21 Fashion Designers Who Have Created Beautiful Costumes for the Ballet
With both art forms drawing inspiration from the other, the sartorial symbiosis between fashion and ballet is like an expertly choreographed pas de deux. They meet with much fanfare, both creative endeavors stirred by the poetry of movement, and enthralled by the organic beauty of the human figure. Like a ballerina and her danseur, they twirl around each other, with the silhouettes of dancewear constantly evolving to reflect the mood of fashion, and the latter adapting the femininity of tutus, and decorated corsets to add romance to everyday life. With such mutual admiration, it’s no wonder some of the world’s most prominent designers have leapt at the chance to create couture for the stage. Here we take a look at the most memorable collaborations the worlds of fashion and ballet have been privileged to see.
A name that has become synonymous with elegant eveningwear, Valentino Garavani effectively came out of retirement to create gorgeous costumes for the New York City Ballet’s 2012 Fall Gala. This marriage of fashion and ballet was a brilliant notion first suggested by NYCB board member, and former student of the School of American Ballet, Sarah Jessica Parker. Valentino, also a fan of this beautiful dance, applied his deft hand for couture into gorgeous concoctions that all had his signature touch. Black and white tutu dresses had hints of red underneath as a beautiful surprise, complemented by ruby red pointe shoes. Most striking was an asymmetric gown in Valentino red, replete with rosettes on a skirt made for twirling.
Though a beautiful work of fiction, the thriller Black Swan made its mark not only for its brilliantly twisted plot but also for the otherworldly costumes worn by Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Designed by Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, the film’s many gravity-defying tutus were mesmerizing, to say the least. “Building a tutu is one of the lost couture arts… It is thirteen layers of tulle sticking straight out and then it’s over the body, so you can imagine. It’s crazy!” declares Laura to New York Magazine. But these frothy, feathery confections were apparently just the beginning. The sisters would then go on to design costumes for choreographer (and Natalie Portman’s husband) Benjamin Millepied’s production of Two Hearts for the New York City Ballet in 2012.
With his flair for opulence and a fairy tale-like aesthetic, it’s no wonder French couturier Christian Lacroix has long been a favorite in the world of ballet. His latest foray into this magical realm was with costumes for the 2017 staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Paris Opera. Armed with yards of tulle, hundreds of Swarovski crystals, and Sophie Hallette lace, the saccharine rococo confections mixed in with mischievous nymphet looks were a sight to behold. Through the years, the designer had always been drawn to the allure of the stage, having also designed for other productions of the Opera Bastille such as La Source in 2011 and Jewels in 2000, as well as the American Ballet Theater’s La Gaité Parisienne in 1988. “For me, fashion and theatre are the same métier, to put women in the spotlight,” declares Lacroix to the New York Times.
Known for her masterful use of prints, one can expect a lot of color and patterns for Mary Katrantzou’s 2014 partnership with the New York City Ballet. The British designer opted for leotards of flesh-colored net, embroidered with intricate panels of lilac, black, and burgundy, which from the audience’s perspective gave the illusion of the dancers being naked on stage. With the movements of the ballerinas in mind, the costumes gave them the freedom to express their art while being outfitted in some of the most visually stunning garments on stage.
Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen
Filled with tension and tempestuous drama, there is a sensual side to the world of ballet amidst all the tutus and tulle. It is a dark romance the house of Alexander McQueen knows well, and one its current designer Sarah Burton expressed in her collaboration with the New York City Ballet’s Funérailles in 2014. Outfitting the husband and wife principal team of Tiler Peck and Robbie Fairchild, her ensembles of black and gold with a touch of ombre gave the costumes a hypnotic haute couture spin.
Always ahead of her time, Coco Chanel was known for liberating women from the confines of the corset with her elegant but comfortable creations. Her rule-breaking approach to style caught not only the eye of fashionable women but also of Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, the director of the Ballets Russes. In 1924, he commissioned Chanel to create costumes for his satirical ballet, Le Train Bleu. Set in the French Riviera where Chanel’s “sportswear” revolution was making an impact, she was the ideal choice. And by associating herself with the elite circle of Diaghilev, the collaboration helped enhance the status of the relatively up and coming designer amongst Paris’ crème de la crème.
Imagine doing pirouettes in Prabal Gurung, clad in red mini dresses with sheer panels accented with feathers and black leather harnesses. Such was the case for the piece Capricious Maneuvers, staged by the New York City Ballet in 2013. Known for his mastery of American sportswear, the ensembles gave the look a modern spin that could very well have walked down Gurung’s own runway.
Dries van Noten
Drawing inspiration from the work of abstract painter Patrick Heron, Dries van Noten’s costumes for the ballet The Dreamers exemplified the synergy of art, dance, and fashion. His creations for dancer Sara Mearns of a bias-cut silk dress with ruffles, of fawn, amber, blue and black floated like poetry onto the stage. For Mearns’ partner Amar Ramasar, the designer drew from his own pret a porter collection rendered in the same beautiful color scheme.
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Wunderkinds Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia have become trailblazers despite being relative newcomers in the fashion scene, being designers for Oscar de la Renta as well as for their own line Monse. For Monse’s partnership with the New York City Ballet, it stayed true to its love for soft silhouettes mixed in with asymmetric tailoring, outfitting ballerinas in black lace-up bodices and handkerchief skirts. The ensembles were the perfect blend of functional dancewear with the brand’s trademark New York sensibilities.
