Inspiring us: Ballet Russes
The creative collab is all the rage in fashion at the moment, but it’s not a new concept at all. A top trend prediction for Fall 2018 is inspired by one of the most culturally influential artistic collaborations of the 20th century - the Ballet Russes.
The Ballet Russes, founded by Sergei Diaghilev in 1909, continues to inspire designers today. This key trend for Autumn/ Winter 2018-19, takes its cue from a host of early 20th century art and design: Cubist sculptures and paintings, Art Nouveau curvilinear shapes, and the exoticism of Middle East, which was a popular theme in Europe at the time. One of the early successful productions put on by the troupe was Sheherazade, an adaptation of the musical composition by the late Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who was an early mentor of Diaghilev.
here is a sampling of the prints we have been developing for this eclectic and motif rich theme:
Its cultural impact...
Why do designers seem to come back to the Ballet Russes time and time again? I think it is because its artistic collaborations produced some of the most ground-breaking work of the time and nearly every artist, designer, creative working in Europe (an subsequently, America) was influenced by it in some way. By virtue of that dramatic reach, it left an impression that can still be seen today.
Although the famous troupe was named “the Russian Ballet”, it was never actually active in Russia because of the upheaval of the revolution. Instead, it was based in Paris from 1909 to 1929 and performed all over Europe as well as in North and South America. It was a veritable think tank of artistic genius incorporating the work of luminaries and revolutionary creators of the era from Stravinsky to Picasso. Diaghilev himself was a visionary for commissioning the work of artists, choreographers, composers, and designers of the time who were the brightest leaders in their fields. Some of the work that was introduced and promoted by the ballet was truly avant-garde. In fact, Stravinsky’s famous Rite of Spring, now considered to be one of the most important pieces of music created in the 20th century, was composed specifically for a Ballet Russes production of the same name. It premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on 29 May, 1913 and nearly caused a riot in the audience due to its unorthodox nature and pagan subject matter. Much of the work produced by the company was very controversial and this would not be last time it would be met with public disapproval and scorn from critics.
a 1976 Joffrey reproduction of 'Parade' 1917 (via YouTube)
Inspiring for fashion and surface design...
One of the most consistant artistic contributors to the aesthetic of the Ballet Russes was designer, Léon Bakst. Bakst not only produced costume and set designs for countless performances, but also made many of the iconic and beautiful illustrations so closely associated with the company. Many of these illustrations take on a life of their own with the garments and flowing scarves having an animated quality as the figures dance across the page. The elaborate textiles in his designs are inspired by the cultural setting of each performance and feature sumptuous pattern combinations and rich color palettes.
examples of Bakst's illustrations below, via Pinterest
Other notable designers who worked on sets and costumes include: Picasso, Matisse, Jean Cocteau, and Coco Chanel. You can see not only how they influenced each other in the work done for ballet troupe, but also in subsequent pieces of their own work. It is very interesting to see how each artist brought their particular style and new artistic movement to the aesthetic of the ballet. Early contributors brought Art Nouveau sensibilities, followed by Cubist influences, and later on Surrealist style.
With such a rich legacy of artistic collaboration, it is no wonder that this ballet troupe from a century ago still has the power to inspire designers of today.
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