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Or ever you get your Barcus. Happy Saturday. Last week, we named Robert French fashion designer Paul Poret and our behind the scenes on Isadora Duncan highly talked about his designing clothes for her and her daughter. And I was kind of like, yeah, that makes total logical. And it seemed like a good time based on that to pull our episode on Poret out of the archive. Yeah, and this episode originally came out on June 11, 2013. We hope you enjoy.


Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class A production of I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to the podcast I'm calling for I am Tracy Wilson, and today we're talking about one of my favorite designers of all time. Yes. Yes, he was that Paul Poret. I thought it might if you really want to print it up. But I won't do the full pronunciation throughout the podcast because it starts to get a little funky feel. Is the famous quote from 1913 was, I am an artist, not a dressmaker.


But he he's one of those people that when you study him, you wonder if he came off to people around him as super conceited and blustery.


Yeah, I was going to say that doesn't sound pretentious at all. But he also was a really hard worker and he really did innovate. So maybe his confidence was just all built off of knowing that he was going to plow through and.


Yeah, some actual success. Yeah, not just grandiose statement. Yeah.


And indeed, I mean his work, which was often very avant garde for the times, changed the fashion world in really significant ways. And people may not know his name unless they're really into historical fashion. But odds are you would recognize his designs.


You know, his silhouettes tend to be very long and narrow skirts, sometimes pants topped off with these very dramatic tunics that tended to be wider. So the top portion of the silhouette tended to be wider than the bottom.


And they were really the height of fashion in the 19 teens in the early heading into the early 1920s. A lot of his his designs are actually done by other artists. At the time, he collaborated with a lot of them. So if you look at drawings by art, a lot of those are him. Iribe who he worked with. And we'll talk about briefly those drawings that are sort of famous and they're like just pre flapper era people recognize, but they may not realize that a lot of those are Porpora and even the ones that aren't are often influenced by the things that he was doing in fashion.


So he was born in 1879. And LaSalle, his father, was a cloth merchant. So he got a lot of exposure to fashion in his early life while his family was working class. Yeah.


And his father sent him at a very early age to apprentice with an umbrella maker because as a working class family, they wanted him to have a skill.


But young Paul would actually gather the small scraps left over. At the end of the day, the little pieces of silk left over from the umbrella cuttings and he would make clothes for his sister's dolls.


So he was doing fashion in small scale pretty early in his life.


And that's a pretty perfect use for umbrella scraps. Yeah.


In 1898, his fashion career officially started couturier Madeleine sorry, but twelve of his designs.


And shortly thereafter, Palmieri was hired by Couturier Jacques to say as a junior assistant, and he quickly worked his way up to head of tailoring in that group.


And he was so successful in his position that he was eventually tapped by, do say, to take on jobs, designing costumes for stage actresses. And he made a really big name for himself doing this. There's one particular garment that's often referenced, which is a mantle he made for a play entitled Zasa, which was worn by actress Gabriel Arjan.


And it was black tulle layered over black taffeta and it was painted with white irises and it made a big splash.


And it was allegedly very impactful in terms of the emotional moment of the scene in which it appeared and sort of started to realize that he could actually be using the stage as a runway to showcase his own designs and build a following. So he kind of became famous for these garments he was making for actresses.


Kind of double a double edged sword, though, because it's rumored that when he was working with a celebrated actress, Sarah Bernhardt, that he was overheard by the actress while he was making fun of her and she had him fired.


But that's, again, kind of a cloaked in rumour, part of history.


Some histories of him will say that happened, some will not, because at the same time, which was 1900, Poire also had to report for military service, which was mandatory. So it's entirely possible that the Bernat story is just gossip that took advantage of that timing, regardless of how he left the job, you say had been really encouraging of his activity and his style.


So it was pretty tragic that he left the world for a while.


Yeah, I mean, any creative type that gets a lot of encouragement, that's like a perfect situation. So to unfortunately step out of that is not ideal.


But he only had to do his year of mandatory service. And when he returned to Paris in 1981, he was hired almost immediately by the House of Worth. And that was one of the most prominent design houses in Europe. If you look at fashion plates of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, many of them, many of the styles and fashions will be credited to House of Worth.


