The Rebirth of Paul Poiret

The Rebirth of Paul Poiret

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Ms. Chung is regularly described by Korean media as being in competition with her cousins — Lee Boo-jin, who heads the Samsung-related Shilla hotel business, and Lee Seo-Hyun, in charge of Samsung’s C&T fashion division — so she may be under real pressure to make the Poiret venture a success.

The designer Yiqing Yin at her spring 2016 couture show in Paris. She has been hired to design the new Poiret collection.

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Victor Boyko/WireImage

Hence the appointment of Ms. Yiqing, 32, a former winner of the Grand Prize of Creation from the City of Paris and an Andam Prize for first collections. Ms. Yiqing, the founder of a Paris-based couture label that bears her name, is known for her intricate work on pleats, interwoven fabrics and a sculptural approach to volume.

And so the decision to partner with the Belgian fashion investor Anne Chapelle, who backs both the Haider Ackermann and Ann Demeulemeester brands, to develop the Poiret name through Ms. Chapelle’s retail network.

Shinsegae International, Ms. Yiqing and Ms. Chapelle did not respond to requests for comment. But whether they and Ms. Chung can successfully restore the long-dormant Poiret to contemporary prominence may also answer the question recently bedeviling the fashion world: Are we at revival saturation?

Poiret, known in Paris as “le Magnifique,” was one of the most extravagant and innovative designers of his time, making fearless use of bright colors, exotic fabrics and motifs inspired by Asian cultures and Russian folklore.

He is remembered for his lean, high-waist silhouettes; luxurious fur-lined coats designed for actresses such as the French stage star Réjane; and his scandalous jupe-culotte, which shocked the pope in 1911.

Not to mention the hobble skirt (after having freed women from their corsets on top, he shackled them below) and his wild theme parties. The “Thousand and Second Night” evening in 1911, for example, involved 300 guests dressed in Persian costumes, décor complete with fountains, and parrots and monkeys.

He was the first couturier to introduce perfumes commercially, and set up his own perfume company named after his daughter Rosine in 1911 — a decade before his archrival, Coco Chanel, introduced Chanel No. 5. The business proved so successful that François Coty, the Frenchman who developed modern perfumery, tried in vain to buy it.

But in 1929, Poiret was forced to close his fashion house, hit by the stock market crash and depression. His extravagant and exotic styles no longer were in tune with the zeitgeist, and the designer’s clientele chose more-modern looks by designers such as Chanel. Poiret dedicated his final years to painting and died in 1944, broke and largely forgotten.

Today, despite a 2007 retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“Poiret: King of Fashion”), his name is little known by the general public — a potential challenge for Ms. Chung.

Yet according to Didier Grumbach, who was for 16 years chairman of what is now called Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode in France, “Investors often want to make bets on a name that has heritage and history because they think it will be easier to seduce consumers and also to keep control of the brand.”

Another view of the Met’s Poiret exhibition. Poiret was one of the most innovative designers of the early 1900s, freeing women from corsets and using bright colors and exotic fabrics.

Credit
Don Emmert/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

This is the theory behind Mr. de Lummen’s business, which has included the sale of the French trunk maker Moynat to the luxury tycoon Bernard Arnault in 2010, and the sale of the fashion house Vionnet to the Italian fashion veteran Matteo Marzotto in 2008 (it is now owned by Goga Ashkenazi).

Still, many luxury analysts say there is more appetite today for new brands than old, as young names such as Mansur Gavriel often offer a more attractive proposition than revived labels do (see Charles James, now owned by Luvanis and Mr. James’s children but still in limbo).

“I don’t know what Paul Poiret means for a 20-year-old girl today,” the shoe designer Pierre Hardy said in May at the Hyères fashion and photography festival in France, which promotes young designers (and which, not coincidentally, began Ms. Yiqing’s career).

“We are all very lucid about the reasons for the ‘resurrection’ of these old names,” Mr. Hardy said, “but it takes money away from young designers who may need investors to create their own new brands.”

In terms of Poiret, Mr. Grumbach said, “I would think its success will very much depend on the designer and the team hired to develop it.” He added, “if there is a Poiret perfume, perhaps it could help.”

As it happens, Ms. Chung reportedly plans to branch out into perfume once the fashion business has sufficient scale.

Correction: July 6, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the current ownership of the Charles James fashion label. It is owned by Luvanis, a Luxembourg-based investment company, and Mr. James’s children, not Harvey Weinstein, the movie executive. Mr. Weinstein had licensed the label from Mr. James’s children but that arrangement was terminated.

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