Early 20th Century Fashion & Design by Paul Poiret (1879–1944)

Paul Poiret (1879 – 1944) became a legendary French Couturier. His contributions to twentieth-century fashion have been likened to Picasso’s contributions to twentieth-century art. Poiret dominated Belle Epoque fashion and reshaped women’s silhouettes by liberating them from constricting corsets and popularising the high waist. From abolishing the corset he went further with hobble skirts, “harem” pantaloons, and “lampshade” tunics, using the fabulous soirées he threw in his garden to promote such whimsies. His most famous soirée was The Thousand and Second Night party he threw in 1911. Unfortunately post war Europe and the public were not akin or sympathetic to Poiret’s style and he closed his house, heavy in debt, in 1929.

He was employed at the house of Worth but did not continue there for long. On the 1st September, 1904 he opened his own establishment at 5 Rue Auber. Between 1904-1924 he irrevocably changed the feminine form with his new fashion designs.  Poiret’s major contribution to fashion was his development of an approach to dressmaking centered on draping, a radical departure from the tailoring and pattern-making of the past. He dismissed the use of corsets, he eliminated layered petticoats, was influenced by orientalism and he introduced the first modern straight lined dress. He also was the first designer to commercialise his own perfumes, launching a now standard marketing concept. He is also quoted to have said:

“My wife is the inspiration for all my creations; she is the expression of all my ideals.”

His wife, Denise, was his muse, creative director of the fashion house, and his favorite model. However, they divorced less than amicably in 1928 (Time reported: “M. Poiret charged that his wife’s attitude was injurious; Mme Poiret counter charged that her husband was cruel”).

Denise, Mme. Poiret

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Paul Poiret Studio, 1910’s

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Paul Poiret’s studio

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Paul Poiret’s costume party

Paul Poiret, 1925.

Paul Poiret, 1925

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Paul Poiret, “Amphitrite” Cape, textile designe by Raoul Dufy, 1926

Paul Poiret, 1927

A Collection of Turn of the Century Fashion Photographs

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Otto Sarony, Portrait of Evelyn Nesbit, 1900s via

Tightlaced Gibson Girl, Camille Clifford, showing her ideal La Belle Époque figure via

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Edwardian lady wearing Redfern, who among other things popularised high-waisted Grecian style dresses after 1908 via

Dress for the races by J. Dukes, photo by Reutlinger, Les Modes, May 1912 via

A fashionable woman at the races in 1909. Scanned from the book “The Mechanical Smile” by Caroline Evans via

Gorgeous Edwardian dresses, hats and parasols. Toilettes vues aux Grand Prix. Irlande et linon brodé de la grande Maison de Dentelles, 1906. Belle epoque fashion.

Gorgeous Edwardian dresses, hats and parasols, 1906. Belle epoque fashion via

Lily Elsie...can't help but think how pretty she looked.

Actress Lily Elsie in an Ewdardian gown via

Raoul Dufy textile design on velvet for Paul Poiret cape 1911 via The Humanities Exchange, Montreal, Canada

Raoul Dufy was one of the great innovators of 20th century textile design here is an example on velvet for a Paul Poiret cape 1911 via

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Woman wearing French fashion. ca. 1905 via

Fashion, ca. 1914 via

Antique photo postcard of Edwardian beauty with a large hat and a snowfox stole around her shoulders via