Paul Poiret was a prominent fashion designer at the beginning of the 20th century, to whom the concept of “fashion as an artform” is attributed. There are two key elements of Poiret’s work that have dictated a dramatic change to the course of fashion history: draping and “freeing” women from corseted garments.
Up until the beginning of the century, garment construction relied on tailoring and pattern making. Poiret’s draping techniques shocked the establishment: garments were now created from straight lines and rectangles, instead of patterns meticulously drafted from body measures and curves.
Women’s fashion in the early 1900’s was a continuation of the 19th century fashion: corsets straight at the front with a distinct curve at the back, tightly laced at the waist, resulting in the S shape silhouette. This was extremely restrictive (and at times painful) forcing women to move carefully. This restriction was not only physical but also a symbol of morality. Loose corsets were a synonym of loose morality. The tighter the corset, the more virtuous the woman.
1900’s S-shape compared to previous century: https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/everything-you-know-about-corsets-is-false/
The association of the corset to social restriction was not new. Around the 1790’s, with the “heat” of the French Revolution, women’s fashion dropped the corset and adopted an Empire silhouette, allowing women freedom of body movement. This fashion was short-lived and by mid-1820’s fashion forced women into the restrictions of the previous century’s corseted style (unsurprisingly coinciding in time with Napoleon’s death and the repudiation of the French Revolution values he symbolised – Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité).
Picture taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_silhouette
Painting: Eugene Delacroix, 1830, Liberty Leading the People, Paris – Picture taken from: https://www.inquisitr.com/515208/priceless-french-revolution-painting-defaced-with-911-truther-nonsense/
The fact that Poiret’s garments liberated women from the use of a corset was extremely symbolic at the time: the suffrage movement was growing stronger and more violent. Women were definitely more aware of their role in society and what they wanted to achieve. Poiret, however, was not immediately successful trying to introduce such radical change in fashion. The Russian Princess Bariatinsky expressed her horror to the designer’s kimono cut garment: “What a horror! When there are low fellows who run after our sledges and annoy us, we have their heads cut off, and we put them in sacks just like that.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Poiret).
Poiret was competing with well-renowned fashion designers like Jacques Doucet, known for “taste and discrimination who valued dignity and luxury above novelty and practicality” – (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Doucet_(fashion_designer)). This was a prosperous era and Doucet not only came from a wealthy background, he also produced garments for actresses at the time. He lived by the fashion values of the 19th century which brought him success, but resisting change also led to his fall. This made it more challenging for Poiret to introduce his ideas at the time, but he persevered and his draping technique is now recognised as the advent of modern fashion.
Jacques Doucet: http://headtotoefashionart.com/jacques-doucet-1853-1929/
Poiret Kimono Cut: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/canapebarcelona/paul-poiret/