I mean, they were huge. And at the time Paré was hired into the firm, Charles Frederick Worth, who had founded the fashion house, had already passed away. And his. Two sons, Jean-Philippe and Gaston, had taken over. Unlike his time working under do say he didn't get a lot of encouragement at work, instead of taking advantage of all this theatricality and dramatic style that he had really cultivated, the brothers worth put him to work on pretty mundane stuff.


He tried to inject his style into what he was doing, but that was not really what the worth clientele were looking for. They were used to getting stylish clothing that was guaranteed to be seen as stylish and not just experimental stuff. They were not ready for the avant garde.


Now, the good thing, though, is that he did have an incredible confidence, even through the rough times at House of Worth. He was certain that he was going to move on to better things.


And even when clients were complaining that he was making ugly, crazy clothes, he was really unflappable about it, which is pretty impressive and astonishing.


And in 1983, he finally took his future into his own hands and he opened his own shop. And because Paar had charmed many clients, he actually had a great many fans in high places.


The king of Portugal allegedly sent to white mules to the designer for the opening of his boutique in Robair, and they stood outside on opening day.


Like the doors are just flanked by these two mules, just kind of wonderfully odd.


They're perfectly theatrical to grab attention as designs of 1983 broke with a major fashion rule by ditching petticoats entirely. Yeah, I mean, that's huge.


We think of it today and it seems like, well, you don't need a petticoat, but you did then.


Yeah, well, and that's that this was if you were out without a petticoat, it wasn't just that your clothing didn't look right. You were being immodest and indecent without petticoats on.


Yeah. So he carried on for a couple years in his new shop.


And in 1955, Papa married his wife Denise, and the pair had really known each other since childhood.


She was not exactly known to be like a great beauty.


She had really been kind of a simple girl from simple beginnings because remember, his childhood started in very simple places. But through her marriage with Paul, she really became something of a style icon and she served as his muse and she would wear her his fashions as the pair toured Europe and eventually other places together. And they had five daughters together throughout their marriage.


And later in life, Paul would say, sort of unkindly of Denise.


She was extremely simple. And all those who have admired her since I made her my wife would certainly not have chosen her in the state in which I found her.


That makes me angry is a little snarky, but things did not. I did not see Rosie with the two of them for now.


But for a while she was his muse and I think she became the style director of his design house for a while. And, you know, he really clearly loved the female form and loved to dress it and wanted to free it from a lot of the things that people were kind of wanted up in terms of the rules of clothing.


Yeah, there were lots and lots of layers.


And Denise was a huge part in kind of that movement towards a freer mode of dress.


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At this point in his career, greasing clothing and Japanese kimonos and certain kaftan styles from Middle Eastern and North African cultures were really influential in his designs. He wanted to make garments that used simple rectangles instead of really complicated shapes. He developed lots of designs that celebrated the so-called Directoire revival's silhouette.


So very columnar.


And 1986 was also the year that he did something again, controversial when he replaced the corset as a foundation garment for his designs with a much less restrictive girdle. And this is a huge deal.


This is like akin to women burning their bras in the 60s, except it was a man doing it for fashion. Well, and it really happened.


But, you know, in terms of like the cultural touchstones that people think of. Right, this is really big to basically say the undergarments are stupid or wrong. Let's get rid of those. We're going for a more natural shape. No petticoats, no corsets, complete mayhem, really, in terms of what had gone before.


Yeah, but again, it wasn't just about what the clothes look like. It was about all these ideas of modesty that were tied to it and decency and like what what good ladies of quality wore when they were going out and he threw those out the window.




And he wasn't the only designer, we should say, doing these things, like Vienna was doing similar stuff, but he was kind of so outspoken about it and he had such a flair for the dramatic that he got the most attention in the press and societally for what he was doing.


But when you mention the modesty issue, that brings us to a scandal that took place. Yes, there was a scandal in 1989 involving Poire and British Prime Minister H.H. Askwith and his wife. The story goes that Lady Askwith was a fan of Barry's work and invited him to show his designs at 10 Downing Street. As is sometimes the case with fashion shows, things got a little bit out of hand. Rumours started to spread of really wild happenings and models running around the famed residence in various states of undress.


The scandal really nearly caused Askwith resignation, and it came to be known as the Downing Street scandal.


And then once that blew over and we move forward a little bit to 1911, we really hit what is it in the history of Porpora?


A huge, huge year.


