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Backstage

Luxury and Voluptuousness

When Balanchine inspires Karl Lagerfeld — By Inès Piovesan

For the introduction to the repertoire of George Balanchine’s Brahms-Schönberg Quartet, Benjamin Millepied entrusted the conception of the new sets and costumes to Karl Lagerfeld. This great designer created sumptuous, “ultra-couture” costumes, graphic and yet also chic and elegant. A few weeks before the opening night, the soft dressmaking and tailoring workshops were in full swing adding the final touches. A report in pictures.

When designing the hundred costumes required by the various casts as well as the sets for this new production, Karl Lagerfeld drew inspiration from the music of Brahms and the artistic movement of the Vienna Secession. In particular, details from a painting by Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann inspired the black and white suede waistcoats of the men and the hats and headdresses made by the millinery workshop. For the female dancers, the designer created black and white corsets in velvet and satin and romantic, frothy tutus in white, pink or orange tulle depending on the different tableaux.

Maquettes de costume Soliste femme (3e mouvement) et Corps de ballet homme (4e mouvement)
Maquettes de costume Soliste femme (3e mouvement) et Corps de ballet homme (4e mouvement) © Karl Lagerfeld
Maquettes de costume Soliste femme (4e mouvement) et soliste homme (3e mouvement)
Maquettes de costume Soliste femme (4e mouvement) et soliste homme (3e mouvement) © Karl Lagerfeld

Ateliers de couture : confection des costumes conçus par Karl Lagerfeld pour « Brahms-Schönberg Quartet » de George Balanchine
Ateliers de couture : confection des costumes conçus par Karl Lagerfeld pour « Brahms-Schönberg Quartet » de George Balanchine 9 images

The meetings between Karl Lagerfeld and the costume workshops were short and efficient, permitting the expert eye and sound judgement of the couturier to identify potential difficulties and specify the necessary adjustments. The workshops were then at liberty to adapt the costumes to the curves of each dancer whilst taking into account the expectations and intentions of the designer as well as the demands imposed by the choreography.

To illustrate the tragic dimension of the score, Karl Lagerfeld imagined a set featuring an ancient palace that one can just make out through the mist, like an illusion, and large grey drapes that hang down to the floor, a set that echoes the choreographer's intention to evoke the declining grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In the wake of Yves Saint-Laurent for Roland Petit’s Notre-Dame de Paris, Christian Lacroix for Balanchine’s Le Palais de cristal and Blanca Li’s Sheherazada, Karl Lagerfeld has thus joined the ranks of the great couturiers invited to collaborate with the Paris Opera Ballet. This season, an air of ‘fashion week’ seems to animate the costume workshops who have collaborated with Iris Van Herpen (Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward by Benjamin Millepied), Gareth Pugh (Alea Sands by Wayne McGregor), Alessandro Sartori (La Nuit s’achève by Benjamin Millepied), Mary Katrantzou (Entre chien et loup by Justin Peck) to name but a few. Each of these collaborations is an invitation to penetrate the various worlds of very different creators: to understand, apprehend, “digest” and reconstitute their ideas and intentions thanks to techniques and skills that are recognised and acclaimed the world over.    

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