When looking at an image of a fashionable young man from 1827, nicknamed the “poodle,” the white baggy trousers he sports bear a remarkable similarity to contemporary fashion items.
Several decades later, the look has been adapted for the Victorian lady and now takes the form of a bloomer costume, albeit with the trousers gathered at the ankle to give a cleaner overall shape when worn with a jacket.
Jump to 1922, and note an image of the glamorous Denise Poiret (complete with dangling cigarette), wife of the French designer Paul Poiret who caused a revolution in fashion design with his bold use of simple classical lines.
Denise wears an outfit that includes “Pyjama de harem”. Surely these may be seen as the precursor of the leather culottes on sale in a trendy high street store today. Mary Quant wears her flares in 1972, yet the same look is currently mooted as a “new trend,” one vying for favor in an attempt to oust out the beloved skinnies.
Fashion comes, fashion goes! The must-have NEW trend lasts maybe for a couple of seasons and then vanishes. Or does it? When placed under the microscope the above examples demonstrate an adage that can be applied to the design of garments – there is nothing new under the sun. A look comes into vogue, lasts for a season or two and then dies. But, it will be resurrected again, in another form at a later date.
Love or hate culottes or flares, neither the easiest shape to wear unless processed of a pair of long legs, both looks will be purchased and worn as a badge of honor, one shouting this is the latest trend. It is NEW. Of course it isn’t. It has been around before!
In the late 1960’s members of the American feminist movement, protesting for equal rights for their sex, urged compatriots to “burn their bras.” It is unlikely these items of lingerie were physically destroyed in any great number, but the cry may be recognized as a symbolic action and a need to reform the stereotype woman of the day – housewife or mother! However, fifty years earlier in late 1900’s, an artist/couturier successfully raised a call to “burn the corset.” This time a man was behind the ardent plea, one intent on changing the desirable contemporary female shape which had prevailed for many years prior to this. Who was he? Paul Poiret – often referenced as the father of modern fashion, whose early career was as apprentice to an umbrella maker. In spite of this unpretentious beginning, he was at heart an astute businessman and self-promoter.
Paul Poiret – Models Wearing Sultana Skirts and Harem Pants – 1911
Model Wearing a Paul Poiret Dress
These elements were vital in his mission to cause a revolution in the fashion world by initiating the demise of the of the dreaded “S” shaped corset which divided the female body into two “bulks.” In doing so, a new silhouette for the twentieth century was created. One befitting the lifestyle of the New Woman – now a more confident and outgoing person – yet viewed by some as a threat to the contemporary man. A look frequently modeled by his muse (another modern innovation), his young wife Denise Poiret. How did her husband succeed in instigating his controversial hallmark – a relative loosely fitted gown that allowed for the expression of the natural curves of the female form, now unencumbered by the corset? Poiret’s flair for publicity found its visual expression in the artistic talent of Paul Iribe, whom he commissioned to create the drawings for a small, deluxe album of his dress designs (Les Robes de Paul Poiret racontée par Paul Iribe, 1908) that was sent to his most important customers and to every crowned head in Europe. In this may be seen the beginnings of what most fashionistas today for granted – fashion illustration in its multifaceted forms. After this, in quick succession, was the founding of the Atelier Martine (named after his daughter) which in addition to acting as a showcase for his innovative designs embraced a school elevating the decorative arts by teaching and producing the latest in interior designs and furnishings. Poiret’s energy was inexhaustible as was his ability to foresee and create commodities that people now take for granted.
Model Wearing a dress with Tasseled Sash by Paul PoiretPaul_Poiret
Wearing a Check Suit by Paul Poiret
Martine Paul Poiret
Iribe Les Robes de Paul Poiret
Today, it is expected a “celebrity” will lend their name (for a large fee of course) to a specific fragrance created for them. Yet Poiret was a forerunner in this form of advertising when he created his own brand of perfume “Rosine”. Named after a second daughter, and marketed in hand-blown bottles, it became an item of merchandise that not only enhanced his new creations but generated a further income. This father of modern fashion and corset liberator would many years later receive the following accolade from the renowned Christian Dior, who in his autobiography referenced Paul Poiret as “this great artist who excelled at creation and decoration.” The dissension his new shapes of female clothing caused previously, among the contemporary mothers who feared the effect such clothes would have on their daughters, had long been forgotten. Wily Paul Poiret always knew there is “no publicity like bad publicity” and any acrimonious debate would ultimate bring in its wake – success and fame for himself – and for Paul Iribe a triumphal international career as an illustrator.