First, he did something that had never been done before, which is that he expand his brand. And that's not something we normally attribute to things that were going on in the early 1902, like the idea of a fashion designer having a brand. And he produced a fragrance line that was named after his daughter, Rozin, and it was really successful. And it eventually became fragrances and cosmetics and continued to sell very, very well.


He also opened a decorative arts school for underprivileged girls, which was called École Martien, and that was named after another of his daughters.


He used the artwork the girls produced to create fabric prints, which they sold in a shop adjacent to the school. And this really delights me. Yeah, I feel like it was the spoon flower of the kind of and it really ended up becoming like a lifestyle brand at that point because it also they also sold things like stationery and, you know, small little house items there that had often used the designs of these girls.


And so his sort of home line became known as the Martien Group after this school and the the attached store, just really cool.


And then he invented around in 1911 what was called the Rowbottom Inuit. And this is, again, one of those things that is so simple, but really mind blowing for the time. It was basically a simple column of silk cut, almost like a T-shirt, and it allegedly took only 30 minutes to assemble.


So compared to the structured Edwardian fashions that were still pretty prominent at the time, this was basically like walking around in a nightgown. So to show up at an evening party in this, which was usually what his wife did, she was like wearing his really kind of cutting edge designs before anyone else did, which is why she became a fashion icon, really was pretty brazen and took a lot of bravado and it was ultra revolutionary.


But again, we should point out that it's not on its own. He's not the only one doing these sorts of things. This is also around the time that Italian designer Mariano Fortuny was producing his really ultra simple Grecian style silhouettes that took advantage of his secret and famous silk plating techniques.


So there was this aesthetic developing in fashion circles for simpler but really beautiful garments in this Grecian columnar style.


Yeah, and if you're not really familiar with. With what? Edwardian fashions look like we can just they were very fitted and think of Titanic. Yeah, think of Titanic, very fitted, many layers of underpinnings underneath that. There's a lot going on.


Yeah, this is a great word. Like you really had to have help to get into your clothes and not so much the case. Yeah.


Even though the lines were simpler, I think people think of Edwardian clothing as being simpler because it's the next phase after Victorian, which was very fussy and everything, had a bazillion tassels on it.


The clothing got the lines got simpler and sharper, but and there wasn't as much crazy embellishment, but all those layers were still there. So you still had on your bloomers, your pantaloons and a chemise and a corset and possibly a corset cover and then a gown, possibly an underground, you know, petticoat. I mean, all of it.


And he basically got rid of all of that and said, just wear a simple silk sheath.


It's fine.


And everybody was like, what? That's bold. Going to do what?


He was sparked by an interest and exoticism after traveling to Moscow in 1911.


This was a huge influence on his work from this point. Shortly after he came back to Paris on June 24th, 1911, he hosted the historically famous party called The Thousand.


And Second Night, there was allegedly a new translation of the 1001 nights making the round in Paris at the time, although we haven't really been able to confirm that in time for this episode, guests were required to attend in person styled clothing or they had to be they had to allow the host to dress them once they got there.


This was actually a ploy on his part. He was dressing his guests and his new line of designs that were inspired by his travels, specifically a production of Sheherezade he saw at the ballet Roo's and his newfound interest in Orientalism.


And it's it's really sort of where I think this party and this line of clothing is is really where his style kind of gets put under the magnifying glass in terms of the future. Like that's what a lot of people associate with him are the is that line of clothing.


And that's actually where he debuted the Hyrum pants that he became famous for and the lampshade dresses that he is also known for today, the WilliamsI dresses. Really when you say that, I think sometimes people that might not know have a hard time picturing it. They really wear these tunic style dresses that had wire in the hem to pull them out from the body. So it looked like a lampshade.


And these less confining shapes actually became incredibly popular. And they kept very, very busy filling client orders, even though they were completely crazy and way beyond what had been going on in fashion previously. People just really jumped on it. They loved it.


Well, if you had a chance not to be in, of course, it was all those layers of heavy clothing. Yeah, we've we've talked a lot before about how what people think of as, of course, it's often not how they were actually worn. Right.


It was not really a tight lasing thing that we think of today, but it was still a lot of clothing. All that stuff that you're wearing is really heavy. Yeah. And once you get out of all of that and realise that you can walk around your life without 25 pounds of fabric hanging off of your body, it's pretty liberating.


