But as for the mixing of high fashion and dance, that combination has a long and fruitful history. Some of the biggest names on the runway have sketched and stitched for the far less lucrative performing arts arena. Stella McCartney is following in the well-heeled footsteps of Halston (for Martha Graham), Oscar de la Renta and Norma Kamali (for Twyla Tharp), Marc Jacobs (for Benjamin Millepied’s “Amoveo” at the Paris Opera Ballet), Isaac Mizrahi (for Mark Morris and Tharp) and Rodarte (tutu makers for the film “Black Swan”).
Going by sketches McCartney released just before press time, her costumes for “Ocean’s Kingdom” make a dramatic statement. In rich colors and fluid cuts, they echo the ballet’s watery theme and borrow from the V-necks, roomy sleeves and broad shoulders of her fall ready-to-wear collection.
In crafting the dance wardrobe, McCartney, 40, has undoubtedly drawn on her experience fitting active bodies for Adidas, for whom she makes a line of women’s sports and yoga apparel. She is also designing the uniforms that the British Olympic team will wear in the 2012 Summer Games.
But will her bold designs suit the New York City Ballet dancers? Creating costumes that allow for a range of motion and enhance rather than distract from the choreography — and can withstand the abuse of sweating and laundering — takes a knowledgeable hand. And a practiced eye.
Consider de la Renta, who appraised Elaine Kudo’s dimensions from a glance, the former soloist with American Ballet Theatre recalls. Kudo was fitted by de la Renta for the dress she wore in Tharp’s “Sinatra Suite” — which had its world premiere at the Kennedy Center in 1983. Kudo recalls that the designer famed for dressing first ladies absorbed what he needed to know about her body from a single fitting.
When she and an ABT associate met with de la Renta at his office on New York’s Seventh Avenue, Kudo says she didn’t change out of her street clothes and the designer barely spoke to her.
“He looked me over for size and for the general flavor of what I looked like,” she says. “We discussed the needs of the duet.” Because the dance contained different moods, the dress “couldn’t be so specific to one style or another, and it would have to fit into the tough duet as well as the romantic. He took some measurements, and that was it.”