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#SuzyPFW: Bringing Exotic Paul Poiret Back to Life

Courtesy of Getty: The historic house of one of the first masters of French haute couture, Paul Poiret, has been revived for the 21st century

A misty blue light swirled along the tiled nave of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. It was the moment when Paul Poiret, a historic designer of Orientalist clothes that swathed the body, was being coaxed back to life.

Courtesy of Indigital.TV: Paul Poiret Autumn/Winter 2018

This exotic figure, with his lavish lifestyle, who reached his zenith in the early 20th century, is being resuscitated by Yiqing Yin, a designer of Chinese origin who has been selected by the brand’s new South Korean owner, Shinsegae.

Having eagerly collected the Gazette du Bon Ton (1912-1925), with its delicate fashion drawings from Poiret’s Art Deco period, I was fascinated to see how the original designer’s flamboyant work, captured by the pens of Georges Barbier or Erté, might be revitalised. Poiret’s fashion fame included ridding women of corsets in 1906. But I was also aware of a famous drawing from the 1920s, when Poiret was running out of clients and money to stage his extravagant parties. The cruel cartoon had Coco Chanel arriving as Poiret slinked off the page.

Courtesy of Getty: Examples of Paul Poiret’s signature dresses – without corsets – photographed in his garden in Paris, 1910

Yiqing  showed me how she had used the drape of fabrics to match her 21st-century vision of a Poiret revival based on fluidity. That meant that the clothes could be worn in different ways, with the material creating varied shapes.

“There’s such an abundance of skills and generosity of creation – and such a rich heritage with archives and stories,” said the designer, who captured some of Poiret’s sumptuous grandeur with her colours: hot pink, burnt umber, dusty blue, and patterns splashing black on a rich red. By contrast, there were some geometric lines that looked almost like piano keys.

Courtesy of Indigital.TV: Paul Poiret Autumn/Winter 2018

Clothes for the modern world cannot be as lush as in Poiret’s heyday. But Yiqing’s concept of ‘slipping and sliding’ the clothes, especially at the shoulders, gives a hint of sensuality.

The thoughtful designer, who has previously given her perfume of the East to the Léonard label, is now working with Anne Chapelle, who manages the Haider Ackermann brand, among other labels. But relaunching a forgotten name is a complex issue. Should Yiqing Yin make the clothes seem more of the current moment? And is it wise to try to reboot the Poiret concept of making fabric slip across the body?

Courtesy of Indigital.TV: Paul Poiret Autumn/Winter 2018

Explaining the construction of one outfit, she said, “This wrap coat is two separate pieces. The architecture comes from different rectangles. The hunched back is very characteristic, and basically I started from that major coat in Poiret’s history. I really love grand flowers, so I mixed them in the painting. Then I made it into a jacket and used the reverse side, with the raw elements, to show the accidents and hesitation of the human hand.”

Courtesy of Indigital.TV: Paul Poiret Autumn/Winter 2018

All those ideas were, of course, taken from haute couture. When Poiret’s unique creations were worn by art lover Peggy Guggenheim, she would have had clothes made to measure and to her taste.

Courtesy of Getty: Paul Poiret fitting a client during his tour of the United States in January 1900

Turning this vision of the past into a collection for Autumn/Winter 2018 was fairly convincing. Anyone looking for drape and unusual colours could find something genuinely easy to wear. Even an oversize black top pulled over a long pleated white skirt, splattered with black, had an artistic glamour.

Courtesy of Indigital.TV: Paul Poiret Autumn/Winter 2018

But where will Poiret go from here? Yiqing shared the questions she asks herself. “What shall we keep? What is still relevant today? What is relevant for tomorrow? What can be kept to be at the service of women – because that’s what Poiret was: in the service of women and the arts.”

Courtesy of Getty/Private Collection: An illustration by Georges Lepape of an outfit designed by Paul Poiret for his wife, Denise, to wear to a Persian-themed party, 1921

“And what are the new languages to convey that,” she continued, “and to pursue this message, push boundaries, hijack different genres, challenge different conventions – because all that is what Poiret did. Today, it’s not just about liberating the female form, but also the female spirit and the mind. I want to propose a new sensuality that is not in excess; that is conscious and paradoxical.”

Courtesy of Indigital.TV: Paul Poiret Autumn/Winter 2018

Let’s hope that Yiqing can answer her own, wise questions.

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