Well, and it's also worth mentioning, I think, that this was all happening in the summer. I like the idea of suddenly being free of all of that extra clothing in the hottest time of the year, which it would have been for Europe at the time. That's got to be pretty appealing.


And I'm sure that factored in to the sort of success, the quick acceptance of these very new styles.


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Listen to the Travelers' podcast every week on our radio Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast. In 1913, poor and Denise traveled to the United States, where they were received with great delight by the fashion crowd, he gave a series of lectures in Manhattan and the two of them toured department stores and showed off all the latest designs from their collection.


It's interesting to know I was looking at something while I was prepping for this that said that he found American women too thin and not very fashionable, but they seemed so eager. He was fine with it.


He was we can work with this.


Also, in 1913, he turned once again to his roots in the theater and most notably, he designed costumes for Jack Crispins LA minarets. And he once again saw the opportunity to use the stage as a runway, and he put his lampshade to Nick's front and center. So even though it had been a couple of years at that point, those were still very popular and he was still pushing them and, you know, doing very, very well as a theatrical designer.


But then 1914 changed everything for the house of. He had come to be known as Le Magnifique for his innovative and original creations. But World War One saw him once again called into military service, this time as a military tailor.


And he said to have streamlined the production of uniforms during that time, but because he was busy with his service and wasn't producing any new designs, his fashion house was using the handful of ideas that he had left behind when he went back to the army.


So they were kind of just recycling this handful of concepts that he had to try to push out new stuff. But they really without him at the helm, it's a bit of a struggle.


In 1915, while he was still serving, he was able to return to Paris for a little bit of time to design a new collection.


But two tragedies struck his family right at the same time.


His daughter Rosene died after contracting an ear infection and his daughter Gaspare died from the Spanish flu.


The new collection didn't happen because of these two events.


No new designs came from the Poire brand until after the war was over. This was really a turning point in his life, although it wasn't apparent how much impact it had until later.


So once he returned to his work in fashion after the war in 1919, he picked up exactly where he left off designing these high waisted gowns that were inspired by other cultures. And that featured a lot of dramatic detail.


He continued to produce his same style of design, but because his aesthetic seemed to have really frozen the period right before he left to serve in World War One, his look was too outdated. Coco Chanel had arrived on the scene with her little black dress in 1925, and the overworked theatricality of Puri's designs was immediately seen as old fashioned and out of mode. So that same year that Chanel debuted the little black dress, 1925, Poret, who was desperate at that point to save his fashion house, sold the rights to his company to financial backers.


He still worked there, but he didn't own it, and his design really struggled.


He continued to attempt to innovate, but it seemed like he didn't have the inspiration.


So it was very forced.


And his design, when people describe his designs at the time, they sound like they're kind of overworked and a little bit lacking and in an effort to rekindle public interest in his work because he wasn't bringing in customers, he staged this huge spectacle of three decorated barges on the banks of the sand for an arts decorative exhibits.


And, you know, it was this huge, big event for part of his houseware line.


But because his theatricality, which served him really well in times of plenty, it nearly bankrupted him in this period when he didn't have that much ready money. And it was, you know, a period of struggle for the designer.


So he couldn't pull off those same big crazy things that he had been doing before because it was too expensive and people weren't into what he was doing anymore.


No, especially once you get into the 20s and 30s, people were not about extravagance anymore.


So this is really a downward turn. And then after 23 years of marriage, Denise Poret filed for divorce in nineteen twenty eight, claiming that he was just relentlessly cruel to her.


And the following year in 1929, the bankers who had bought the poor design house just four years before closed the shop's doors.


They had already had it with the spending and they knew that they couldn't stay in the business and they sold off every asset as scrap, which is sort of heartbreaking, like it was literally sold by weight. Super sad.


It's really upsetting. But we didn't lose everything.


Pori was also, unfortunately, forced to sell most of his personal assets. So the furniture and paintings that he had had in his townhouse at the time were sold off and he had to move to a much smaller apartment.


At this point. He turned to writing for a couple of years. He published on Dressing This Age in 1930 and his autobiography, King of Fashion in 1931.


The publications didn't get him back on. Speed, and by 1933, he was designing dresses in department stores for housewives. Yeah, quite a step back from what he had been doing. And by 1936, he was discovered working in a bar.


