In the 1920s, Paul Poiret, the colorful King of Fashion, had a chance meeting with Ms. Coco Chanel. Dressed in her iconic black, Poiret attacked saying, “For whom, Madame, do you mourn?” She replied coolly, “For you, Monsieur.”
Since the MET featured the Chanel exhibit two years prior to Poiret’s, I’d say Chanel was right. Poiret’s work is exhibition-worthy, though not on its own.
Poiret asserted his work and his vision throughout his life, sidestepping the vital collaborations with both artists (like Paul Iribe) and lastly, his wife and muse, Denise. The MET places her back in the flattering light she deserves by noting every piece that she famously wore. Poiret’s ideas on Denise’s frame changed the landscape of 1920’s Paris, and thus, the world.
As a rule, fashion exhibits don’t thrill me. Clothes on faceless manikins seem dead to me, and despite curatorial attempts, there never seems to be a believable context. The audience is left questioning, “Yes, but who would wear this? And when?” The MET strongly asserts “Poiret’s wife, Denise,” and “All the bloody time,” respectively.
Paul Poiret was born in Paris on April 20, 1879. After working for Charles Worth, the doyen of couture, for two years, Poiret opened his own couture house in 1903. He married Denise Boulet two years later in 1905.
Chances are if you have body image problems, you can blame them on Denise. Her stick thin figure required no corseting, and can likely be attributed for Poiret’s abandonment of the corset in 1906.
Denise was the face and figure of Poiret’s work. In 1913, when Poiret made his America debut, Denise herself modeled the clothing for the private Plaza showings. She wore his “lampshade” tunic and his “harem” trouser. She wore his Oriental designs with assurance and his Classic Athenian nightgowns with suave. She was “flamboyant,” “captivating,” and “self confiden[t].” She was his ideal of beauty and became the ideal for the rest of us.
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