Evening ensemble

Coco Chanel for Chanel

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Poiret and Chanel In a story, probably apocryphal, of a chance encounter between Poiret and Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel in the 1920s, Poiret enquired of the black-clad Chanel, "For whom, madame, do you mourn?" to which Chanel replied, "For you, monsieur." By the 1920s, Poiret's designs, when compared to those of Chanel, appear less in the vanguard of modern life. Anyone who lived through World War 1 would have been aware that the lives of women had been changed by the necessity of assuming positions and responsibilities that had previously been the reserve of men. Poiret resisted the practicality, rationalization, and stylistic simplification to which couturiers like Chanel readily adapted their designs. While Chanel embraced the trend toward simple, youthful, and functional fashions, Poiret rejected the sportif modernism that he himself had pioneered. Instead of the modern, impersonal simplicity of what would become Chanel's 'little black dress,' Poiret never relinquished his belief that freedom in dress was to be found in styles that either predated or were outside of the contemporary fashion system. Therefore, the radical innovations of his approach to the construction of dress and his essential modernity are obscured, and even obliterated, by his historicism and orientalism. Poiret was dumbfounded by the reverse chic of Chanel's seemingly plain garments in which the cachet resided in discrete, even hidden couture finishes. For Poiret, the artistry of the couture was always visible. His designs from the mid-1920s, in contrast to those before and immediately after the war, which were characterized by a haphazard, even careless, execution, are refined in their finishing. Perhaps by that point in his career, Poiret sought to control his more theatrical impulses and conform to the standards of les petits mains. Poiret's emphasis on the decorative, however, as well as his lifelong assertion of his identity as an artist, which subordinated his pursuit for commercial success, minimized his impact on the progress of fashion in the 1920s. Until the close of his maison de couture in 1929, Poiret's designs were characterized by an increasing idiosyncrasy.

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