INSPIRATION: Poiret's wife, Denise, models the Faune ensemble in 1919

Life in Paris during the Belle Epoque saw the buttoned-up 19th century step aside for a more carefree Modernism. Forward-thinking and well-connected fashion designer Paul Poiret seized the moment. The self-appointed King of Fashion, who started his career at Paris' House of Worth, discarded the corset in 1906 for loose, flowing shapes, including Empire-waist dresses and Middle Eastern caftans. His clothes received a rapturous reception.

In 2005, 61 years after his death, Poiret's estate sold roughly 500 pieces to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The result is "Poiret: King of Fashion," which runs at...

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