I love the heady freedom of Poiret's impressive vision...lush fabrics, rich colors, bold prints, all creating maximalist and joyful whole.
Couturier, artiste, iconoclast, host extraordinaire: Paul Poiret was surely the greatest figure in the pre-World War I fashion world, and created the mold for the celebrity designer as we see it today. Yet he was unable to hold on to his fame and good fortune, and died in poverty.
Born in Les Halles on this day in 1879, Paul Poiret was sent to work as an umbrella maker's apprentice in his early years. After a climb through the ranks at the fashion houses of the day, he launched his own shop in 1903. Unafraid to break with convention, he championed then-risque uncorsetted looks with the chemise silhouette, harem pants, culottes and kimono-like draped coats.
He loved free, naive pattern, and many beautiful prints in the archives of the great museums of the world are attributed to the man himself. He also collaborated extensively with Raoul Dufy, and worked with artists like Dagobert Peche of the Wiener Werkstatte.
His business met with enormous success, and in 1911 went into interiors with Atelier Martine. Ecole Martine was a school that he set up for young girls, who created designs for rugs and textiles and also learned rug weaving.
He believed that the Viennese schools were too rigid and wanted freer, more natural approaches. Field trips to the botanical garden were apparently part of the curriculum for the school, which was housed in the upper floor of his atelier. Artists and industry members would attend design critiques and help refine and select designs for production.
He was a master marketer, arbiter of taste, and patron of the arts, and enjoyed huge acclaim in the years before World War I. His mansion was designed by Louis Sue and his lavish parties were legendary. He was the first fashion designer to launch a perfume, and he even created licensed collections for global firms, including F.Schumacher & Co!
After serving as a military tailor during the war years, he returned to Paris in 1919 to find a weakened business and changing tastes. In the years following, his over-the-top approach did not serve him well, and he ended up selling his business (including the rights to his name) in 1929. The world was changing, but his great ability to predict trend and connect with his clientele were lost. Competition from the likes of Chanel ensured his downfall. A decline to poverty followed and he died penniless; Elsa Schiaparelli paid for his burial.
His joyful and free designs did prove to be influential well beyond his lifespan, and his appeal has proved timeless. An auction of his ex-wife's collection in 2005 brought great attention to his legacy, as did the Met's 2007 show of his work.
Now, 90 years after the demise of the firm, the fashion brand returned to the Paris runways this last spring.
And Schumacher has turned to its rich archives to debut a new collection of his exuberant patterns. Inspiring to see these lush patterns finding an audience with a new generation almost a century after their creation.