The huge success of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is surely one of the reasons behind the recent revival of ballet, but it’s not the only one. Ballet has always had an inexplicable charm: the bodies of the dancers, shaped by years of sacrifices and intense trainings, are the instruments of a higher art, a harmonic and intense expression of beauty and passion. As a child, I was in love with ballet: I always watched a beautiful tv programme, Maratona d’Estate, which made me feel as special as the incredible artists it featured. I’ve never attended a ballet course in my life, but I’ve appreciated the expertise and the mastery of the most famous dancers, not to mention their beautiful costumes. Tutus, in particular, are highly symbolical garments: they symbolize ballet itself, and are tinged with a romantic vibe. The costumes Mulleavy sisters and Amy Westcott were amazing, but take a look at those which have been recently actioned at the Orgery in Kensington Palace, in London, on June 29th. Many famous designers were asked to give a personal interpretation of such a fascinating item: the costumes were sold in a silent auction to benefit the English National Ballet.
The models who wore these costumes in the auction catalogue are all dancers of the British company. I’ve really appreciated the fact that most of them are “artists of the company”, which means simple dancers, not principal dancers or soloists: in my opinion, this is meaningful, because the company decided to involve everyone in this project, not only its most famous members.
Let’s start with Laurretta Summerscale (artist of the company), who wore a costume by Agent Provocateur, the famous British lingerie brand. The source of inspiration of this piece were the baller starts of the 1940s: the underskirt is created using hand-dyed, graduated silk tulle, hand appliquéd leavers lace flowers and trim decorate; the strapless bustier is made of black lace. The outfit has been hand encrusted with Swarovski crystals. The pearl and crystal necklace worn by the dances is by Erickson Beamon.
Alison McWhinney (artist of the company) wore a completely different outfit, a creation by Kinder Aggugini (head designer at Versace for seven years, in the 1990s) who wanted to reflect the grace and femininity of the ballet whilst also maintaining a rock ‘n’ roll edge: he used clusters and rows of brass safety pins as embellishment. He also wanted to incorporate the transient and fragile nature of beauty using a variety of real rose petals (this kind of reminds me of the use Alexander McQueen made of fresh flowers in his collection Sarabande). The tutu was paired to a dark grey t-shirt with a white printed graphic on the front.
Jia Zhang (artist of the company) wore one of my favourite costumes, a creation by the couturier Jacques Azagury. Many are the sources of inspiration behind this dramatic piece: the Gershwin mood of the 1930s and 1940s, the movie by Aronofsky and Princess Diana, who was a loyal customer of Azagury’s atelier. It’s not a coincidence that the auction took place in Kensington Palace, former home of Diana. Among the Azagury dresses she wore, the designer referred to the adorable ice blue silk georgette shift dress she wore to the premiere of Swan Lake at Royal Albert Hall in 1997 (see the bow straps) . The bodice is made of hand-beaded lace mesh; the tutu is made of layered tulle and hand-sewn organza roses, trimmed with a laser-cut satin feather effect. The costume is accessorised with hand-sewn organza roses on short black lace gloves. Simply amazing.
Giles Deacon, one of the most talented British designers, designed the costume worn by Shori Kase (artist of the company). His designed was inspired to the character of Odile, the Black Swan, in the ballet Swan Lake (1876) by the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. He has fitted a nude base with a black waistband, and embellished the bodice with hand-cut lace panels, embroideries, Swarovski crystals and ostrich feathers. The contrast between the nude base and the rest of the costume is sublime.
Erdem‘s main source of inspiration for this costume was the exhibition Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929, which inspired his spring/summer 2011 collection as well. Erdem used handmade Swiss lace appliqué, white tulle and tiny black feathers for this beautiful and theatrical strapless costume. The crystal and chain necklace worn by Kerry Birkett (first artist) is by Erickson Beamon.
Ksenia Ovsyanick (artist of the company) wore a beautiful creation by the Serbian-born designer Roksanda Ilincic. This is one of my favourite costumes because it combines Ilincic’s trademark draping with feathers: the goal to achieve is lightness and movement. The bodice and the skirt are made of draped light silk and organza; the tutu is embellished by feather layers, which give it a peculiar “frayed hem” effect.
Stina Quagebeur (artist of the company) wore an incredibly romantic costume by another famous British designer, Julien MacDonald. The inspiration came from imagining a gorgeous English garden in the moonlight, cast with a mysterious black shadow. He used pleated chiffon, organza and tulle; the bodice was hand-embroidered with thistle (the national emblem of Scotland) and bracken foliage motifs.
Fernanda Oliveira (senior principal dancer) wore the only costume designed by an Italian brand. Rosella Jardini, Moschino’s creative director, designed a tutu inspired by the quintessentially English pearly kings and queens: the black tulle costume is heavily embellished with mother-of-pearl buttons; the decorative motifs incorporate some Moschino symbols (the capital letter M, the heart and the peace sign).
Natalia Kremen (artist of the company) wore another of my favourite pieces, a creation by House of Worth. Taken from the Worth Couture spring/summer 2011 collection, this piece is based on a Night and Day heritage costume designed in 1858 by Charles Frederick Worth, the genial founder of the maison. The garment is richly embroidered: fine gold threads run through the aqua green tulle and silk, reflecting light like a rainbow.
What do you think of these creations exclusively made of the English National Ballet? Which is your favourite?