In 1903, French couturier Paul Poiret made his first loose dress with hints of the kimono shape, and by 1906 he had presented his first collection to be worn without a corset. Poiret’s self-confessed lack of sewing skills pushed him to experiment with sculpting fluid garments directly on the body.
The designer’s Paris Opera Coat (1919), a fifteen-foot length of silk velvet, is draped into shape without any cutting. Apertures for the arms form unstitched interruptions along the garment’s single seamline.
Devoid of decoration except for the placket at the hipline, it is a masterwork of modernist simplicity and ingenuity. Poiret’s audacious experiments transformed the use of the kimono in the West: originally worn as a tea gown at home, it was now donned as a public fashion statement.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as Part of the Exhibit Kimono Style: The John C. Weber Collection, on View Through February 20th, 2023.