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It is one of the odd realities of the fashion world that garments made to move are most often shown flat: pictured in magazines, hung on racks or, at best, walked in a straight line on a runway. Little wonder that designers are finding a creative outlet in ballet.
“It is one of the dreams of a designer to design costumes for a ballet,” says Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, who in May created costumes for Bolero at the Paris Opera Ballet. He was following in the footsteps of Azzedine Alaïa, who created costumes for Les Nuits, a ballet by Angelin Preljocaj that premiered in Aix-en-Provence in April; Rodarte, which worked with the New York City Ballet on Two Hearts in 2012; and Christian Lacroix, who collaborated on La Source at Paris’s Palais Garnier in 2011.
Preceding them all, however, was Stevie Stewart, who started making costumes for dancer and choreographer Michael Clark in 1984, when she was half of London design duo Bodymap. The working partnership has endured and will be on view again next week when Clark’s Triple Bill opens at the Barbican in London.
Stewart has considered carefully the difference between working for the stage and for retail. “You have to create solutions to problems,” she says. “The choreography is very challenging, very technical and precise, so even if the costume is theatrical or tailored, it has to be able to move easily.”
Still, there are clear connections between Stewart’s costumes and her work with Bodymap, which often featured stretch fabrics such as Lycra. Similarly, in his work for Les Nuits, Alaïa’s costumes went from simple wraps of white cloth used to make turbans and miniskirts to vivid red fit-and-flare dresses that echo his signature style.
For Come, Been And Gone (2009), Stewart says, “We had a unitard that was flesh going into red, which was very much inspired by the inside cover of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. For some outfits we wanted to have diagonals and horizontals in one costume, to give a feeling of movement.”
Tisci says of Bolero: “The music has such an intense feeling – I wanted the dancers to feel naked somehow.” He dressed them in nude catsuits embroidered with white lace to give the impression of a skeleton. Over this the dancers wore layers, which were then shed. Tisci describes the process as like designing couture, but for the stage.
Stewart would probably agree. When Clark staged a performance of Triple Bill at the Lowry in Salford last month, the designer says: “One set of costumes was in a silk but Michael and I wanted something a bit stricter, something more related to old-fashioned Crimplene.” Since then she has had assistants searching for the right cloth, rushing to make new versions in time for the Barbican opening. On Thursday, their creations will come to three-dimensional, moving life, and audiences, like fashion critics, will judge for themselves.
For an interview with Michael Clark, see FT Weekend Magazine