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Costumes for ballet from great fashion designers

Published 27.04.2023, author Zidans

Any ballet consists of storylines, choreography, music, scenery, and, of course, costumes. The performance cannot exist without any of these components.

Creating a costume for a ballet is a complex project, quite unlike the design of ordinary clothes. The appearance of the costume should both be part of the concept of the performance and reflect the character of an individual hero, emphasizing his characteristic features.

On top of all this is the difficult task of considering the peculiarities of dance movements and ballet choreography. Ballet costumes must be felt by the dancers like a second skin, they should not rub anywhere, hamper, tighten, or interfere with the expression of feelings through dance. Nothing should prevent the artist from getting used to the role and performing their dance. On the contrary, the costume should help to feel the hero. Things should also not interfere with partners dancing or clinging. Everything is important: the weight of clothes, the width, thickness, and rigidity of skirts, fabric, color, cut, and details.

Ballet and fashion have always gone hand in hand, and many fashion designers created collections of costumes for ballet performances. Among them are Chanel, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, Moschino, and others. We are going to talk about some performances with the participation of couturiers as costume designers.


20th century

«Le train bleu» in Paris & Coco Chanel


Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris

Choreographer: Bronislava Nijinska

Le train bleu is a luxury night express train for wealthy and famous passengers and a miracle of technology of the 19th and early 20th centuries. These trains were considered exceptionally comfortable at that time and became, to some extent, a symbol of the era. The performance, named after the train, tells about the high life of the golden youth of Europe. That year Paris hosted the 8th Olympic Games, and golf, tennis, and swimming were fashionable among the elite.

Coco Chanel designed costumes for «Le train bleu» ballet that were sporty yet secular. These were shorts, T-shirts, swimwear, short skirts, dresses, sweaters, and trousers. The clothes were far from the chiffon skirts and tutus customary for ballet.



The ballet was created as part of Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and was shown at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris.


By the way, the curtain for «Le train bleu» featured a painting by Pablo Picasso - "Women Running on the Beach".


The video shows «Le train bleu» restored in 1992.



«Notre-Dame de Paris» & Yves Saint-Laurent 


Paris Opera Ballet

Choreographer, libretto writer, and leading actor: Roland Petit

Yves Saint-Laurent was not only a fashion designer, but also a famous theater designer, including costumes. He worked a lot with the French choreographer Roland Petit.

«Notre-Dame de Paris» is the first two-act ballet by Roland Petit, which created a sensation and became legendary. The choreographer, together with Yves Saint-Laurent, abandoned the dark medieval colors in the design, the fake hump of Quasimodo, and the gypsy attributes of Esmeralda: now the artists expressed these features of their characters only through dance.

The ballet mixed in itself the spirit of the Middle Ages, elements of the interiors of the cathedral, and the fashion of the 1960s. Thus, the bright colors of the artists' costumes echoed the multi-colored stained-glass windows of the cathedral, and the styles were relevant for the present: mini-skirts, lacing, cutouts, zippers! By the way, these forms are still relevant, and we also use similar elements in Zidans products!






Yves Saint Laurent for Maya Plisetskaya. The second act of the ballet «La Rose Malade» («The Sick Rose»)


Choreographer: Roland Petit

Maya Plisetskaya inspired many fashion designers. Laurent created a dress for the second act of Petit's ballet «La Rose Malade», where M. Plisetskaya danced with Rudy Bryans for 12 minutes. 




The French performance was three-act, but due to the compromising content of the first and third acts, only one — the second — act was shown in the USSR.





«Anna Karenina», Maya Plisetskaya & Pierre Cardin


USSR, The Bolshoi Theatre

Directors: Viktor Smirnov-Golovanov, Natalia Ryzhenko

M. Plisetskaya: “In the midst of the work on Anna, I again found myself in Paris by the will of fate. Over breakfast at the Espace, I told Cardin about my anxiety about the Karenina costumes. Without any hope, more to think aloud, I said:

— I wish you, Pierre, made costumes for Anna. How wonderful it would be...

Batteries went on in Cardin's eyes. It was like an electric current went through them.

— I know how to solve them”


Maya and Pierre were close friends, Cardin considered her his muse. According to his own estimates, he created about a hundred costumes in his entire life for the great ballerina. Only for "Anna Karenina" 10 dresses were created, and this is not the only performance with her participation for which Pierre worked: he worked on "The Lady with the Dog", "Fantasy" based on the story "Torrents of Spring" by Ivan Turgenev, "The Seagull".

 Обсуждают костюмы для Анны Карениной.jpg

Анна Каренина.jpg

The Iron Curtain forced not to write Cardin's name on posters and to work anonymously, nevertheless, Maya and Pierre's friendship lasted 45 years and survived the USSR. In 1998, when the curtain was gone, the ballerina made in the Kremlin, together with the fashion designer, the performance "Fashion and Dance". It was a gesture of gratitude to the couturier for all the long and great work that he did not only anonymously, but also gratuitously.



21st century. Amazing costumes.

«Snow White» & Jean Paul Gaultier



Choreographer: Angelin Preljocaj

In this performance, Angelin Preljocaj, together with Jean Paul Gaultier, created a performance with vibrant, one might say, speaking costumes. An unusual decision was that the most extraordinary costume was not for the main character — Snow White, but for her evil stepmother. For the stepmother's costume, materials and elements were used that made her formidable, cruel, and domineering: latex, leather, and high heels. Snow White's dress, on the other hand, was minimalist, as if she were wrapped in a small piece of tulle. And it was in contrast to the color of the evil stepmother that Snow White looked even more fragile, gentle, kind, and defenseless.





«Eonnagata» & Alexander McQueen


Director: Robert Lepage

Choreographer: Russell Maliphant

Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

The production was a success thanks not only to the unusual plot and deep meaning, but also to the team of creators-participants of four people: Robert Lepage, Russell Maliphant, French prima ballerina Sylvie Guillem and costume designer Alexander McQueen. McQueen created Japanese-inspired costumes with a reference to kabuki theatre, raised a provocative topic.







«Boléro» & Givenchy


Opera Garnier

Concept author: Marina Abramovich

Choreography: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet

Costumes: Givenchy Creative Director Riccardo Tisci

This is a modern production directed by artist Marina Abramović, with extraordinary translucent costumes with a pattern imitating a human skeleton and a huge mirror in the background.







«Nuit Blanche» & Dior


Teatro dell'Opera di Roma

Choreographer: Sebastian Berto

Fashion Designer: Maria Grazia Chiuri, Creative Director of Dior

The main characters of the performance are dressed in ivory-colored costumes, and the rest of the participants are in dark shades. Inside the thin tulle, flowers are sewn like a herbarium.









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