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Dance & Fashion

Special Exhibitions Gallery
September 13, 2014 – January 3, 2015
online exhibition

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

Dance & Fashion opens 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, is accompanied by fashions of the period. A costume by Christian Brard for Symphonie Fantastique, along with a costume by Mme Karinska for Ballet Imperial, demonstrates the evolution of classic ballet costume, while a costume from Creole Giselle for the Dance Theater of Harlem evokes the continuing appeal of the Romantic ballet.
printed unitard with spiked headpiece
Stella McCartney, mans tattoo costume for Oceans Kingdom, Fall 2011, lent by New York City Ballet. Photograph The Museum at FIT
black and white costume
Rodarte, woman's costume for Two Hearts, Spring 2012, lent by New York City Ballet. Photograph The Museum at FIT.
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. Photograph The Museum at FIT
Christian Dior's Black Swan ball gown epitomizes ballets 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 are 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 Schhrazade, 1910, designed by the artist Lon Bakst and recently acquired by The Museum at FIT, is 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 Ungaro worn by Princess Caroline of Monaco. There are 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, Giles Mendel, Olivier Theyskens, Rodarte, and Iris Van Herpen, all of whom have created costumes for New York City Ballet.
black vest and shorts ensemble
Rick Owens, ensemble, Spring 2014, lent by Rick Owens. Photograph The Museum at FIT.
long white dress with
Olivier Theyskens, woman's costume for Spectral Evidence, Fall 2013, Lent by New York City Ballet. Photograph The Museum at FIT.
long red dress
Valentino, woman's costume for Sophisticated Lady, Fall 2012, lent by New York City Ballet. Photograph The Museum at FIT.
For the modern dance section, the Martha Graham Dance Company has 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 includes several important African-Caribbean-inspired costumes from Katherine Dunham, a costume from Jos Limon's Moors 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 is a costume from Merce Cunningham's Scenario designed by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garons, juxtaposed with a CDG bump dress, which inspired the dance costume.

In addition to ballet and modern dance, there is a flamenco dress and a selection of flamenco-inspired dresses by designers such as Cristobal 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 are also included.
Also on view is 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 are selected dance videos, as well as videotaped interviews with Marc Happel, costume director of the New York City Ballet, and others.

A multi-author book, published by Yale University Press, accompanies the exhibition.

This exhibition has been 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.