Ballet Goes Couture

Valentino (left) and costume director Marc Happel working in the NYCB Costume Shop (Photos by Paul Kolnik)

The ballet and fashion worlds collide this month in NYC with a one-time-only gala
at Lincoln Center kicking off New York City Ballet’s fall season (which just happens to start one week after New York Fashion Week!). The gala is honoring legendary fashion designer Valentino Garavani, who will be transforming ballerinas into stunning fashionistas, creating costumes for four works—three by NYCB ballet master in chief Peter Martins and one by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.

Valentino has been working tirelessly to create these exquisite costumes since April, with the help of NYCB costume director Marc Happel. No stranger to the world of fashion, Happel has worked with several prominent designers who’ve created costumes for the company over the past year, including Gilles Mendel, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, and Stella McCartney. And he’s mastered the art of successfully bridging the gap between the catwalk and the stage. “Designers usually deal with models on the runway, but when dancers are onstage with the audience at least 50 feet away, everything changes,” Happel says. “I advise them to pay attention to the details that are really going to stand out.” He also helps the designers manage their schedules, so the costumes are completed with enough time to actually rehearse in them. “I’ve been to fashion shows where people are sitting backstage at sewing machines an hour before the show,” Happel says. “I’ve had to explain to each of the designers that we just don’t work that way.”

While working with each well-known designer over the past year has been a unique experience for Happel, collaborating with Valentino has been the cherry on top of this fashion sundae. “I’m completely in awe of Valentino,” he says. “He’s a legend, and he’s one of the last great couture designers. His designs are sumptuous and extravagant, and his choices are spot on.”

Valentino’s designs hit the stage at NYCB’s 2012 Fall Gala at Lincoln Center on
September 20.

A Year in Costumes
According to the NYCB Dancers Who Wore Them

Tyler Angle and Tiler Peck in Benjamin Millepied’s Two Hearts, with costumes by Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte

“The first day Kate and Laura Mulleavy came in, they were casually dressed and laid-back,” Tiler Peck says. “I said to another dancer, ‘I can’t believe they are so cool.’ They were very accommodating to what we needed. For my costume, they decided to lose the skirt at the end of the ballet, and just have a leotard. I loved it!”

 

Taylor Stanley and Claire Kretzschmar in Peter Martins’ Mes Oiseaux, with costumes by Gilles Mendel

“My mom, sister and I have always been interested in fashion, so hearing Gilles Mendel was making our costumes was a great surprise,” Claire Kretzschmar says. “He paid close attention to the littlest details, like the curves of the shapes on the bodice. My costume transformed me into a different, more sophisticated person.”

Sara Mearns and Robert Fairchild in Peter Martins’ Ocean’s Kingdom, with costumes by Stella McCartney

“The whole experience was surreal to me,” Sara Mearns says. “Since Stella McCartney didn’t know much about ballet, we started by showing her how fabrics move when you dance. The process of getting from there to the final costumes was difficult, but when it all came together, it really worked.”

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