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Evoking a soft femininity, Alberta Ferretti’s costumes for the 2018 Fall Gala of the New York City Ballet entranced with a blurry of color as dancers twirled in the Italian designer’s creations. Made of whisper-soft chiffon, cut on the bias and floating on a base of skin tone tulle, the costumes were a lesson in old-world romance reinvented for modern times.
“It’s about flesh, and youth, and life,” declares Erdem on his costumes for his collaboration with the Royal Ballet Theater’s Corybantic Games. Translucent tutus paired with white bra tops and briefs and barely-there leotards for the male dancers, evoked raw energy that was altogether soft and romantic. The ensembles were juxtaposed with bold black strokes, rendered in velvet ribbons that somehow danced on the body. It was a mix of 1950s classicism with the aesthetics of ancient Greece, a striking yet pared-down aesthetic that helped bring to life the amazing poetry of the ballerina’s movements.
Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy
Darkness and romanticism are themes designer Riccardo Tisci has always drawn from, and themes he fully expressed for his costumes for the Opera Garnier’s production of the Boléro. The unisex ensembles started off with a long black cape later removed to reveal a flowing dress made of nude tulle and embroidered with white lace positioned to look like bone. “They shed several layers as they dance just like the life cycle of animals, or flowers losing their petals. They become these moving skeletons, strong and fragile at the same time,” said the designer in an interview with WWD.
Iris Van Herpen
With each show, the Dutch designer has made us question the meaning of fashion, blurring the lines of apparel and performance art. Her work with the New York City Ballet was no exception. Instead of the sheer floaty frocks we have come to associate with ballet, van Herpen’s creations were sculptural and futuristic. The layered geometric panels that have become part of her design vernacular were translated into the beloved silhouettes of the dance, creating singular costumes that were meant to be remembered.
Yves Saint Laurent
The legendary Yves Saint Laurent, a designer’s designer, long lent his talents to the fields of theater, cinema, and of course ballet. Beginning towards the end of the 1950s and all throughout his illustrious career, Saint Laurent created numerous costumes for famous choreographers and ballerinas, all of which with his inimitable haute couture sensibilities. On the flip side, he also drew from the rich visual language of ballet, as exemplified by his iconic 1976 Fall Winter ‘Ballet Russes’ collection.
Jean Paul Gaultier
You wouldn’t normally associate avant-garde fashion with ballet but leave it to Jean Paul Gaultier to give the dance’s costumes an edgy, high fashion spin. For his collaboration with Ballet Preljocaj’s adaptation of Snow White, fashion’s original enfant terrible drew from the dark and sensual side of these childhood classics to outfit the production’s ballerinas. Enter ensembles of red and black with hints of patent leather and floaty dresses with a touch of déshabillé. Then again, the designer has always referenced fairy tales in his work, so this provocative collaboration was right up his alley.
Dreamy, ladylike, and feminine, Carolina Herrera’s mark on fashion is undeniable. And it is with her trademark take on modern glamour that she drew from, for her collaboration with the New York City Ballet’s Morgen (which means tomorrow, or morning in German). Set on a romantic lakeside, the ballerinas danced in gorgeous dresses of whisper-soft silk chiffon that floated dramatically into the air during the performance’s many daring lifts and turns.
Artistic genius has long run in the McCartney family, and the same was evident during Sir Paul McCartney’s first ballet, Ocean’s Kingdom, with costumes designed by his talented daughter Stella. Set in an underwater kingdom, the garments reflected the vibrant colors of ocean life, rendered in flowing silks and rainbow-colored suits that looked absolutely mesmerizing on stage. On creating costumes specifically for ballet, Stella shares with Newsweek: "I do performance wear [for Adidas], and these dancers are athletes, so I have an understanding of that.” There really is nothing this fashion favorite can’t do.
Clad in shimmering, embroidered blue frocks, the ballerinas of Polaris dance around each other like stars, forming myriad constellations on stage. Named for the famed North Star, the performance’s exhilarating feelings of discovery were further enhanced by costumes created by Paris-based designer Zuhair Murad. The Lebanese couturier’s penchant for intricate lace with second skin tulle emerged in abbreviated lengths perfect for showing off a ballerina’s perfect pirouettes.
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For Jason Wu’s costumes for the New York City Ballet, it was all about color and movement for the young designer. The high-energy piece ten in seven had dancers impulsively dancing in deftly color-blocked ensembles of vibrant dresses interspersed with black lace, which is emblematic of his brand DNA. “It was kind of using their expertise and translating my aesthetic to the ballet,” says Wu.
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Tailoring is not something one would immediately think of when confronted with the notion of ballet, but it’s one designer Thom Browne has expertly translated into appropriate dancewear. For the New York City Ballet’s Clearing Dawn, Browne concocted a bevy of school uniform inspired costumes, expertly modified to give dancers a full range of motion. Statement details like white piping exaggerate the lines of his pieces, further giving it presence and clarity on stage.
Just the mention of his name is enough to conjure stunning images of couture of the highest caliber, which is what the Tunisian designer has brought to the world of ballet. His costumes for Royal Ballet of Flanders’ Shahrazad, an Oriental ballet that draws upon Arabian folk tales, resulted in a cornucopia of shimmering ensembles full of drama and yet light as air. And just as he is known, the process by which he created these magnificent costumes was quite intimate. The ballet’s choreographer, Jonah Boaker, recalls Alaïa at the first fitting making precise cuts on fabric as he works in front of a big mirror, creating art right before one’s eyes. The designer also worked successfully on costumes for Ballet Preljocaj’s Les Nuitsin 2013, complementing the risqué performance with his artistic creations.