Paul Poiret was an influential fashion designer and Parisian socialite who as a pioneer of the lifestyle design concept, expanded his fashion business into fragrance and home décor. Also a painter, collector, and patron of the arts, Poiret assembled a sizable collection of early Cubist works before World War I.
The son of a Parisian textile merchant, Poiret was self-taught and shared his interest in fashion design with his sisters Nicole Groult (née Pauline Marie Poiret) and Germaine Bongard (née Germaine Poiret), both fashion designers as well, and Jeanne Boivin (née Jeanne Poiret), a jewelry designer. Poiret’s entry into high fashion included two short-term employments at the premier fashion houses of the day: Doucet (1898–1901) and Worth (1901–1903). Working independently as of 1903, Poiret quickly established a position in the world of high fashion, his firm gaining an international following for its innovative dress designs characterized by bold geometric forms, colorful patterned textiles, and non-Western influences. A pioneer of corset-less gowns, Poiret catered to the modern woman. In 1905, Poiret married Denise Boulet, a daughter of a textile manufacturer from Normandy, who participated in Poiret’s fashion enterprise in the role of the firm’s main model. The couple had five children.
Rapid success came to the firm due to Poiret’s marketing strategies that included highly publicized launch parties and publications of fashion plates in specialized magazines. In these projects, he collaborated with the artists Paul Iribe, Georges Lepape, and Raoul Dufy. In addition, highly active in Parisian artistic circles he befriended André Derain, Max Jacob, Francis Picabia, and Kees van Dongen. Influenced by Wiener Werkstätte, the Austrian fine and decorative artists’s cooperative established by Josef Hoffmann and Kolo Moser in 1903, Poiret advocated for the integration of the arts and in 1911 expanded his business through the launch of a fragrance and cosmetics company, Parfums de Rosine, as well as a furniture and decorative arts showroom, workshop, and school, Maison Martine, Atelier Martine, and Ecole Martine. Together with Dufy, he also established a short-lived textile printing studio. Further solidifying his connection to the art world, also around 1911, Poiret leased an area in his sprawling Maison Paul Poiret to a commercial art gallery, Galerie Barbazanges.
While serving in World War I, Poiret continued to take active part in the cultural life of Paris by arranging for André Salmon to organize a large exhibition in 1916 at the gallery. L’Art modern en France, also known as Salon d’Antin, included 156 works by 52 Paris-based artists. The centerpiece of the exhibition was Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avigon (1907; Museum of Modern Art, New York), the first public showing of the work. Six years later, Poiret used Galerie Barbazanges to exhibit his private collection of 145 paintings and works on paper and 6 sculptures, including works by Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Jean Metzingers, and Picasso. It was presumably assembled before World War I. During the 1920s, Poiret’s business gradually declined, forcing the designer to sell his art collection in 1925. The sale held at Hôtel Drouot, Paris on November 18 included examples by Derain, van Dongen, Amadeo Modigliani, Georges Rouault, Maurice Utrillo, Maurice de Vlaminck, Matisse, and Dunoyer de Segonzac. The paintings by Segonzac reached record high prices. Among two Picasso paintings sold was Fruit Dish and Fruit (1908; Kunstmuseum Basel). Poiret closed the fashion house in 1929 and spent the remaining years of his life in a difficult financial situation supported by family and friends. In May 2005 the collection of Poiret furniture, garments, and family archives that had remained in Denise Poiret’s possession after the couple’s divorce in 1928 were sold at auction at Hôtel Drouot.
For more information, see
Gee, Malcom. Dealers, Critics, and Collectors of Modern Painting. Aspects of the Parisian Art Market Between 1910 and 1930. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1981.
Koda, Harold, and Andrew Bolton. Poiret. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007.
La collection particulière de M. Paul Poiret: exposée du 26 avril au 12 mai chez Barbazanges. Exh. cat. Paris: Devambez, 1923.
La création en liberté: univers de Denise et Paul Poiret, 1905-1928 : garde-robe de Denise Poiret et de ses enfants, objets personnels de Paul Poiret, créations de l'atelier Martine: maquettes, petits meubles, les parfums de Rosine, archives, livres. Sale cat. Paris: Piasa, 2005. Paris, Hôtel Drouot. May 10, 2005.
Poiret le magnifique. Exh. cat. Paris: Musée Jacquemart-André, 1974.
Tableaux Modernes. Sale cat. Paris, Hôtel Drouot. November 18, 1925.
White, Palmer. Poiret. New York: Clarkson N. Potter Inc., 1973.