Man Ray, sans titre

Man Ray and Donatien Grau

I have always wondered why Paul Poiret (almost) did not let Man Ray into his world. Poiret was a genius at recognizing people who could serve fashion, and at transforming couture to bring it to a new world. It was no longer Worth coming to Paris to rediscover the 18th century and bring it to the present. Times had changed, and Parisian couture was going global. Poiret invented the look-book. He completely re-shaped the design of patterns. And he did it by collaborating with the likes of Paul Iribe and Raoul Dufy. Why, then, didn’t he use the talents of this brilliant new-comer? First, Man Ray was American. And right after the end of WWI, Americans were still people you brought fashion to: thus they had been for the last decades. They did not bring you anything. Then, Man Ray’s experiments, and his use of photography overall, made him a clear modernist, someone who participated in fashion as in the trends of the time, as art did; not to the world of couture. Poiret pushed couture to complete reinvention – while remaining embedded within history; inclusion took the disguise of exoticism. Man Ray was leading the way somewhere else: to a world where fashion could come from the US, where clothes mattered only as much as imagery, and not more, where modernity and the path to the future were the only ones to be taken. Maybe I am overinterpreting, but these might be a few reasons while Poiret behaved as he did. He allowed Man Ray to use his studio – he could not stop the new movement -, but nothing more. The new days, those of fleeting fashions, of their images coming from the US, did not suit the revolution Poiret induced in clothing – one that could only happen undercover.

Donatien Grau


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Man Ray and Fashion
from 23 September to 17 January 2021