The Whole Pointé of Couture

By Veronica Phillips

In the photograph, Karl Lagerfeld sits casually on a sleek low-rise sofa as the light beams in behind him from the windows of his Paris Lemarié atelier boutique. The sound of a classical symphony fills the display parlor as an image of an ivory tutu and 2,500 hand-stitched feathers flutter across the floor. His outlined silhouette focuses on the graceful figure of Elena Glurdjidze, lead principal for English National Ballet, as she performs an impromptu solo from Swan Lake.

Photo credit:, Karl Lagerfeld & Elena Glurdjidze

Photo credit:, Karl Lagerfeld & Elena Glurdjidze

For decades the fashion industry and dance world have shared a certain respect for each other. The two crafts are exquisite art forms with production revolving solely around the human body. One utilizes the body as a physical instrument while the other explores the finest ways to present and decorate that body. At their absolute highest form, both professional concert dance and haute couture are incredibly elite and seemingly untouchable. Without one another, sure, each can thrive; however, when the two combine, the power and authority is chilling.

As a dance major and fashion media minor, I’ve discovered the multiple parallels that lie between these art forms through my college studies.  Factors from dancers posing as magazine fashion models to designers handcrafting costumes to choreographed runway shows today suggest that dance and fashion are more like sisters than distant cousins in the art realm.

In the 1920s Coco Chanel was the first to design costumes for the Ballet Russe. Bringing the prima ballerinas into to her store for a personal fitting was just another appointment in her planner. This budding friendship between dance and fashion became significantly attractive because Chanel and other multi-billion dollar brands were established close to the time that world-renowned ballet companies were beginning to form. As each enterprise grew more powerful, both found delight in their flourishing success.

Chanel and Prada were founded in 1913, followed by Gucci in 1921 and Fendi in 1925.  Just a few years later, The Royal Ballet began in England in 1931.  American ballet companies followed — the American Ballet Theater in 1937 and Balanchine’s New York City Ballet in 1948.

The brewing art scene during this pre- and post-war setting was crucial to the two industries’ development. The masterminds behind the designer brands surely relished their exclusive new partnerships with the artistic elite. I envision them sitting at a local coffee shop and saying, “And on Wednesdays we wear pink!”

This connection has similarly inspired designers’ runway shows. Totally outrageous and there to entertain, the runway became the models’ stage. A performance is critical for a professional dancer. It is her means of reward, her moment to shine after months, years of preparation. The same applies to a couture fashion designer. The art he works to produce every season is impeccably displayed to brand his signature into the public psyche.

Jean Paul Gautier and Alexander McQueen are quite possibly my favorite examples of extravagant runway spectacles. McQueen, commonly known for splatter paint and laser beams during runways shows, absolutely projects his line as performance-worthy material. Gautier simply houses exhibits now at many national museums. I can’t speak for the general public, but if I were front row at a McQueen show, I’d be absorbed and transformed as an audience member. Ultimately, once that line between viewer and performer is drawn, the exclusivity factor kicks in. A model in a beautiful gown or a dancer wrapped in tulle is something perceived as elite.

Photo credit: Richie RIch Collection, NYFW Runway Show

Photo credit: Richie RIch Collection, NYFW Runway Show

Mikhail Ovchinnikov — director of Erata, Russia’s largest museum collection of contemporary art — sums up the love story when asked about a feature in Russian Vogue: “There has always been a strong chemistry between ballet and fashion,” she says. “Still, the greatest romance of the century happened between ballet and fashion photography. Prima ballerinas established fashion trends in high society, designers looked for inspiration in the works of famous choreographers … and fashion designers made costumes for ballet performances.” That sounds like a captivating and accurate summary to me.

If you’re a Dallasite you’ll know how much our city idolizes fashion. The cover of a recent issue of F!D Luxe – a fashion publication — featured the Dallas-Fort Worth professional ballet company, Texas Ballet Theater. The arts scene may still need funding in our little sparkle city, but the Luxe team took the bold step of demonstrating their support for ballet and the mutual fascination between dance and fashion.

Principal dancers Betsy McBride and Heather Kotelenets were two of the few TBT-ers featured in the shoot. “We respect each other so much because we blend so well together,” says McBride as she described the aesthetic behind the FD Luxe photo shoot. “The fashion editors seemed in awe of the way we used our bodies to create different shapes for the pictures. As dancers, we were amazed with how tediously they [F!D Luxe stylists and photographaers] put all the pieces together and produced the perfect makeup, hair and lighting to go with each particular piece and outfit.”

The beauty of the situation was that both the dancers and editors beamed with excitement whenever a new pose or highly sought-after accessory was presented at the photo shoot, McBride notes. “We respect each others’ creative input and mesh the two groups together.”

Photo credit:, Heather Kotelenets & Betsy McBride

Photo credit:, Heather Kotelenets & Betsy McBride

Prima ballerina influence is splashed all over window displays, magazine covers and even a more accessible avenue, Pinterest. It isn’t required to be high “haute” society to crave a pair of ballerina flats or want to rock a sock bun. Even tutu trends are sold in department stores accompanied by slender tights.

The senior vice-president of Elle Publishing Group, Carol A. Smith, has said: “Dance and fashion go hand in hand. To me, it’s a perfect synergy.” Both dancers and designers are artists. Both art forms perfect reflections of women’s femininity. Both are elite. I think it’s safe to say these similarities aren’t entirely coincidental.  They each pay homage to the other, yet both art forms vie for our attention and patronage.  After all, even best friends compete for center stage, and there’s only one spotlight.

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2 Responses to The Whole Pointé of Couture

  1. Jordan says:

    Veronica, this is a beautiful piece. Your images captivated me just as much as your writing. I think this was the perfect blend of informative and entertaining, as well as offered a fresh insight on a topic that I now believe to be overlooked. We hear and see the concept of movement in fashion, as well as materials that help make that happen, but I think it is often forgotten where fashion is deeply rooted: the fine arts. Fashion and dance are both about presentation, and I think you presented this story in a beautiful way. Thanks for being an insider to the world of dance!

  2. Chelsea Harrison says:

    I adore this piece. The title is spot on and a great hook. The writing is flowy and beautiful to match the two arts you are comparing. The images and video you feature are such great examples of fashion and dance coinciding, and they are well placed with the writing.

    I love the link to locality with the FD Luxe section. Dallas is a city so supportive of their own people, and you really highlighted their efforts in the arts. The first person interjections were appropriately casual in such an informative piece and made the readers feel like you were speaking directly to them.

    I was excited to read this piece as a lover of both of these arts as well, and I think you did a great job!


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