Paul Poiret’s Magical Techno-Oriental Fashions (1911): Race, Clothing, and Virtuality in the Machine Age

This essay draws on Paul Poiret’s Orientalist fashions and fancy-dress party as a case study for exploring the relations of race, aesthetics, and technology particularly as they cohere around techno-Orientalism. It situates Poiret’s fashions within the history of techno-Orientalism to demonstrate clothing’s significance as a virtual technology, as well as a technology of racial virtuality. Focusing on this early instance of techno-Orientalism in French fashion, we see that virtuality does not simply name an externally produced sensorial effect. It is an ideological discourse or cultural system that mediates social relations and related social anxieties. Poiret’s wearable virtual technologies provide a useful lens through which to examine the dialectical relations of race and virtuality in which virtual bodies are constituted through racial logics, and racial discourses function virtually.