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Ballet and fashion

It is impossible to deny the link between ballet and fashion: famous fashion designers created costumes for ballets, ballerinas became style icons, the elements of ballet costume penetrated the catwalks and everyday life. The style inspired by the clothes that ballerinas wear for rehearsals and performances is called balletcore.

In recent years, it has become trendy again.

Ballet-inspired elements in fashion

Balletcore style details create a romantic and feminine look. These are lightweight dresses and skirts in marshmallow shades, puffy sleeves, shoes with ribbons, open shoulders, ruffles, corset tops, bodysuits, leg warmers, white tights, leggings, wrap sweaters and, of course, ballet flats.

My balletcore:

Ballet flats are a direct prototype of pointe shoes. They entered mass fashion after the film “And God Created Woman” (Et Dieu... créa la femme, 1956), where Brigitte Bardot showed off in red Repetto ballet shoes. She wore them on screen and in real life, pairing them with capri pants and a striped Breton shirt. Ballet flats became even more popular after the film “Funny Face” (1957), where petite Audrey Hepburn wore ballet flats. Off-screen, she wore Capezio and Salvatore Ferragamo flats. Today, ballet flats have not lost their relevance in the fashion arena.

Hairstyle also plays a significant role in ballet style. Long hair is styled in a tight bun, hair ribbons are added, short hair is decorated with a headband.

The fashion industry has been paying special attention to ballet clothing since the release of the film “Black Swan” (2010), for which the costumes were created by Rodarte designers. The main role in the film was played by Natalie Portman.

Ballet inspiration can be found in the collections of Miu Miu, YSL, Molly Goddard, John Galliano, Simone Rocha, Christian Dior, Christian Louboutin, etc.

Shoes Christian Louboutin, 2014. Ballet flats from Dior cruise collection 2024.

Jodie Comer in a Molly Goddard tulle dress paired with Balenciaga boots in the TV series “Killing Eve” (2018-2022).

Simone Rocha dress from the fall 2020 collection.

Maria Grazia Chiuri for Christian Dior created balletcore-style evening dresses for Jennifer Lawrence and Natalie Portman. I was lucky enough to see these dresses in 2019 at an exhibition about Christian Dior at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London).

History of ballet costume

The history of ballet costume began in the distant 17th century at the royal courts of France and Italy, when ballet dancers were exclusively men. In the 18th century, ballet performances migrated to theatres and women appeared on the stage. A classic example of a ballet costume was first shown to the public by ballerina Maria Taglioni in 1832 during the ballet “La Sylphide” on the stage of the Royal Academy of Music and Dance in Paris. She danced in a low-cut, fitted bodice, calf-length sheer tulle skirt and satin pointe shoes laced around her calf.

Today, there are several silhouettes of ballet tutus: flatter and bell-shaped, covering half the hip line. I photographed these tutus last year at the exhibition “Star Pages of Ballet” at the Kaliningrad Museum of Fine Arts:

The influence of Russian ballet on world fashion

Russian ballet made a name for itself only at the beginning of the twentieth century during the “Russian Seasons” tour. This was a new era in the development of world fashion. Diaghilev attracted the best of the best to the tour - and not only dancers, choreographers and musicians, but also costume and decoration designers. Parisians were delighted with the bright stage costumes and were ready to wear something similar in everyday life. For example, after the premiere of the ballet “Scheherazade” with costumes created by the artist L. Bakst, the turban was again at the height of fashion. Parisian fashion houses have created new collections with oriental motifs, bold colour combinations, and transparent muslin fabrics. Wide trousers with embroidery and kimono sleeves also came into fashion. 

For the ballets "Blue Express" and "Apollon Musagete" the costumes were created by Coco Chanel. Her costumes for the ballet “Blue Express” were completely different from traditional ballet stage costumes. Instead of stiff tutus or below-the-knee skirts, she dressed the ballerinas in something like knitted shorts and tops. Altogether, this was reminiscent of the swimsuits of that time, which gave complete freedom of movement.

In 2022, at the New Tretyakov Gallery, I visited the exhibition “Diaghilev. General Rehearsal,” which was dedicated to the 150th anniversary of Sergei Diaghilev’s birth. The exhibition featured photographs, sketches and costumes from ballets.

Ballet costumes of the past

Often in the foyers of theatres you can see historical costumes in which people danced within these walls. I saw these dresses at the London Royal Opera:

These costumes shone on the stage of the Royal Opera in Stockholm:

And these at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg:

Ballerinas - style icons

Ballerinas of the 20th century breathed new life into classical dance in the West and spread balletomania widely. They became revered glamour divas, often appearing on the pages of leading fashion magazines, not only covering upcoming performances, but also as models.

Anna Pavlova was the most famous ballerina in the world. Therefore, her style attracted the attention of all women. Thanks to her, shawls with tassels, in the Spanish style, came into fashion. She advertised perfumes, creams, shoes and much more. Her love for fashion cost her life: she caught a cold while wearing a thin silk dress and died from complications.

Isadora Duncan made Parisian fashionistas dream of Greek-style tunics. On stage, she danced barefoot, refused a corset, and her stage outfits were almost transparent. The fashionable scarf played a cruel joke on her: the fringe of her shawl began to drag on the ground next to the wheel and twisted in the knitting needles. Duncan hit her head, and the pulled scarf broke her spine and tore her carotid artery.

Galina Ulanova preferred a laconic cut and discreet pastel colours. She bought clothes mainly abroad, where she went on tour, first as a ballerina, then as a teacher. She has amassed a collection of handbags, incl. bags by Gucci, a brand which was unknown in the Soviet Union.

Maya Plisetskaya was a role model for millions. One day, Coco Chanel invited her to an individual show of a new collection and presented her several items of clothing. Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent made stage costumes for her.

In the museum-apartment of Maya Plisetskaya I have seen dresses for the ballets “Anna Karenina” (Pierre Cardin) and “The Sick Rose” (Yves Saint Laurent). Here also features Pierre Cardin's hats, which the ballerina wore in everyday life.

The friendship of Maya and Pierre lasted 45 years and survived the USSR. In 1998, the ballerina held the “Fashion and Dance” performance in the Kremlin together with the fashion designer. It was a gesture of gratitude to the couturier for all the long and great work that he did, not only anonymously, but also completely free of charge.

Famous fashion designers as costume designers for ballet

In addition to the designers already mentioned above, I would like to add that it is impossible to list all the designers who collaborated with legendary theatres to create costumes for ballets. I want to show you some interesting works.

Maria Grazia Chiuri for the ballet “Nuit Blanche”, 2019.

Igor Chapurin for the ballet “Five” (Cinque) with tutus made of thin black-brown leather for the Bolshoi Theatre, 2011.

Christian Lacroix for the ballet “A Midsummer Night's Dream” for the Paris Opera, 2017.

Valentino Garavani for the New York City Ballet Fall Gala, 2012. 

Riccardo Tisci for the ballet “Bolero” for the Paris Opera, 2013.

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