alexa BlackBook: On Pointe: Star Designers Deck Out Prima Ballerinas for the Ultimate Curtain Call

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 New York City Ballet’s Fall Fashion Gala, on Sept. 28, presented several world-debut dances, along with original costumes by prominent fashion designers like Off-White’s Virgil Abloh, who created a dozen frothy confections for the event.

 

WHAT’S a night at the ballet without the glorious costumes? On Sept. 28, the New York City Ballet celebrated both at its annual Fall Fashion Gala, hosting the global premieres of four dance pieces, each outfitted with original creations by a buzzy NYC designer.

Prima fashionista Sarah Jessica Parker, who serves as vice chair of the NYC Ballet’s board, dreamed up the night of dancer-designer collaborations six years ago. This year’s all-star fashion team included Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim (of Monse and Oscar de la Renta), Virgil Abloh (of Off-White), Jonathan Saunders (of Diane von Furstenberg) and Tsumori Chisato.

They were paired with four rising choreographers, including Gianna Reisen, who — at just 18 years old — is the youngest ever appointed by the company. Principal dancer Lauren Lovette returned with a new piece this year, after presenting her debut work last season — a rarity for women in the ballet world.

She blames the shortage of female choreographers on the pressures of performing. “Women just have a lot of dancing to do in a day,” Lovette tells Alexa, noting that the competitive stakes are high. “That’s why a lot of women don’t really think about the creative side; they think about the technical side and the artistic side and trying to be better every day.

“It wasn’t until I got promoted to principal,” she continues, “and I achieved that goal to be a prima ballerina that my boss came to me and said, ‘Now will you choreograph?’” Fortunately, the answer was yes.

And when she heard she’d be pas de deux-ing with Monse’s Kim and Garcia on costumes for her gala piece this year? “I almost had a heart attack,” Lovette laughs, noting that she’d saved one of their runway looks on her phone for inspiration. “I couldn’t believe it.”

“Lauren’s approach is very forward-thinking, which is refreshing,” says designer Kim, with Garcia adding: “It’s been very fluid and experimental working with her.”

Parker was similarly thrilled. “We are really excited about what Monse is doing,” she tells Alexa. “The fact that they’re also at the house of [Oscar] de la Renta is not inconsequential to us.”

Meanwhile, Off-White’s Abloh created costumes (including ethereal, pastel tulle skirts) for wunderkind choreographer Reisen — all thanks to a fortuitous note.

“I got a random email from [Parker] that was superawesome and heartfelt,” he tells Alexa. “I was blown away — little does she know she’s this muse for me. Then a couple weeks later she emailed back and suggested I design costumes for a ballet that was being created. So I have been working on this for the last three months.”

Parker describes Marc Happel, head of the NYCB’s costume shop, as “the linchpin making it all work,” serving as a translator between the choreographers and the designers. “In my mind, I have a very clear idea of what is needed in a costume to make a dancer comfortable,” he explains. “Certainly we have tricks — I’m always looking for what kind of treatment there is around the waist.”

Garcia brought existing pieces from the Monse line — including a fitted black jacket with a cinched peplum flare and lace-up sleeves — to Lincoln Center for a test run with Lovette.

“I got lucky because I felt like Monse had already met me halfway,” reflects Lovette. “Their clothes are so movement-based. All of their advertising is in motion. Their models are jumping — the clothes have life. What better way than dance to put life within the clothes?”

 

Photo by Taylor Jewell