The Australian Ballet

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CHANEL and Dance


‘A metaphor for freedom…’

Art for art. Our partnership with the CHANEL has inspired us to explore the Maison’s long ties to dance, initiated by founder Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel in the early 20thcentury. CHANEL reflects that dance is a ‘language’, an ‘expression of beauty’, and perhaps most importantly, a ‘metaphor of freedom’. Scintillating costume designs, unforgettable musical compositions, limitless creative storytelling; Mademoiselle Chanel appreciated that dance and design have always held hands in the most mystical of partnerships.

Join us as we explore CHANEL’s enduring connection to dance, featuring imagery from the Maison’s archive, and our own Digital Asset Management (DAM) generously sponsored by CHANEL, our Living Heritage Partner.

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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.

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Possokhov's Gabriel Chanel

Numerous portrayals of Coco Chanel have come to life in film, and it was perhaps only a matter of time before the designer inspired a work of ballet. Premiering in 2019 at the Bolshoi, Yuri Possokhov’s one-act ballet Gabriel Chanel was created for Svetlana Zakharova’s double bill, the Russian prima ballerina dancing the title role of Gabrielle Chanel. A sparse stage made for a chic, monochromatic spectacle, defined by Possokhov’s signate cinematic style though which the designer’s life is captured in a series of stylized ‘episodes’. With costumes designed by CHANEL, the piece celebrates Chanel’s iconic stature and the monumental legacy she left on society through her holistic approach to fashion, art, and life. Coco remans a creative muse to this day.

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Form and freedom

Movement and beauty. Two elements that define the artform of dance, and two elements central to the essence of CHANEL. The Maison continues Gabrielle Chanel’s legacy with a design ethos focused on empowering the wearer to assert their freedom. Dance imparts a similar experience of pure physical and emotional liberation. The relationship between CHANEL and dance may be appreciated in the context of the universal creative spirit. Art is conceived when there is freedom think, dream, and create beyond the confines of rules and expectations.

With thanks to CHANEL, Our Living Heritage Partner