The history of the relationship between Chanel and dance is long and rich. In 1913, its founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel happened to see a representation of Igor Stravinsky The Rite of Spring, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, principal dancer of the Ballets Russes. An introduction to Polish pianist and patron of the arts, Misia Sert four years later will help galvanize Coco’s bond with the world of dance. One day, during a lunch with Serts and Sergei Diaghilev – the founder of the Ballets Russes – she learned of her struggle to find financial support to revive The Rite of Spring, and decided to help. In December 1920, the production finally returned to the stage in Paris.
It was not only Coco’s first act of patronage, but the first of many collaborations with the Ballets Russes. She created costumes for The Blue Train (1924), Apollo Musagete (1929) and, a decade after Diaghilev’s death, bacchanalia (1939) in partnership with the artist Salvador Dalí. Contemporary designs, much like her fashion, focused on comfort and freedom of movement and were unlike anything the formal world of ballet had ever seen.
Throughout his tenure as Creative Director of Chanel, the late Karl Lagerfeld upheld this tradition. He created the costumes for two ballets by German choreographer Uwe Scholz (1986 and 1987); designed Elena Glurdjidze’s outfit in a 2009 production of Swan Lake – which required more than 100 hours of know-how; and, in 2016, at the request of Benjamin Millepied, then director of the Paris Opera Ballet, he dressed the Brahms-Schönberg Quartet ballet.
On Friday, September 20, the legacy of Chanel and dance continued when, for the second consecutive year, the house created costumes for the Paris Opera Ballet’s annual gala. Under the direction of Virginie Viard, each of the first six dancers interpreting Serge Lifar’s piece Variants wore a dress embodying a flower. Rose, lily, tulip, wisteria, cornflower and violet were reimagined in vaporous silk organza by Maison Lemarié (part of Chanel’s Métiers d’Art), adorning dancers’ bodices and skirts in sparkling tulle.