Rather than one unified theme, his presentations offered clients a range of silhouettes and stylistic effects. Many designs cited menswear, sportswear (something Poiret would eventually repudiate as an inappropriate style for the haute couture), and historical styles, especially those from antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Second Empire, in a heady eclectic mix.

Although ‘Bouclier’ appears to preclude another period or culture that might have been its inspiration, Poiret's informed historicism reveals itself in the trompe l'oeil detail of narrow placket printed with a button motif, which references the button-down pinafore dresses of the 1880s. The effect is of an illusion of a sheer cotton blouse or chemise under a red dress with a navy overdress. While its design features are primarily frontal, Poiret added a decorative bow to the back neckline, reinforcing its playful spirit.

Through its color palette and its association with the chic style of young Parisiennes, the dress alludes to French national identity. It was represented in Art-Goût-Beauté with another model called ‘École,’ also rendered in blue, white, and red. Both dresses were paired with matching accessories to underscore their nationalistic overtones. Poiret was a fierce patriot despite having been criticized during World War I for his boche taste because of a cartoon in the German comic paper Simplicissimus that featured a German housewife being assured by her soldier husband that she would soon get a new Poiret dress. Indeed, for Poiret, orientalism and classicism, often seen as rival aesthetic models in the discourse of modernism, were mutually reinforcing expressions of his patriotism, so deep-rooted were they in the cultural politics of France.

Dress, Paul Poiret (French, Paris 1879–1944 Paris), wool, silk, French

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