In the new book Fashion and the Art of Pochoir: The Golden Age of Illustration in Paris (Thames & Hudson) authors April Calahan and Cassidy Zachary examine the technique, history and people behind the glorious, rarely seen fashion illustrations of the early twentieth century. In this excerpt they discuss the pioneering collaboration of designer Paul Poiret and illustrator Paul Iribe.

The fashion pioneer Paul Poiret set a new standard for the presentation of fashion illustration in 1908 when he commissioned the artist Paul Iribe to illustrate a portfolio of his designs entitled Les Robes de Paul Poiret racontées par Paul Iribe. Poiret intended the album for the “élite of Society” and declared it to be “in homage to all the great ladies of the whole world.”

With Les Robes, Poiret endeavored to breathe new life into the time-honored medium of the fashion plate, which had traditionally provided realistic, line-for-line representations of the latest styles. For him, to convey the exact placement of a button or seam was of little importance: “A garment is like a good portrait – the expression of a spiritual state,” he told Vogue in 1909, “and there are robes [dresses] that sing the joy of living as others that herald tragic ends.” The highly stylized illustrations he produced with Iribe transcended the realistic interpretation of his gowns; instead, he sought to convey the essence of his garments as an artist would a mood or feeling. In this way, Poiret’s thinking was akin more to that of an artist than to that of a mere dressmaker, and he actively cultivated the larger-than-life public persona of artist, tastemaker and connoisseur.

It was undoubtedly through his association with the artistic avant-garde that Poiret came to know the artist Paul Iribe, whose satirical magazine Le Témoin included the work of many artists from Poiret’s orbit. Iribe’s early work for the humorist journal Le Rire, which published his first illustration when he was just seventeen, reflects an illustrative style that emphasized a flat, two-dimensional perspective. It was a style undeniably reminiscent of his predecessors, such as Aubrey Beardsley and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec whose styles were largely informed by Japanese woodblock prints. Iribe was clearly not a fashion illustrator, but, for Poiret, that was the point.

For Les Robes de Paul Poiret, Iribe successfully adapted his illustrative style to a format that fitted Poiret’s needs, while not entirely betraying his comedic hallmark. Throughout the album’s ten pages, Iribe depicts Poiret’s innovative and imaginative designs on statuesque, engaging beauties caught in contemplation or intimate conversation. Iribe’s humor reveals itself subtly in the witty undertones of these intimate scenes.

The novelty of Les Robes made international headlines in both England and America soon after the album’s release. Vogue highlighted the illustrations in a three-page article, declaring them “the newest thing in fashion plates.” The album’s success was further recognized with its inclusion in the annual Salon d’Automne exhibition in 1909. The Salon was a distinguished forum for the leading avantgarde artists of the day, and those who had previously exhibited there included Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne and Raoul Dufy (Poiret’s future collaborator). The album was much admired by Poiret’s contemporaries, not only fashion designers, but also publishers, fine artists, interior designers and architects, who soon adopted the pochoir technique for their own deluxe volumes. The publication of Les Robes de Paul Poiret was seminal in establishing pochoir as the medium of choice for luxury artist books and designer albums of the 1910s and 1920s.


Excerpted from FASHION AND THE ART OF POCHOIR: The Golden Age of Illustration in Paris, by April Calahan & Cassidy Zachary
Copyright © 2015 by April Calahan & Cassidy Zachary. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of Thames & Hudson Inc,

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