Paul Poiret: changing the face of fashion illustration

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The history of fashion illustration is almost synonymous with the history of fashion itself. Almost since they started designing clothes, humans have been deploying pen, pencil, paint, and ink to sketch out their ideas. As well as being an important first step in creating new fashionable garments, fashion illustration became, especially from the 20th century onwards, a key way of disseminating new trends. Included in magazines and newspapers, as well as on billboards and other advertising material, fashion illustration has been used as a powerful tool for showing the world what to wear.


One of the key figures whose work has kept fashion illustration going strong is Paul Poiret, whom many would call the King of Fashion for this very reason. Poiret died in 1944, however the beauty and power of his works was so great that he was likened to Picasso, and in this way he changed the face of fashion illustration, making it more of an art form than just a dressmaker’s tool. In the present day, Poiret’s fashion illustrations can be seen in several museums and exhibitions (both temporary and permanent): the Victoria and Albert Museum for instance, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

© Illustration by Paul Iribe for Les Robes de Paul Poiret, 1908

© Vintage Fashion Guild

Poiret was also a fashion designer with many successes to his name. He introduced the harem style trousers to the West, for instance. He is also partly responsible for getting rid of the constricting corsets that were still in fashion at the turn of the last century. Poiret made clothing for several important figures, including the Princess Bariatinsky of Russia. These innovative designs brought new garments into the mix, changing the face of fashion itself as well as fashion illustration.

© The Black Soul

© The Black Soul

The rectangular shapes and rich patterns of Poiret’s clothing can also be seen in his fashion illustrations. These illustrations are particularly redolent of the art nouveau movement, which was going strong as Poiret flourished. Bringing these art deco and art nouveau influences into fashion illustration is another way that Poiret altered and enriched this genre of illustration.

Further blog posts will explain more about some of the exciting movements and figures related to fashion illustration.

© The Black Soul

© The Black Soul