“When Serena Williams steps out on a tennis court dressed in one of her tutu outfits, she reminds us that ballet and fashion have had a reciprocal relationship dating from the art form’s origins in the Renaissance.
Indeed, in the following Baroque period, France’s King Louis XIV would prove to be both a dazzling dancer and fashionisto, performing the role of Apollo and living up to his sobriquet as “the Sun King.”
Now, a new exhibit plumbs the symbiosis between ballet’s central figure, the ballerina, and fashion designers in the half-century between the 1930s and ’80s. “Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse,” at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology Feb. 11 through April 18, features some 90 objects from the museum and such institutions as the New York City Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of London and the Fashion Museum Bath, as well as from the collection of fashion editor Hamish Bowles, that consider the pas de deux between fashion and the dance.
Certainly, fashion has drawn inspiration from the ballerina’s sylph-like figure as well as the corseted bodices; short, classical tutus; long, full tulle skirts popularized in the 19th century’s Romantic period; tights; leotards; ballet slippers; and beribboned toe shoes that have shown off that attenuated body. The exhibit includes spectacular gowns like Pierre Balmain’s ladylike painted white tulle debutante gown with painted “velvet” feathers from spring 1960 and Charles James’ deliciously diabolical black silk, synthetic net and satin evening gown from 1954, redolent of John Singer Sargent’s “Madame X.”