Gabrielle Chanel: friend, patron, artisan of dance 4

Dance · Fashion

I was intrigued to receive a note concerning a new four-episode series from fashion house, CHANEL, entitled Gabrielle Chanel & the Arts. A new episode of the series, which spools on the CHANEL youtube channel, gives a whirlwind-but-witty overview of Gabrielle Chanel‘s personal and artistic connections with avant-garde ballet.

At the turn of the 20th Century, dance opened up new paths for movement and artistic expression, in a quest for freedom. So, too, did fashion. Chanel, who studied dance with Caryathis and Isadora Duncan, was defining her own style with comfortable and elegant clothes meant to liberate women’s bodies.

In 1913, Chanel experienced a profound aesthetic shock triggered by The Rite of Spring, presented by the Ballets Russes and led by the impresario Serge Diaghilev. Set to music by Igor Stravinsky, the performance was a total rupture with the classical ballet tradition and resulted in a huge scandal. Chanel had met Diaghilev in Venice while in the company of her great friend Misia Sert. She wholeheartedly espoused the innovative vision of a multi-faceted art form that mixed dance, music, painting, sets and costumes. It signaled the beginning of a longlasting friendship that endured until Diaghilev’s death in 1929, and produced numerous collaborations, with a restaging of The Rite of Spring as the first.

In 1924, Chanel, in tandem with Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso, put her design talent to work for the Train Bleu, a satire on the Roaring Twenties.
The very chic outfits she designed for the swimmers, golf player and tennis champion appeared as if they were made for the actual sport. Directly fitted on the dancers, her outfits illustrated the accuracy of her vision of fashion freed of its shackles and in touch with real life.

Chanel also contributed supple silk tunics in 1929 for the second staging of the young George Balanchine‘s Apollo Musagète for Diaghilev. The score was by Stravinsky and the lead role interpreted by Serge Lifar who formed a warm friendship with the couturier that included carrying her on his shoulder. Even after the death of Diaghilev, Chanel continued her dance involvement, in 1939, for the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, designing costumes for the Bacchanale with sets by Salvador Dali.

Up to the modern day, the house of Chanel, in her Coco’s honor, is a patron of Paris Opera Ballet.

images courtesy of chanel

Gabrielle Chanel & Dance | | quand at comme vous voulez!

4 thoughts on “Gabrielle Chanel: friend, patron, artisan of dance

  1. debra levine Aug 18,2020 11:36 am

    If you are happy, I am happy. Yes, it’s fascinating to revisit the era, isn’t it? Debra

  2. Robert Johnson Jul 29,2020 4:41 pm

    Very happy to read this tribute!

  3. debra levine Jul 28,2020 6:28 pm

    I’m so glad that a talented contemporary dance-costume designer such as yourself, Catherine, appreciates this historic story. Debra

  4. Catherine Zehr Jul 28,2020 6:08 pm

    I really enjoyed this article on Chanel and dance! I love reading about fashion designers who make costumes for ballet It is usually a steep learning curve for the designers. I transitioned from the garment industry to costumes over 25 years ago and I am always discovering new things about the craft. Friends who work at the NYCB costume shop, have shared hysterical stories about guest designers trying to create danceable costumes. Another friend, who is head of wardrobe for a large ballet company, told me a saga about costumes for an upcoming premier. It was two weeks away and the designs were just approved! Oh well, Karinska was known for the last minute arrivals of her costumes (in a taxi) for Balanchine at the theater, as the curtain was going up!

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