Body, beauty and form: on dance and fashion

Natasha McCabe explores the powerful relationship between fashion and dance

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Fashion and dance have co-existed as mutual inspiration for hundreds of years. From the elegant lines and powerful choreography of dance companies inspiring the creative directors of leading fashion houses, to designers being tasked with creating costumes for dancers, there’s no denying the powerful connection between these two disciplines.

The 20th century charts the exchange between fashion and dance, especially ballet. From as early as 1909, the costumes of the Paris-based Ballets Russes (1909-29) reflected the daring and innovative choreography that shocked the public and transformed the face of dance in the 20th century.

This legendary company has influenced generations of fashion designers, from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent, who created an entire collection attributed to the orientalism of the Ballet Russes. The Russian costume designer for the Ballet Russes, Léon Bakst, is renowned for his rich and exotic costumes and sets, which roused an increased fascination with the oriental artistic world.

More recently, designers such as Christian Lacroix, Jean Paul Gaultier and Rodarte have created costumes for New York City Ballet, with Valentino even designing their fall gala in 2012. Karl Lagerfield also designed an iconic tutu for the English National Ballet’s production of ‘The Dying Swan’ in 2009.

Moreover, the ballet costumes themselves have influenced designers throughout the 20th and 21st centuries with Christian Louboutin declaring that pointe shoes inspired his avant-garde heels. Conversely, fashion designers have influenced the costumes of ballets, with Marc Happel, costume director of New York City Ballet, stating that his costumes for Symphony in C were inspired by Dior and Balenciaga’s designs.

Yet the most striking similarities between dance and fashion may be seen in the amalgamation of these art forms at runway shows, which emphasise the performance aspects of both fields.

Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer ‘04 runway show, titled Deliverance, was a unique fusion of ballroom dancing, couples dramatically running together on a fake track and interpretive dancing. This dreamlike performance was inspired by Sydney Pollack’s 1969 film, ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They’, in which an elongated dance scene takes place during The Great Depression. Choreographed by Michael Clark and staged in the Salle Wagram, a 19th century dancehall in Paris, the clothing mirrored the performance with feathered skirts both complementing and offsetting Hollywood-era gowns and flashy body suits paired perfectly with men’s suspenders.

For designers such as McQueen, fashion, and in particular, the runway, is not simply a venue to display commercial clothing: it is an artistic performance in its own right, with the body used as a canvas for aesthetic innovation.

This is mirrored by how dance is not just relevant during the performance, as it has profound and wide spreading influence in our very culture, and has inspired some of the greatest artistic minds of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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