Few places seem more glamorous—at least from the outside—than the ballet costume shop. World-class seamstresses lovingly handcrafting the gorgeous tutus that sparkle on our favorite ballerinas? It sounds like some kind of magical fairyland.
In reality, though, a lot of difficult, painstaking work goes into constructing ballet costumes. When the costume shop is recreating well-known older pieces, the task is even harder. New costumes can be adapted and rethought along the way, but with reconstructions, there’s zero wiggle room design-wise. Old costumes also frequently include trims and fabrics that are nearly impossible to find these days.
New York City Ballet recently redid all of the wonderful costumes for George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, originally created by Barbara Karinska in 1962. (”There is Shakespeare for literature, Karinska for costumes,” Balanchine famously said.) The New York Times has a nifty story about all the hurdles costume director Marc Happel and his team had to jump during the process. For example: The shop imported more than 625 yards of colored tulle from Italy. They researched old photos and videos to try to determine what each outfit first looked like, before decades of nips and tucks and quick fixes. They looked at the insides of costumes, which hadn’t faded under stage lights, to determine original colors.
There are all kinds of other fun facts in the story—it’s worth reading the whole thing. There’s also a great little slideshow illustrating the reconstruction process. Take a look at some of our favorite photos, below.
All photos Andrea Mohin/New York Times