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Poiret: King of Fashion
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Avenue
May 9—August 5, 2007

Written by Janet Perisa
Photographs Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(Opposite Fancy Dress 1911)

He was one of history’s most innovative designers; yet, his contributions to fashion go unrecognized today. But while unlike Chanel or Dior, Paul Poiret’s (1879 – 1944) name did not withstand the test of time, his ideas and creations continue to span both the pages of magazines and women’s busts. And in honor of Poiret’s legacy, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has joined Conde Nast and Balenciaga in an exhibition titled, “Poirot: King of Fashion.”

Le Bal Shoes, 1924

Known as “The Pasha of Paris” by elite Parisians of the day, Paul Poiret was exalted for the oriental motifs and beaded embroideries that lavished his exotic collection of women’s wear. But it was his invention of the bra in 1907 that made the flamboyant designer a household name; he claimed to have ‘Freed the Bust’ from the corset. His love for drama and the arts propelled him into many different areas of the design trade and his early illustrations and furniture designs contributed to the onset of the Art Deco movement of the 20s.

Velvet Kimono Fancy Dress 1911

On the morning of May 7th, the sweet scent of a thousand red roses lingered through the cool air as hundreds of invited guests marveled at the glamorous spectacle in the museum’s main lobby. Perched on top of the circular desk in the center of the main floor was (as reported by the New York Post on May 8th, 2007) the infamous gilded birdcage housing three peacocks that were frightened into spreading their bountiful blue-green feathers by a guinea pig inserted into the cage. Since then, the vociferous advocates of PETA have accused the Met and benefit host Anna Wintour of animal cruelty.

Bois de Boulogne Dinner Dress Detail

Coat 1919

After guests indulged in the rich assortment of cream-filled pastries, they moved through the newly renovated Greek and Roman galleries into the Costume Institute where Poiret’s silk faille gowns and intricate embroidered fashions were displayed in a presentation that would have satisfied his sensational lust for theatrics. This exhibition includes several dresses that Poiret created for his wife Denise (which were acquired by the Met during the Poiret Estate’s 2005 clothing auction), along with many of the eclectic designer’s accessories, illustrations and furnishings. Poiret is said to have often debated his public depiction as a “Dressmaker,” proclaiming himself an artist instead. But his legacy as the “King of Fashion” is one that even he could not dispute.

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