Paul Poiret (1879-1944) was a hugely influential French fashion designer. He began his career in 1896, working for the older designer Jacques Doucet. His own House was established seven years later; he was one of the first designers to adopt the marketing techniques we now know as ‘branding’. Indeed, he branched out into the manufacture of perfume and home styling, as so many of our contemporary fashion houses do today. He was also involved in what can be considered as the first fashion photography shoot, depicting the clothes artistically in their own context. He served during World War
One, appropriately in uniform production, but by 1919 his company was on the verge on bankruptcy. His famous ‘kimono’ style was not fashionable anymore, and though his flair for design had always been modern and visionary, he was no natural tailor, and the workmanship of the clothes was often rather poor. It is significant though, that his emphasis on ‘draping’ the body with clothes helped liberate women from the corsets they had been wearing for centuries.
Before starting his own company, Poiret had spent some time designing for the House of Worth. Established in Paris in the 1850s by Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman, it similarly anticipated the ‘pret-a-porter’ evolution of the fashion industry. The house was the first to introduce branded labels sewn into the clothing; they also became known for luxury fragrances, especially ‘Je Reviens’ (1932). Charles Worth’s early apprenticeships with textile merchants gave him an excellent awareness of fabrics, as well as a love of luxury. His burgeoning career in France was well timed; with Napoleon III restoring a sense of royalty, and the end of the long years of the Revolution, there was a renewed desire for extravagance and
opulence. Accordingly, Worth used expensive materials and adornments in his designs, and often incorporated elements of historical dress. He also emphasised a good fit on his clients’ figures; many wealthy women would travel from afar to order an entire wardrobe of new clothes from the House of Worth. The designer also dressed stage actresses and singers of the day, including the great Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtrey, as well as Napoleon's wife, Eugénie.
The House of Worth has been resurrected to great success very recently with Martin McCarthy as head designer.