Inside the fashion love affair with ballet

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You couldn’t miss Stuart Weitzman’s holiday campaign this year. Images of Misty Copeland twirling and strutting in a black tulle act and soaring gold heels crossed New York cabs and TV screens everywhere.

Ballet and fashion today seem naturally linked to the hip. But this has not always been the case.


A new exhibition at the Museum at FIT in motion until April 18, Ballerina: the modern muse of fashion, traces the intertwined history of ballet and mid-century fashion. The show reveals how the relationship between the two industries began in the 1930s and developed throughout the 1970s, paving the way for their continued association today.

The exhibition begins with the iconic Jewelry and Sugar Plum Fairy’s costumes, on loan from the New York City Ballet, interspersed with high fashion items such as pointe shoes. In the vast main gallery, evening dresses rub shoulders with tutus, street outfits alongside those of the stage.

Most interesting are the striking examples of the specific ways in which we can see ballet affecting fashion:

The pigments traveled from the studio to the track.

Colors popularized by ballerinas on stage and in the classroom have made their way to the podium: “ballet pink”, of course, a color that the museum uses as an opportunity to show the progress of high-tech companies now incorporating a range. wider skin tones in their lines. but also blue and lilac.

The exhibition points to the blue color “Sleeping” by designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli used the bright tone in various garments, including a woolen bolero jacket with black bead details from the spring of 1940. The Sleeping Beauty fans could make the connection made here between the hue and the costumes worn in the “Bluebird” variation. The ballet was recently taken over in 1921 by Sergei Diaghilev.

Lilac, a color historically associated with mourning, lost that connotation by mid-century, in part thanks to The Sleeping Beauty‘s benevolent “Lilac Fairy.”

Elsa Schiaparelli, “Sleeping” in blue wool, beaded bolero jacket, Spring 1940. On loan from Hamish Bowles.

Courtesy of the FIT Museum

Haute couture borrowed classic ballet materials such as tulle.

Materials such as tulle and feathers also began to appear in haute couture: in the 1930s, longer dresses with tulle skirts became fashionable, mimicking the tutu style of the Romantic era.

Coco Chanel, for example, who was the patron saint of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, has created such dresses, including a stunning navy blue “Stars” dress from 1937. It features gold sequined star detailing on the bodice and hem. skirt. The piece looks like something we might see on a celebrity during awards season.

In fact, singer Maggie Rogers wore to the Grammys a vintage Chanel dress (from the Pre-Fall 2014 collection) in vaporous black silk tulle with gold star accents. Almost 80 years later, the brand still uses its ballet-inspired tulle.


Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Navy blue “Stars” evening dress in tulle and sequins 1937. Lentby Beverley Birks.

Courtesy of the FIT Museum

The Balmain house was particularly influenced by the aesthetics of ballet. A 1949 evening gown with a pink bodice and a loose, off-white skirt is full of rooster feathers. Ballet’s penchant for ballerina-bird characters — think Swan Lake, Bird of Fire, The dying swan, and more contemporary creations, like that of Justin Peck The most amazing thing and the remake of Alexei Ratmansky by Michel Fokine The golden rooster– was one of the most famous in the fashion world. (The exhibition also presents the Dying swan tutu and headdress worn by Anna Pavlova, on loan from the Museum of London.)


Pierre Balmain, pink and ecru evening dress with rooster feathers, 1949. The FIT Museum, Gift of Barbara Louis.

Courtesy of the FIT Museum

Fashion has also had an influence on ballet.

But the path of influence did not go only in one direction. The reverse was also happening: Outside of the studio, mid-century ballerinas wore high fashion items, helping to elevate ballet as an art form and profession. We see Margot Fonteyn pieces by designers such as Christin Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. Couture dresses for Maria Tallchief, Alicia Markova and Alexandra Danilova testify to the neat wardrobe of ballerinas.

In one corner of the exhibit, three garments present the most exciting example of the ongoing conversation between industries. NYCB Costume Director Marc Happel’s New Tutu for Balanchine’s Symphony in C stands next to the inspired 1950 Balenciaga dress with scalloped edges, which in turn is next to Fonteyn’s “Princess Aurora” The Sleeping Beauty tutu, which probably inspired the dress. Together, the pieces show layers of influence: from the costume to the tailoring to the costume.


Mark Happel, Symphony in C costume, white silk satin, synthetic mesh, Swarovski crystals, 2012. On loan from the New York City Ballet.

Courtesy of the FIT Museum


Cristobal Balenciaga for Hattie Carnegie, pink silk tulle and satin evening dress with silver metal embroidery, 1950. On loan from Beverley Birks.

Courtesy of the FIT Museum


Oliver Messel, “Princess Aurora” costume by Margot Fonteyn from Sleeping Beauty, 1960s, designed in 1946. On loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, courtesy of the FIT Museum



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