★ Today marks the 138th anniversary of French fashion designer Paul Poiret’s birth. So to honour the occasion, I thought I’d take a brief look at his legacy and one of his most famous creations. A leading couturier of the early 20th Century, he was responsible for introducing hobble skirts, harem pants, and for helping to free women from their corsets. Although the “brazen modernity” of his loose-fitting, un-corseted designs scandalized those with more conservative tastes, the structural simplicity of his garments proved to be be his main contribution to fashion. Preferring draping to tailored pattern-based clothing, and favouring straight lines and rectangular shapes, his fundamentally modern aesthetic shifted the boundaries of fashion and helped pave the way for the clean lines and boyish silhouettes of the 1920s.
Heavily influenced by the wave of interest in Orientalism re-ignited by the Ballets Russes, this sumptuously beaded and richly embroidered fancy-dress costume features his iconic ‘lampshade’ tunic in various silks, metallic meshes and foils, and was designed by Poiret for his famous 1002nd Night party in 1911. A masterfully executed event designed to showcase his glamorous and decadent fashions, it was inspired by the stories of One Thousand and One Nights. Attended by the cream of Parisian high society and the art world, the flamboyant soiree was held at Poiret’s palatial home, and saw his garden festooned with illuminated lanterns, dotted with tents, and filled with live tropical birds. His wife, Denise, luxuriated in a golden cage, while Poiret himself played the role of sultan, giving each guest a bottle of his new perfume, ‘Nuit Persane’. An elaborate piece of marketing, the evening became the talk of Paris.
Currently in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, this sensational outfit is utterly outrageous – in the best possible way! Imagine an entire party of people dressed in similarly elaborate and exotic costumes, surrounded by lights, birds and music, with the champagne flowing… I can well understand why Poiret is regarded as an innovative master publicist. It must have been a truly spectacular and unforgettable evening!