The House of Tatterdemalion


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Picky About Poiret

December 30th, 2006 by tatterdemalion

This is a continuation on my mini-series on the book “The Secrets of the Couturiers” by Frances Kennet. (All quotes and page numbers are referencing this book.) I include the same disclaimer as previous, that, in the large picture, this book is quite brief. I leave room for adjusting my opinions as a learn more from other sources, but this piece is written solely on the information gleaned from this book.

I am loathe to even call Paul Poiret a designer. He didn’t even want to be a clothes designer. He wanted to be a painter. Either his skill was insufficient, or it simply was not satisfying enough to his ego, temper and personality. In either case, it’s quite a shame that he instead inflicted himself upon women and their clothing; and quite as shameful, if not more so, that women put up with such second-rate goods–and what is more, encouraged it.

As near as I can tell, Poiret’s main goal, was to shock and domineer over as many people as possible, and since he entered the field of “fashion”, “people” generally meant women. If everyone else said “right”, he not only said “left” but he dragged as many people as he could along with him. If the standards for models was curves, he wanted curveless models. If everyone else was using lilacs, “swooning mauves”, light blues and “all that was soft, washed out, and insipid“, he by default wanted strong “reds, greens, violets and royal blue“.

Don’t get me wrong–I don’t care for insipid, washed out colors, and I’d much prefer a strong, deep red any day. But there’s a difference between being stubborn and contrary because that’s what you truly believe, and being stubborn and contrary because you are simply too much of an antagonistic, ornery person to do anything else–that is, to be rude simply for rudeness sake. Poiret did not care where he flung about his rebellion and scandals, as long as it got the reaction he wanted. If his collection didn’t shock and offend somebody, then it was a failure (and trust me, he didn’t have many failures). All of this, naturally, was sold under the title of “originality”.

Perhaps I would not be so incensed by all of this–after all, I do have a rather contranarian streak myself–if it his entirely objectionable personality didn’t show through quite so clearly. On page 29 his quoted as saying:

“Yes, I freed the bust, but I shackled the legs! Women complained of being no longer able to walk, nor get into a carriage. Have their complaints or grumblings ever arrested the movement of fashion, or have they not rather, on the contrary, helped it by advertising it? I made everyone wear a tight skirt.”

To which I respond, with as much grace and consideration, “It sounds as though someone needs a solid kick in the backside!” And I am not entirely sure if it is Poiret, or the idiotic women who agreed to it. The book claims that “. . .in 1910, he was able to introduce hobble skirts, practically preventing his ladies from walking. And then all of Paris wore them.

First off, there is the serious problem with associating any aesthetic good with hobble skirts. Second off, there is the problem of claiming that either art or fashion trumps bodily functions, like walking and living a life. Those “designers” who hold to that thought are arrogant, egotistical, and care nothing (not even the safety and well-being) of those they claim to design for—but only of glorying in their own power and making others subject to their twisted will. The final point of disgust and revulsion is that this package is often sold as “free” or “unbound” from “conventional restraints”.

Good design is not about making people suffer in the name of art. I have said it before, and I will say it again: Good design is when pleasing form marries inseparably with true function. Those who think that either can go missing without harm to the design have no idea of the challenge set out before them.

The only thing that leads me to any respect of him at all–or, at least, the only thing recorded in this book–is his “Martines”. He created “a school for girls from limited backgrounds, where they were paid an income, given regular meals, and, after a short period of formal training, were left to their own devices to create design ideas. . .the girls were sent to factories to see cloth being woven, to the atelier where Dufy worked on dyeing and printing the couturier’s fabrics, anywhere where Poiret thought they might find educative inspiration. The girls variously created rugs, ceramics, textiles, furniture ideas, and were paid a bonus on the designs that went into production.

There, at least, was a good idea, even if his fashion was not.

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