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Orientalism in Fashion - Essay Example

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The essay "Orientalism in Fashion" concerns the fashion and orientalism. One can attribute this invasion of Oriental elements into European art and fashion to Paul Poiret and his imaginative and bold style that he pioneered in the decade leading up to the First World War. After inaugurating his fashion house in 1903 on the rue Auber, Poiret’s business grew quickly. Parisian women found the clear lines and simple forms of his designs very appealing. Poiret is the first couturier to “raise the waist in women's dresses, recalling Empire lines and thereby creating an elongated silhouette, like a cue stick.” The invasion of oriental elements into Parisian fashion was so pronounced that by 1913, one can see everywhere loose-fitting waists, oriental chemises or Russian blouses, drawn into “a sash of velvet or satin, or where there is no sash, a band of embroidery encircles the hips to give the same effect." At the time Paul Poiret was establishing his career in fashion design there was a sense of stagnation and limitation in fashionable expression for women. At the turn of the century when Poiret opened his couture house, women’s figures “were not only divided in two by a whalebone corset, but also constrained by masses of fabric”. Poiret went about changing this condition and hence freed a generation of women from constricted dresses. His wife and muse Denise was also his foremost model for trying new design prototypes. What Poiret wanted to achieve was to bring back the classical dressing sensibilities. that he so admired and assimilated into his aesthetics. He first encountered classical paintings at the Louvre as a school boy. His unique design style shifted the emphasis to the shoulders; the waist was raised to a considerable degree. His style reflected the neo-Grecian Directoire sensibilities of erstwhile art patrons Empress Josephine and Lady Hamilton. To accentuate the contours of the body Poiret employed fine fabrics such as silk, tulle and muslin. He also reduced the hemline into that iconic model called the hobble skirt. (Web 2007) The Oriental elements to Paul Poiret’s designs were manifest in his use of gold, fur, fringes and turbans – some of which are being reinvented contemporarily at Prada. Poiret’s embrace of Oriental elements reached its peak in Paris with the unveiling by Leon Bakst of the Ballets Russes. One of the stand-out designs in the years preceding the First World War is the Persian themed designs that were seen during the 1002nd Night party in 1911. Exhibiting his showmanship during the event, Poiret dressed up as a sultan and locked up his wife in a golden cage. As usual she modeled his latest creation: harem pants. Poiret was flooded with orders for these pants. Women saw in them an avenue for liberty, if only to let them dance to the emergent cultural craze for the tango. (Web 2007) Art 1. Two Dresses by Paul Poiret (Plate 2 from Les Robes de Paul Poiret), illustrated by Paul Iribe, 1908. The significance of Poiret’s Orientalist designs emerges from their widespread cultural effects. For example, the sultan harem pants were in such vogue that respected architecture journal commented and illustrated Poiret’s works through the artful photographs of Edward Steichen. The journal article went on to praise Poiret’s work as an “ ...Show more
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Summary

This essay discusses the significance of ‘Orientalism’ in the haute couture designs of Paul Poiret and includes some reference to relevant artworks from the same period leading up to World War One. Orientalism as a fashion theme has been in existence since the last century…
Orientalism in Fashion
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