The House of Tatterdemalion

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Is the horse dead yet?

February 2nd, 2007 by tatterdemalion

Having recently read a bit about Poiret, I was quite familiar with the subjects mentioned in yesterdays (Feb. 1, 2007) WSJ, in the article “The Shape of Clothes to Come” (in the “Personal Journal” section). By the absurdities of the fashion cycle, designers are getting ready to show their products for Fall 2007, next week. To quote the article,

Among the big looks for fall: the egg-like “cocoon,” a silhouette fitted at the top and ballooning out before tapering back in at the knee or below it. The style, while difficult for some women to wear, emerged in fashion the 1910s in French designer Paul Poiret’s collections and was popularized by Balenciaga in the 1950s.

You’d think it was bad enough doing it once, but twice? Wouldn’t someone mention the emperor has no clothes? Not likely.

“If people are going to be paying so much for clothes, they want something special, sophisticated,” says Valerie Steele, fashion historian at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “This implies a kind of connisseurship. Women wo are literate about the history of fashion are going to go, ‘Oh, this piece is Poiret or Balaenciaga channeled by this contemporary designer.'”

True, true. But whatever happened to learning from our mistakes? Does it matter who did it first, as long as we know enough not to do it again? Some people are even making faulty arguments for the cocoon shape.

For some of us, coccons can be forgiving. “If you have large hips, it camouflages it a bit,” says designer Carmen Marc Valvo, who will show several cocoon-shaped coats and cocktail dresses at his show Feb. 9. . .

Or, perhaps, emphasize what’s already there?

. . .”If you’re skinny, well, everything looks good on you because you’re skinny.”

That has got to be one of the worst arguments I’ve ever heard. Never minding the realitive “goodness” of being skinny, I think it really is overdoing to claim that skininess has magical purifying properties. Look, if a beautiful person comes along and finds a dead, rotting, maggot infested road-kill carcess on the side of the road, and decides to wear it as fashion accessory, does that make the stinking, filthy, rotting piece of animal look beautiful? Or does it simply look like the beautiful person is wearing something gag-inducing?

Amy Gamber, a 41-year-old personal shopper and bartender, says she is eager to try out the new cocoon silhoutte. “I would like for us to look more like grown-ups again,” says Ms. Gamber, who lives in Austin, Texas. “When you’re 41, there’s only so much babydoll you can go without looking really silly.”

I am sorry to say that I don’t think the cocoon silhoutte will be saving anyone from looking silly, despite other opinions to the contrary.

“There’s a certain strictness in the structure that cause the wearer to walk with a certain pride and elegance, he [Phillip Lim, designer offering the shape] says.

That would be a very delicate way of putting it. I suppose, in this case, “strictness of structure” means “limb-binding” and “walking with a certain pride and elegance” means “not much walking at all”. Poiret was more blunt and to the point when he said he hobbled women everywhere.

Although I’m thouroughly disgusted at the return of this shape, I do doubt (hope?) the RTW (ready-to-wear) variations will wind up being very constricting. The common people can’t spend much time walking with pride and elegance. As the article notes,

. . .others warn that silhouettes that are too extreme could be a hard sell. . .It remains to be seen whether American women will embrace the cocoon.

Posted in Articles, Fashion, Poiret, WSJ | No Comments »

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.

Posted in Books, Couture, Design, Poiret | No Comments »