Christian Lacroix: fashion on the ballet stage

Fashions in ballet costumes change slowly but you only need to look at tutus as they have evolved from the late 19th century to the present day to see how the silhouette has gradually shifted to suit longer and leaner torsos and limbs.

Even a gap of 30 or so years makes a difference.

One of the more telling examples is the dissimilarity that can be seen between the bodice, basque and skirt shapes of the women’s costumes created by Karinska for Balanchine’s Jewels in 1967 and those designed by the French couturier, Christian Lacroix, for the Paris Opera Ballet production of the same ballet in 2000.

Lacroix stayed true to Karinska’s rich colours and embellishment, but his elongated bodices – echoing the romantic ballet silhouette of the 19th century – are more flattering than her 1967 bodices that ended just below the waistline, and Lacroix’s short, frothy skirts for the section, Rubies, are more appealing than the fringed skirts of 1967.

Ever since Chanel created costumes for some Ballets Russes’ productions, fashion designers have been commissioned to design for the ballet stage but few have been as successful as Lacroix who designed Gâité Parisienne (for American Ballet Theatre in 1988), Cinderella at the Vienna State Opera Ballet and most recently, La Source, choreographed this year by Jean-Guillaume Bart in a new production for the Paris Opera Ballet. (The original La Source was staged at the Paris Opera in 1866).

Lacroix used two million Swarovski crystals and designed 77 new costumes, including tutus, saris, Caucasian costumes and elfin outfits, many embellished with gold leaf and ethnic embroidery.

He was commissioned by Brigitte Lefèvre, the artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet. She had also commissioned Lacroix to design Jewels.

In a press release Lacroix said he had never heard of La Source until Lefèvre told him about this project a few years ago yet his “mirage of silk tulle, brilliant liquid textiles, and mutated tweeds [turned out to be] close to the original costumes”.

At least one Lacroix ballet costume, created for Gâité Parisienne, will come to Australia next year when the Australian Ballet joins forces with the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne for a ballet and fashion exhibition to open in November.

The exhibition marks yet another Melbourne-only event to be held during the Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary year. Although the company’s first ever performance was in Sydney, on 2 November 1962, the AB has not yet announced any specific anniversary events that are unique to that city.

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Christian Lacroix’s design for Gâité Parisienne

Christian Lacroix’s design for La Source

Christian Lacroix design for La Source

Lacroix design for La Source

Lacroix designs for Emeralds in Jewels

Lacroix designs for La Source, photo © Anne Deniau

Leon Woizikovsky, Lydia Sokolova, Bronislava Nijinksa and Anton Dolin in Le Train Bleu, 1924, Photograph by Sasha, © V&A images.