Paul Poiret and Raoul Dufy
In his memoir "The King of Fashion" (1931), Poiret wrote "Am I a fool when I dream of putting art into my dresses, a fool when I say dressmaking is an art? For I have always loved painters, and felt on an equal footing with them. It seems to be that we practice the same craft, and that they are my fellow workers." Dismissing the sibling rivalries that have always dogged the fine and applied arts, Paul Poiret (1879-1944) believed that art and fashion were not simply involved but indivisible. As well as presenting himself as an artist and patron of the arts, Poiret promoted his fashions as unique and original works of art in and of themselves. He did this by marshaling the visual and performing arts, and by working with artists associated with avant-garde modernism. Among Poiret's various collaborations, the most enduring was with Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), whose career as a textile designer he helped launch. Dufy's flat, graphic patterns were ideally suited to Poiret's planar, abstract designs, a fact that is palpable in such signature creations as 'La Perse' coat, 'La Rose d'Iribe' dress, and the 'Bois de Boulogne' dinner dress, which is made from a fabric that Dufy designed in conjunction with the silk manufacturer Bianchini-Férier. The three designs are shown at right, as they appeared in The Costume Institute's 2007 exhibition, Poiret: King of Fashion.
"La Perse," 1911
Often, the styles presented in fashion publications were taken from the stage wardrobes of leading theatrical actresses of the day. This practice encouraged the acceptance of many of Poiret's more radical creations. On the one hand, costumes intended purely for the stage allowed the designer to present hyperbolized and exaggerated silhouettes in the name of historical evocation. On the other, designs from his collection selected by a famed beauty for a drama situated in the present day validated his more artistic and theatrical efforts. The French correspondant for Women's Wear Daily reported with regularity on the costuming of the stage both as an influence on the direction of fashion and, where fashionable dress was displayed, as a barometer of the most current taste. This coat, "La Perse," with its bold, woodblock-printed design by Raoul Dufy, is an example of the latter and appears in a Women's Wear sketch of Eve Lavallière, an actress and celebrated courtesan. She wore it in Albert Capus's comedy Les favorites at the Theatre des Variétés in 1911. The simple T-shape of the evening coat, described in Women's Wear as "cut on kimono lines" allows for the effective deployment of the overscaled pattern. Poiret's interest in the intersection of all the arts is illustrated by the fact that this pattern was also utilized in the wall treatment of his avenue d'Antin salon.
While Lavallière's coat was black on white with black fox-fur trim, this coat, which belonged to Denise Poiret and which she wore on Poiret's first formal mannequin tour of Europe in October-November 1911, as well as on his first trip to America in September-October 1913, is printed in an inky, midnight blue with rabbit-fur trimmings. Given that it was owned by Madame Poiret, it is likely to have been the prototype for others that were made for clients. (Another version was made for Olga de Meyer, the wife of photographer Baron de Meyer and allegedly the illegitimate daughter of the Prince of Wales and Blanche, duchess of Caraciolla.)
Poiret inserted a pungency of color through the coat's silk lining, the sharp blue green of Persian tiles. Worn tightly wrapped, this signature element would not have been seen, but worn thrust back à la mode, the lining would have underscored the orientalist allusions of "La Perse."
"La Rose d'Iribe," 1913
This dress is an elaboration of the simpler construction of Poiret's chemises. Like the earlier versions, it was designed to be worn with a sash that cinched the dress to the body under the bust in an Empire silhouette. To the basic T-shape of the rose-patterned silk, Poiret added blue black velvet rectangles to form wide sleeves and the hem of the dress. The result is an illusion of a silk overtunic and velvet underdress. The proportion established by this strategy of trompe l'oeil is consistent with those of actual tunic dresses advocated by the designer during this period.
"La Rose d'Iribe"The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Paul Iribe designed Poiret's rose motif. Of all his collaborations with artists and illustrators, Poiret was proudest of his introduction of Iribe to a wider audience. Iribe was responsible for a publication early in the designer's career, Les robes de Paul Poiret (1908), that not only promoted the increasingly influential couturier, but also established Iribe as a major talent. In 1908 or 1909, when Poiret moved his business to the avenue d’Antin, the rose, as delineated by Iribe, was placed on the couturier's label, a restatement of Poiret’s esteem for the artist. The motif was later incorporated into this textile designed by Raoul Dufy.
"Bois de Boulogne," 1919
Raoul Dufy's boldly graphic approach reflected Poiret's personal preference for the kinds of simplified forms with intense coloring produced by his decorative arts company, Atelier Martine. The naive and artisanal effects sought by the designer, which at Atelier Martine were based on designs that were done by young female students, were in the case of Dufy related largely to his use of woodblock printing. After working with Poiret on a number of textile designs that achieved quick success, Dufy was hired away by the luxury silk manufacturer Bianchini-Férier. While there was a brief rift following this decampment, Poiret eventually incorporated Dufy prints in what were to become some of his most signature creations.
"Bois de Boulogne"The Metropolitan Museum of Art
In this dress, Dufy's "conversational" print depicts a series of alfresco vignettes, recalling scenes from the Bois de Boulogne, against a lush millefleur background. Dufy's earliest prints appear to be based on the tradition of eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century toiles de Jouy. Here, however, with the rich colors and congested patterning in which figure and ground elements have been given equal emphasis, the textile seems closer to Persian miniatures and Mughal lacquer ware.
"Bois de Boulogne"The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Poiret has treated the printed silk as if he were constructing a tabard, by having a planar bodice with front and back skirt panels open at the sides. Because black silk tulle forms the sleeves of the dress, and an underskirt of silk tulle and silk broadcloth is visible below the dropped waist, the ensemble conveys the effect of a full black tulle and silk underdress with an apron or pinafore-like overpiece. All of these details, the tapestry-like print, the faux-tabard construction, and the low waistline, contribute to the ensemble’s vaguely medieval appearance.