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Center Stage

Culture Watch
Dancers in the New York City Ballet's performance of Ocean's Kingdom don costumes by Stella McCartney.


By Tali Jaffe

Fashion has always taken center stage in our eyes, and with the recent resurgence of fashion designers creating bespoke costumes for operas and ballets, we’re clearly not the only ones delighted with fashion’s turn in the spotlight.

It was just announced that Rodarte—whose designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy are the undisputed darlings of the fashion-art-film crowd—will be outfitting the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” in May. Of course, Rodarte garnered quite a bit of accolades for their costume work in last year’s “Black Swan” film starring Natalie Portman, and we expect this latest costume commission will be just as enchanting.

Ocean’s Kingdom, the first ballet scored by Sir Paul McCartney, also marked the costume debut by McCartney’s daughter, Stella. While Stella consulted with her father on the aesthetics of the production, the final decisions were definitely her own. And why not, considering the designer’s longstanding relationship with activewear through her collaboration with Adidas. The opportunity to convey agility, movement, and grace—considered her core strengths as a designer—manifested through the captivating costumes depicting the vibrant and serene colors of the depths of the sea.

But such designer collaborations are not an entirely new phenomenon. In the book, “Fashion Designers at the Opera,” author Helena Matheopoulos chronicles the trend over the decades. Citing examples like Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace and Miuccia Prada.

In 1995 when London’s Royal Opera House announced two major operas to be costumed by two powerhouse designers: Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani, it came as quite shocking since opera directors tend to shy from promoting any names that may compete with their own. But the resulting media attention from director John Cox’s production of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio, with costumes designed by Gianni Versace, and Jonathan Miller’s commissioning of Giorgio Armani to provide the clothes for his production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, certainly proved to be worth sharing the spotlight.

New York’s Metropolitan Opera saw two great names in fashion and architecture converge on one stage in 2010 for the production of Verdi’s Attila. Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron were first hired to design the sets, and it was Herzog who persuaded Miuccia Prada to design the costumes. The resulting collaboration was a dramatic feat of art, fashion and architecture.

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