Karl Lagerfeld with Elena Glurdjidze of the English National Ballet in the Dying Swan costume he created for her. From Coco Chanel blog
As noted in my recent interview with Jayne Pierson, ballet is enjoying a moment in the style spotlight. The Pierson/Lawlor collaboration with the Royal Ballet is the latest love affair in the long, intermingled history of the two art forms that stretches back to Catherine de’Medici, who took the fledgling art form from Italy to France, and the Sun King himself who established the couturieres’ trade guild and the French ballet in the 17th century. Here are more highlights of the cross-pollination between ballet, fashion and art.
The recent Degas exhibition at the Royal Academy focused on the interplay between film, photography and painting during the late 19th century. Degas’ work was pivotal at this time, being able to capture the moments that eluded photographers due to long exposure times. Contemporary photographs of ballerinas would even use cords to hold the dancer’s arms in position for the time needed to expose the film. Degas’ obsession with capturing motion has strong resonance with fashion images – and especially the catwalk - as fabric and cut is best judged through movement; in his use of light and kinetics was Degas the first fashion photographer? His work remains a perennial inspiration to designers, from the Givenchy Spring 2008 Couture collection to Princess Diana’s wedding dress.
Pas de Deux – 1902 Royal Danish Ballet filmed by Peter Elfelt
Throughout the nineteenth century the evolution of the dance succeeded in shaping ballet into the form we recognise today. Pointework and the corresponding shoes were developed and later in the century the iconic tutu appeared. In the early 20th century the avant-garde Ballets Russes took Parisian society by riotous storm, as outlined in the successful V&A exhibition that ended last year and immortalised in the film Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009).
Ballets Russes dancer Ida Rubinstein in Scheherazade (1910) from Diamond Dolls Couture and Billy Jane.
A huge inspiration for contemporary artists, Ida Rubinstein was painted by Valentin Serov and Antonio de la Gandara, and a Rubinstein figurine was sculpted by Demetre Chiparus.
Tamara Karsavina in Scheherazade; in Le Dieu Bleu (1912) from Not Sweating the Small Stuff and in Swan Lake.
Dancer Tamara Karsavina performed for both the Imperial Russian Ballet and the Ballets Russes. Born in St Petersburg she is recognised as one of the founders of British ballet as she was instrumental in setting up the Royal Ballet and was a founder member of the Royal Academy of Dance.
Leon Bakst design for ‘Daphnis and Chloë’ (1912) from Not Sweating the Small Stuff; Bakst Cleopatra costume for Ida Rubinstein (1909); Bakst design for ‘Le Dieu Bleu’ costume (1912) rom Not Sweating the Small Stuff
Leon Bakst worked as both set and costume designer during the formative years of the Ballets Russes, creating opulent Orientalist fantasies that have consistently inspired designers, from the harem pants of his contemporary Poiret (which Poiret refuted throughout his lifetime) to Yves Saint Laurent’s Russian collection in the 1970s and Erdem for S/S 2011.
Poiret costume (1911) from the Met Museum for the ‘Thousand and Second Night’ party; George Lapape illustration of Denise Poiret at ‘Thousand and Second Night’ party in a costume by Poiret from On This Day in Fashion; black and white ‘Sorbet’ gown (1913) from Ornamented Being
As outlined above, the year following the debut of Scheherazade the couturier Poiret hosted an orientalist explosion of a party in Paris entitled ‘Thousand and Second Night.’ Strictly themed, Poiret re-clothed guests that he felt didn’t quite cut the sartorial mustard with his own lavish creations, and thus launched his harem pants and lampshade dress on to the trendsetters of Parisian nightlife.
Chanel’s costumes for Le Train bleu (V&A); Le Train bleu, with Cubist sets by sculptor Henri Laurens. From The World of Coco Chanel.
Bakst wasn’t the only designer for the Ballets Russes and in 1924 they called in Coco Chanel to costume Le Train Bleu. This ballet reads like a ‘who’s who’ of Modernism: masterminded by Diaghilev, written by Jean Cocteau, costumed by Chanel with a stage curtain painted by Picasso. The ‘blue train’ was the colloquial term for the train that rushed rich English tourists to the Cote d’Azur for the season, and the ballet gently mocks the superficiality of Riviera culture. Cocteau’s idea was to recreate a series of living picture postcards, so contemporary crazes like sunbathing and snapshots mix with gymnastics and Cubist-inspired sets to provide a perfectly stylized look at 1920s beach life (read more here).
Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes (1948) from Soft Morning, City and Matt Vs. the Academy
The brilliant colour palette and breathtaking ballet sequence of this Powell and Pressburger film has influenced both designers and future filmmakers from its release in 1948. The fairy-tale ballet (based on a dark Hans Christian Anderson tale) was masterminded by artist Hein Heckroth and used dancers from the Royal Ballet. Not only did it inspire an entire Kate Bush album, but Martin Scorsese repeatedly cites his first viewing as a key moment in his life; he even headed a restoration project of the film that came to fruition in 2009.
Alexander McQueen S/S 2004 ‘Deliverance’ choreographed by Michael Clark. See the full show here.
It makes perfect sense that the enfants terribles of British fashion and ballet would collaborate, especially with shared mutual interests in blurring the boundaries between fashion and performance. The show for McQueen’s S/S 2004 ‘Deliverance’ collection was inspired by the Sydney Pollack film They Shoot Horses Don’t They and choreographed by Michael Clark.
Karl Lagerfeld costume for the ENB for the Dying Swan (2009) from Coco Chanel blog; Jeff Koons inflatable pig costume for Karole Armitage ballet (1989) from style.com
Merging the worlds of couture and choreography, in 2009 the high-collared Grand Duke of fashion himself, Karl Lagerfeld, designed a costume for the English National Ballet’s Dying Swan. It took more than 100 hours for three seamstresses at Chanel’s Lemarié atelier to construct the costume for principal dancer Elena Glurdjidze. And earlier this month the art world showed its support for the Karole Armitage ballet by donating postwar and contemporary pieces for a Christie’s auction to raise funds for the company. Long term collaborator Jeff Koons was among the artists involved. Early 80s costumes for the Karole Armitage ballet by David Salle and Jeff Koons are currently on display at the Postmodernism exhibition at the V&A.
Michael Clark’s ‘Come, Been and Gone’ (2009) found at My Stuff and No Sense and Antonia Jo
Created for the 25th anniversary of Clark’s company, ‘Come, Been and Gone’ was an elegy to the 70s with a heavy emphasis on David Bowie. Costumed by Stevie Stewart of Body Map the show was a riot if pop art colours and geometric shapes that are far from the traditional fare of ballet costumes.
The re-telling of the story of the Chevalier d’Eon (an 18th century cross-dressing aristocrat, spy and circus freak) filtered through the lens of Kabuki onnagata (male actors who portray female roles) was always going to be an ambitious project, and it garnered mixed reviews. But it’s easy to see why these themes attracted the macabre aesthetic of Alexander McQueen.
Giles Deacon dress, Christian Louboutin shoes and Moschino dress from StyleBistro blog all designed for the English National Ballet fundraiser
Last summer saw the English National Ballet commission designers to create their own take on the tutu which were subsequently auctioned off at a lavish fundraiser. Designers from the edgy (Giles Deacon, Roksanda Ilincic) to the obvious (Julien Macdonald, Agent Provocateur) pooled their resources to raise money for the ENB to sustain its outreach work.
Christian Lacroix designs for Paris Opera Ballet’s rendition of La Source (November 2011) – from Downright Red and Gramilano
La Source is a tale set in Persia that takes us back to the Orientalism of Poiret, Bakst and the Ballets Russes. Christian Lacroix was the perfect choice to costume the ballet with the required level of decadent opulence.
Giles Deacon S/S 2012; baby ballerinas at Meadham Kirchhoff from Grazia Daily; Rodarte: States of Matter exhibition at MOCA, March-June 2011 found at Divalocity
Next season sees a resounding swan influence at Giles Deacon, while the Meadham Kirchhoff show climaxed with a ballerina twirling on top of a cake. It’s exactly this strain of escapism, elegance and extravagance that fuels the fire between fashion and ballet, proving that the one can be a constant source of inspiration for the other stretching as far back as the 16th century.