anna sui lists among her favorite artists George LePape, Christian Berard, Aubrey Beardsley, John William Water- house, and Edward Burne-Jones, and Paul Poiret among her favorite designers. 1to my eyes, her fall/winter 2008 collection owes even more to the designers of the wiener werkstatte. this may not be surprising, given poiret's inspirations.
[In] May 1903, Koloman Moser and Josef Hoff- mann, with funds supplied by Fritz Waern- dorfer, Hoff- mann's patron, and the advice of Charles Rennie Mackin- tosh -- founded the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops) for "the promotion of the economic interests of its members by training and educating them in handicraft, by the manufacture of craft objects of all sorts in accordance with artistic designs drawn up by Guild members, by the erection of workshops and by the sale of the goods produced."
These artists wanted to institute a par- ticularly Viennese style and to produce ensembles in which all elements would reflect the same aesthetic principles. They looked back to the Biedermeier period of the early nineteenth century as the last great era of genuine Viennese design. The artists of the Wiener Werkstätte regarded the tradition of handcraftsmanship as basic. Machines were used, but the artist maintained complete control over what was produced. Wiener Werkstätte textile and fashion divisions were opened in 1910, and Paris couturier Paul Poiret was among the first to visit them.
Critics of French decorative arts urged artists to learn from the effectiveness of the German and Austrian workshops in presenting designs in a single overarching national style. Ironically, French attitudes toward luxury and quality seemed to be part of the problem. French artists, instead of joining to form workshops to produce practical, well-designed objects for the middle class as in Germany and Austria, worked in isolation as fine artists making handcrafted individual pieces aimed at the aristocratic luxury market.
French designers decided to band together to form the Société des Artistes Décorateurs in 1901. Artists in many media took part in its exhi- bitions. Jacques Doucet, Jeanne Paquin, Paul Poiret, Sonia Delaunay, and the American Mainbocher represented fashion over the years, while Émile Jacques Ruhlmann and Louis Süe, among many others, produced ideas for textiles because of their commitment to the decorative arts. This gave designers more visibility through annual exhibitions, but the French still could not agree on a central design philosophy. The debate raged throughout the first decade of the century. What style would be exclusively French and exclusively modern and could compete in the marketplace with industrial creations?
Couturier Paul Poiret, who had been considering these issues even as he looked back to the Empire period for his influential straight loose gowns of 1907, was also acting to develop a new French style in textile design. By 1909, he had already visited Germany, where he showed his collections to great acclaim. There he purchased a group of German and Eastern European decorative arts, which he regarded as akin, in their "primitive" simplicity and vigor, to all of the various artistic expressions mani- fested by the Ballets Russes, founded by Serge Diaghilev with painter Léon Bakst and choreographer Michel Fokine and then the toast of Paris.
In Vienna, Poiret had been captivated by the Wiener Werkstätte with its cooperative spirit among architects (Josef Hoffmann), decorative artists (Dagobert Pêche, Koloman Moser), and painters (Gustav Klimt, whose companion, Emilie Flöge was herself a fashion designer with a salon in Vienna).
In Germany and Austria, Poiret encountered the new modern styles on their own ground. He purchased textiles. He went to every decorative arts exhibition possible,
meeting Hermann Muthesius, the Prussian architect and critic; designer Bruno Paul; and Gustav Klimt. He wandered the streets looking at new buildings and visited every recently completed interior to which he could gain admittance.
He was especially struck by the products of the Wiener Werk- stätte, and on his return to Paris he decided to adopt the Viennese workshop concept and to strive for the freedom and spontaneity he had observed in both French and Eastern European folk art. Poiret rejected the idea of employing highly trained artists or craftsmen. Thinking of the peasants who had made beautiful objects without any formal art education, he decided to experiment with new designs by untrained artists free of what he called "false principles" learned in school. 2