Paul Poiret was born in April 20, 1879 in Paris, France. Poiret studied at Ecole Massillon. He then worked in the family business where he soon showed a preference for dressmaking. In 1898, he joined the house of Jacques Doucet. He worked shortly for Maison Worth from1900 to 1901. In 1903, Poiret opened his own house at 5 Rue Auber where he immediately attracted attention for his daring business choices, and designs. He displayed his designs in large windows so people could see them from the street; contrary to the haute couture practices of the times.
Poiret’s designs rejected the corset garments in favor of sensual and flowing lines inspired by the neoclassical period. Paul Poiret launched his slim, simple, high-waisted line in 1908, with a less structured cut and delicately layered exotic style. Poiret was a collector of fauve paintings, which inspired his use of purples, pinks, blues, greens and golds. Poiret’s passion for orientalism, chinoiserie, European peasant and North African design introduced a fresh bold simplicity to the cut and decoration of his designs.
In 1909, Poiret set up his studio and home in Avenue d’Antin, where he held fashion shows, receptions, and parties (like the famed La Mille et Deuxieme Nuit in 1911, and his representations of (Orientalism), that were to make him famous all over the world. He was also ahead of his time when he published the first albums of sketches by the best known illustrators of the time to publicize his designs: Les Robes de Paul Poiret raccontees par Paul Iribe (1908), and Les Choses de Paul Poiret vues par Georges Lepape (1911). The drawings showed simple, elegant, softly fitted gowns, quite unlike the tightly corseted, over-festooned dresses of the period. Also in 1911, he introduced a hobble skirt which, while it freed the hips, confined the ankles, which attracted a great deal of attention and criticism; he also introduced one of his most famous shapes, “the lampshade,” created by wiring a tunic so that the hem stood out in a circle around the body.
His 1911, his famous One Thousand and One Night Ball set off a lasting trend for the exotic. He used light silks, gold tassels, turbans, tunic dresses and bold embroidery in his creations. Poiret launched a collection with turbans, Turkish pants and veiled harem tunics that were to become distinctive of his style, and were inspired by the Ballet Russes, which had provoked enormous interest in Eastern and oriental dress. His jupe-entravee and jupeculotte, the first attempt at pants for women to wear at home, caused a great stir. Poiret was also noted for fur trimmings, scarves and hair ornaments.
He established the atelier “Ecole Martine” in Paris, (named after his daughter); dedicated to interior design, where he created extraordinary patterned furnishing fabrics, rugs, furniture and household ornaments. In 1911 he launched his fragrance and his cosmetic collection “Rosine,” which were merchandized in rare silver and crystal bottles designed by Lalique.
In 1913, Poiret traveled to the United States where he signed deals and licenses for the mass production and distribution of his clothes and accessories lines, including bags, gloves, and hosiery. In 1914, Poiret was instrumental in the creation of Le Syndicat de Defense de la Grande Couture Francaise, an attempt to protect member designers from piracy. In 1917, he opened a branch in New York and created Poiret Incorporated for the distribution of a ready-to-wear collection. In 1919, after World War I, he opened new branches in La Baule; in Cannes in 1921 and in Deauville and Biarritz in 1924. He designed for theater and cinema costume designs; which complimented his creative exuberance. In 1925 after the famous exposition of that year he is forced to sell his valuable private art collection to pay his innumerable debts. He soon sinks into obscurity and in 1944 dies in poverty, shortly before his friend Jean Cocteau completes a retrospective exhibition of his paintings.