The Museum at FIT, New York, is currently showing an exhibition dedicated to ballet’s influence on fashion, Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse. The more than 90 objects on view include: tutu-inspired couture gowns with boned bodices and voluminous skirts; American ready-to-wear separates based on leotards and tights and leg warmers; and footwear ranging from “ballerina” flat slippers to fetishistic “pointe”-style high heels.
The position of the ballerina as fashion icon is a relatively recent phenomenon. For centuries, ballerinas, like other performing artists, were relegated to the margins of society and exploited throughout their careers. After the successful 1909 Parisian debut of the Ballets Russes, however, her circumstances begin to improve. That company, founded by impresario Sergei Diaghilev, as well as the eponymous troupe led by a fellow Russian émigré, ballerina Anna Pavlova, reinvigorated classical dance in the West and ignited a widespread and enduring craze for ballet, or “balletomania.”
So profound was ballet’s impact that it asserted influence on many fields of creativity, one of the most important being fashion. At the same time, the ballerina blossomed into a revered and aspirational figure of beauty and glamour, and her signature costume — the corseted tutu — would inspire many of fashion’s leading designers. Beginning in the 1930s and lasting through the 1970s, ballerinas were frequently featured in leading high fashion magazines. Not only were their performances covered, a number of the most beautiful ballerinas regularly modelled the latest modes.
Ballet-inspired materials became increasingly important: the silk netting known as tulle became one of the standard materials used to craft evening gowns, while knits were the preferred material for sportswear separates. Colours emblematic of ballerinas, such as her “ballet pink” tights and pointe shoes, as well as hues popularized by specific ballets such as “Sleeping” blue and lilac from the Sleeping Beauty, also found their way into the collections of couturiers and ready-to-wear designers during the years of the mid-century.
Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse until April 18, 2020.
For more information visit www.fitnyc.edu