Ten costumes from the National Gallery’s ‘Ballets Russes’ that wouldn’t look out of place at Urban Outfitters

May 9, 2013

The designers, choreographers and artists who collaborated with Sergei Diaghilev of the Ballets Russes --  the company that introduced Modernism to dance -- are among the biggest names in art history. Many of their works, like set pieces, drawings and even two full-sized curtains (the largest objects to ever be exhibited in the gallery) will be seen in the U.S. for the first time upon the Sunday opening of "Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced with Music."

But the real stars of this show are the costumes. Most of the major ballets in the show -- from "Scheherazade," to "Cleopatra," to the groundbreaking "Rites of Spring," -- are represented by the original costumes worn in each production, designed by artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and fashion designer Coco Chanel. And each of their designs are a wild re-imagining of the potential of what a dancer's costume should be.

They're also oddly prescient of a certain demographic of hipster fashion. The mixed prints, faux-tribal affectations and retro silhouettes are reminiscent of a certain purveyor of chic: Urban Outfitters. Couldn't you see some of these outfits being sold alongside flatforms and "Mullet on the go" wigs?

1. Costume for a Beotian shepherd from the ballet "Narcissus" or funky-patterned sundress? The hat works, too.


Léon Bakst, Costume for a Beotian Shepherd from "Narcissus," 1911, painted cotton. V&A, London

2. This nymph from "Narcissus" clearly predicted the 2013 comeback of the peplum waist.


Léon Bakst, Costume for a Nymph from "Narcissus," 1911, painted cotton, V&A, LondonPhoto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

3. This Coco Chanel-designed shorts set could be styled with UO's Heartbreaker sunglasses and a pair of huarache sandals.


Coco Chanel, Costume for La Perlouse from "The Blue Train" (right) and Costume for a Gigolo from "The Blue Train" (left), 1924, knitted wool and wool, respectively. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

4. Printed pants. So hot right now. Thanks, Pablo Picasso.


Pablo Picasso, Costume for the Chinese Conjuror from "Parade," c. 1917, silk satin fabric with silver tissue and black thread, cotton hat with woolen pigtail. V&A, LondonPhoto © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

5. Add heels, remove wings, proceed directly to summer cocktail party.


Giorgio de Chirico, Costume for a Sylph from "The Ball," 1929, silk and tarlatan, with braid. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

6. Romper? Romper!


Henri Matisse, Costume for a Warrior from "The Song of the Nightingale," 1920, felt, velvet, satin and silk with paint, gold tinsel, studs and braid, and brass decorations. V&A, London

7. No but seriously, I would wear this one to a summer wedding.


Léon Bakst, Costume for a Nymph from "The Afternoon of a Faun," c. 1912, silk chiffon, paint, lamé, metallic ribbon, cotton, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

8. This one, too! It's a little more Anthropologie than UO.


Léon Bakst, Costume for a Nymph from "The Afternoon of a Faun," c. 1912, silk chiffon, lamé, metallic ribbon, cotton, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

9. Pattern mixing! Someone's been reading their Vogue.


Nicholas Roerich, Costume for a Polovtsian Warrior from "Prince Igor," c. 1909, silk ground, silk ikat fabric, cotton metal disks, skullcap embroidered in polychrome thread. V&A, London

10. Architectural details, ethereal chiffon, and a 1920's style drop-waist? It's a little bit "Arabian Nights" and a little bit Baz Luhrmann-"Great Gatsby."


Léon Bakst, Costume for Tamara Karsavina as Zobeïde from "Scheherazade," 1911, chiffon, V&A, London
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Fritz Hahn | May 9, 2013