Dance & Fashion

Special Exhibitions GallerySeptember 13, 2014 - January 3, 2015
pink ballet shoes

Dance & Fashion was a stunning exploration of the relationship between these two embodied art forms. Organized by the museum's director, Dr. Valerie Steele, and set in a dramatic mise-en-scène created by architect Kim Ackert, the exhibition featured nearly 100 dance costumes and dance-inspired fashions, ranging from the 19th century to the present, many of which have never been exhibited.

dance costumes and dance-inspired dresses on a black platform
Dance & Fashion | Exhibition Tour (21 minutes, 29 seconds)

Dance & Fashion opened with a superb display of ballet costumes and related fashions from the 1830s and 1840s, the era of the Romantic ballet. A rare Spanish-style costume worn by the great ballerina, Fanny Elssler, was accompanied by fashions of the period. A costume by Christian Bérard for Symphonie Fantastique, along with a costume by Mme. Karinska for Ballet Imperial, demonstrated the evolution of classic ballet costume, while a costume from Creole Giselle for the Dance Theater of Harlem evoked the continuing appeal of the Romantic ballet.

printed unitard with spiked headpiece

Stella McCartney, man's tattoo costume for Ocean's Kingdom, fall 2011, lent by New York City Ballet. 

black and white costume

Rodarte, woman's costume for Two Hearts, spring 2012, lent by New York City Ballet. 

nude and iridescent green ensemble with snake-like design across shoulders and chest

Halston, woman's costume for Tangled Night, 1986, lent by Martha Graham Dance Company. 

Christian Dior's Black Swan ball gown epitomized ballet's influence on fashion design. Conversely, Marc Happel, costume director of New York City Ballet, has said that his costumes for Symphony in C were inspired by fashions designed by Dior and Balenciaga. The pointe shoes of famous dancers such as Anna Pavlova and Margot Fonteyn were juxtaposed with high-fashion styles by Christian Louboutin and Noritaka Tatehana that were inspired by ballet shoes.

The Orientalism of the Ballets Russes (1909-29) has also influenced generations of fashion designers, from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent. A costume from Schéhérazade, 1910, designed by the artist Léon Bakst and recently acquired by The Museum at FIT, was the centerpiece in a display of extraordinary fashions and costumes, including a couture ensemble from Yves Saint Laurent's 1976 Ballets Russes collection and an ensemble by Emanuel Ungaro worn by Princess Caroline of Monaco. There were also costumes worn by dancers such as Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Among the fashion designers who have created costumes for the ballet are Yves Saint Laurent and Riccardo Tischi of Givenchy (for the Paris Opera Ballet), Christian Lacroix, and Jean Paul Gaultier, plus Valantino Garavani, Prabal Gurung, Gilles Mendel, Olivier Theyskens, Rodarte, and Iris Van Herpen, all of whom have created costumes for New York City Ballet.

long white dress with

Olivier Theyskens, woman's costume for Spectral Evidence, fall 2013, lent by New York City Ballet. 

black vest and shorts ensemble

Rick Owens, ensemble, spring 2014, lent by Rick Owens. 

long red dress

Valentino, woman's costume for Sophisticated Lady, fall 2012, lent by New York City Ballet. 

For the modern dance section, the Martha Graham Dance Company loaned noteworthy dresses, some designed and worn by Graham herself, and others the product of a close collaboration between Halston and Graham. Once adamantly opposed to ballet, modern dance choreographers have increasingly incorporated elements from ballet and other dance genres, resulting in new forms of modern and post-modern dance. Dance & Fashion included several important African-Caribbean-inspired costumes from Katherine Dunham, a costume from José Limón's The Moor's Pavane, and one from Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Fashion designers featured who have created costumes for modern dance include Narciso Rodriguez for Morphoses, Francisco Costa for Elisa Monte, and Tara Subkoff for Stephen Petronio, among others. A highlight was a costume from Merce Cunningham's Scenario designed by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, juxtaposed with a CDG "bump" dress, which inspired the dance costume.

In addition to ballet and modern dance, there was a flamenco dress and a selection of flamenco-inspired dresses by designers such as Cristóbal Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli, Jeanne Paquin, Oscar de la Renta, and Ralph Lauren. Recently, Rick Owens was so inspired by African-American step dancers that they performed at his runway show in Paris. Examples of his designs were also included.

Also on view was art work by David Michelek featuring ballerina Wendy Whelan, and a series of 13 photographs and a video by acclaimed dance and fashion photographer Anne Deniau, also known as Ann Ray, in collaboration with performers from the Paris Opera Ballet. In addition, there were selected dance videos, as well as videotaped interviews with Marc Happel, costume director of the New York City Ballet, and others.

exploring dance and fashion's relationship

Dance & Fashion featured nearly 100 dance costumes and dance-inspired fashions, ranging from the 19th century to the present, many of which had never been exhibited.
Dance and Fashion book cover of a ballerina in black tutu


Lavishly illustrated with both contemporary and historical images, the book features essays by ten fashion experts, who explore various aspects of the reciprocal relationship between dance and fashion, from the liberating effects of the tango to the influence of ballet on Japanese girl culture. Designers featured include Léon Bakst, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Comme des Garçons, Christian Dior, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Halston, Barbara Karinska, Isaac Mizrahi, Rodarte, Yves Saint Laurent, Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, Valentino, and Iris Van Herpen.
Order a Copy
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Misty Copeland in conversation with Valerie Steele

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Team Vicious Stepping Workshop

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This exhibition was made possible thanks to the generosity of
the Couture Council, The Coby Foundation, and MAC cosmetics.

Couture Council Logo

Coby foundation logo


Additional support was provided by the Russian American Foundation.