But people that talk to him found him as confident as ever. He really thought he was going to make a comeback in fashion.


Paul Poret died in 1944 in poverty. He'd been living on public assistance. And Elsa Schiaparelli, who he had befriended and encouraged when she was young and starting out, paid for his burial.


And so even though it seems that he has a sad ending, it kind of turns around later after he's gone for a bit. In May of 2005, Denise's wardrobe, which it turned out had actually been carefully preserved by the family. So thank goodness it was not sold off in that bulk. Clear out that the Bakkers had done was auctioned off. And when this happened, it suddenly put Parra's designs back in the public eye. And so even though he had been marginalized at the end of his life, the interest in his work was like instantly reignited.


People saw these designs and it was like, how did we ever forget this person? Like, how did we let this fall into obscurity?


Then in 2007, the exhibit Poret, King of Fashion, opened at the Met to great fanfare and brains, and while party is long gone, his impact on fashion still remains.


He was, of course, the first couturier that used draping rather than tailoring to create gowns, you know, freeing the women from restrictive corsets that have been during up to that point.


And in fact, you know, in getting rid of all of those fussy layers, he just completely changed fashion forever. Like now, you know, of course, garments are draped. And, you know, if you watch Project Runway, you see people that do a lot of draping techniques to create these really flowing, beautiful gowns. That's still happening. And he was the first that really did it commercially.


He's also the person that they viewed the idea of nude stockings instead of black tights.


Yeah. Which is quite revolutionary. And now we have options for both. But at the time it was black tights or nothing. Both or neither. Both or neither. We're just not having surgery. And he, as I said, was the first designer who really had a brand. So fragrance, home design, lifestyle products. He was doing this in the early 1980s. Like what Ralph Lauren does today would never have happened without this kind of idea sparking.


And fashion marketing was also something that he really pioneered.


He was a person that was out there doing his own PR, telling people how great he was promoting his brand, which no fashion houses were doing that way at the time.


Some have said that we would not have the avant garde designers of today if there had been no poret. Imagine a world without Jean-Paul Jean-Paul Gaultier. I think you don't want us to do that. I would I would cry. I love you. And pants.


Yes. For ladies. Yes.


Yeah. That wasn't really happening prior to that. There were some sporting costumes in late Victorian and early Edwardian era, but it usually evolved bloomers that were cut a little more like pants under a full dress. So you could do sporting things and not expose anything. But you still have on a jillion layers and yards and yards and yards of fabric. Yeah. So he just completely revolutionized the way we dress. And it's sort of interesting because we think today of couture as being other.


I think most people on the street don't think of that as being, you know, the thing that really influences their day to day fashion. But he was kind of doing this influencing even though it was in more couture circles and it's echoed out, you know, since then.


Yeah, it reminds me of Downton Abbey. And there's an episode in which Lady Sybil comes to dinner.


Yes. Yes, Papa.


I love. I love. I love his work. I highly encourage anybody to go Googling and looking for pictures of it because some of it's just mind blowing. He also did do some really, really skinny skirts that were hard to walk in.


Yeah, we would forgive him if we were talking about that earlier. We have all of these getting rid of restrictive layers and getting rid of corsets and getting rid of all these things that bind people and but then having these skirts that were so, so tight that you couldn't really walk in them.


I have a theory that is unsubstantiated. I haven't done the research to prove or disprove it.


But I wonder, because he was so influenced by Asian cultures such as he knew them and, you know, it's considered very much a part of like geisha culture to take the very tiniest steps. It's part of like the delicate and graceful way that geisha move and their shoes are actually designed to kind of promote this sort of movement. And I wonder if he was trying to mimic that a little bit in a more Western style. But I don't know. I'm I'm just speculating it.


I hate skirts like that because I am tall lady. I take very giant steps all along. Stryder, I, I have two skirts that I bought at the same time, not realizing when I tried them on that they were going to cause me not to be able to do that. I have never worn them since getting them home from the store.


So for you pants or things that don't have a him that keeps me from walking, you go. Thanks so much for joining us on this Saturday. Since this episode is out of the archive, if you heard an email address or a Facebook URL or something similar over the course of the show, that could be obsolete. Now, our current email address is History podcast at I Heart radio dot com. Our old HowStuffWorks email address no longer works and you can find us all over social media at MTT in history.


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