Serge Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes
Mademoiselle Chanel was invigorated by the intersection of design and dance, and her curiosities aligned with the spirit of the creative avant-garde that captivated Europe in the early 20th century. Her friendship with Ballet Russes impresario Serge Diaghilev immersed her in a dazzling universe of art, costume, and storytelling. Ballet awakened the creative and cultural consciousness of audiences in this sphere, and the work of the Ballet Russes reflected her own drive to transcend prevailing social and artistic conventions through her approach to design.
Gabrielle Chanel generously donated to support the company’s ground-breaking 1913 production The Rite of Spring, with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky and an electrifying score by Igor Stravinsky. Challenging audiences with a mysterious surge of dissonant rhythms, impulsive movements and costumes inspired by folkloric scenes from pagan Russia, this work exemplifies the extent to which Chanel joined the company in championing ‘Modernism’ on the stage, and far beyond.
There was only one choice for costumier when the Ballet Russes staged Le Train Bleu (The Blue Train) in 1924. Gabrielle Chanel’s sleek, sportswear-inspired designs were transposed into tunic dresses, culottes and tank bathing tops capturing the notion of the ‘body beautiful’ on stage. As jersey-clad ballerinas sauntered about like lithe gymnasts in a French Riviera setting, Chanel’s creations exuded a postcard-like vision of modernity that was a refreshing departure from the extravagant costumes of fantasy ballets. The Maison continues to pay homage to Mademoiselle Chanel’s relationship with Serge Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe in seasonal collections, including Resort collections where one-piece bathing suits are often styled with jersey cardigans and flowing scarves allowing for ease of movement while still conjuring effortless elegance
Karl Largerfeld 'Updates' History
Feathers, wings, silk netting... “incredibly refined, incredibly fragile”. During his tenure as Artistic Director of the Maison, Karl Lagerfeld continued Mademoiselle Chanel’s legacy by exploring the creative possibilities at the intersection of dance and design. Under Lagerfeld’s direction, CHANEL continued to be recognised as patrons of dance – ballet in particular – via awe-inspiring stage and costume collaborations. One such example took flight in 2009, when Lagerfeld designed a tutu for the English National Ballet’s centenary celebration marking the founding of the Ballet Russes. Lagerfeld conjured an ethereal vision, dreaming up a tutu for The Dying Swan worn by ballerina Elena Glurdjidze. Hand-crafted by plumassiers at Maison Lemairé, the seemingly weightless, feather-embellished tutu showcased hundreds of hours of work. It was an artful, an seemingly effortless, tribute to the spirit of the Ballet Russes. Lagerfeld held his own ideas about the Maison’s connection to dance. In 2009 he stated his main inspiration was “updating” CHANEL’s ties to dance so that they were relevant for today’s audiences. Such is the CHANEL way; a consciousness of what was, but a creative temperament grounded in the possibilities of what is.
Ballet costumes were given the Haute Couture treatment again in 2016, when Lagerfeld designed the set and costumes for the Paris Opera Ballet’s performance of Brahms-Schönberg Quartet as part of the company’s Peck/Balanchine double bill. With ombre washes on tulle skirts, illusionary linear details on corset bodices, and a playful display of checks and polka dots, the costumes were feminine yet nuanced. They represented yet another iteration of CHANEL’s desire to ‘revise’ history with a distinctly modern and seemingly effortless sensibility.