Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Tribute to Paul Poiret

I, Roman Magnus, reserve a special place in my grotto of idolized designers for Paul Poiret, a belle époque figure whose influence had been surpassed by Coco Chanel, but who deserves a starting tailor’s wistful homage then.

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I have such sentimentality over this figure for several reasons. He had grown up with cloth in his hands, as his father was a cloth merchant. He was of the mercantile classes who had artisanal wits about them, and he had been given to an umbrella maker as apprentice. Romantically speaking, Poiret had been placed in the natural milieu for cultivating one of France’s earliest, most striking designers.

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The comparisons with Chanel are a trifle unfair, albeit understandable. They intersected eras, but it was Coco who would, eventually, triumph in terms of the consistent quality with which her modern designs were rendered. Meanwhile, Poiret was no less a visionary. The kimono cut, undeniably attributed to him and his earliest sketches, was initially an aristocratic befuddlement. As with all great artists, he suffered rejection for ideas that outpaced acceptance.

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But if he had been born today he would have held all contemporary designers in line with his range of ideas. House of McQueen had a collection that seemed to harken back to the Poiret red cape. Raf Simons of Dior wouldn’t have wasted a thought adopting the Poiret silhouette --- and no doubt even the house of Chanel would, in a lingering flashback.

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