Fashion writer Elizabeth Marshall catches up with Fashion Historian and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Valerie Steele on why dance and fashion merge so effortlessly together.
What intrigues you about the relationship between dance and fashion? Why do you think they merge so well together?
I was drawn to it suddenly when I realised Capezio were having an anniversary and I said to my colleagues we’ve got to do our show on dance and fashion. It’s certainly not the first time places have done shows on dance and fashion, an Australian museum have done a beautiful show on ballet and fashion the year before. But what struck me as really interesting is the fact that they are both embodied art forms. Fashion is all about dressing the body and creating another persona and dance is something that the body does and the performance of it, you can photograph both forms but they are both really experiential and in-the-moment experiences.
Out of all the dance genres, which do you think lends itself most to fashion?
I think there is a much longer and elaborated history for ballet, particularly since ballet has gone so far back in time, that said modern dance has had an incredible impact on clothing and fashion and certain choreographers like Martha Graham found dress to be a really important component of their work, other modern dancers became what is the least you can wear to not impede the body, for instance leotards and tights and as little as you can get away with as possible but it very much depends on the choreographer and the vision, some are much more open to the idea of using costuming to convey a story or a feeling.
Do you feel that the fashion world was always a part of the dance world, beyond costuming?
I do think there is a considerable overlap in the audiences of dance and fashion, there are a lot of gay men and women involved in both and it’s very much a combination of an artistic and social world.
Do you think fashion designers vs. costume designers interpret dancewear differently?
I think they do, costume designers have an edge and a better idea in what’s required for dance costume as they a specialising in it, but I don’t think theatrical designer would be any better than a fashion designer doing it, we certainly sore that with some of the historical ballet costumes, where the choreographer would complain that the costumes don’t work for the dance as they can’t move. It’s a big step for a fashion designer to realise that the dancer is an athlete and have to be able to move freely, some choreographers and dancers are more receptive to the idea that their might be some necessity to modify the movement with the costume but for the most part the importance is on the fashion designer to come up with something that is going to work for the dancer.
A lot of designers are now using dancers in their runway shows, for instance Gareth Pugh’s collaboration with Wayne McGregor Random Dance. Do you think more designers are becoming interested in dance and are using it to heighten the fashion?
I do think there is definitely a trend, a lot of fashion designer’s I have spoken to say that they like dance and are interested in dressing dancers as they have beautiful and graceful bodies. It can also be used to show how the clothes are so fluid, Issey Miyake for example, has done a lot with dancers over the years, when I was at Paris Fashion Week this year, not only was there dance sequence in Miyake’s show but they were also simultaneously running on video tapes around the city of the previous season’s collection which was shown on dancers, so you can see how the clothes could really move with you.
A few fashion designers this season have started to do dance videos to showcase their collections, for instance Botega Veneta and Rag and Bone, do you think more designers will start to use the technology as well as the dance?
That definitely has an increasing appeal and as technology expands I think more fashion designers will become interested in thinking about new innovative ways to show their collection to keep up with the changing times.
What dance company do you think is being particularly fashion forward and visa versa?
The New York City ballet has made a point of trying to work with fashion designers back in September when they collaborated with Carolina Herrera, Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton and Mary Katrantzou to produce costumes for their fall gala. There has been also been certain friendships between for example Mark Morris and Isaac Mizrahi which has repeatedly led to interesting collaborations. And of course Paris Opera Ballet are also very interested in collaborating with fashion.
Do you think there is more to be explored with the relationship between dance and fashion? What would you like to see more of?
I do think that the fact that Iris Van Herpen was able to do such an extraordinary costume for the New York City Ballet and I really loved that, some people did criticise it because it made noises while it moved but I thought that was so exciting, and I think her work is so interesting at the moment. I often think the term theatrical is made into a criticism today in the world of fashion design as you don’t want things to look ridiculously theatrical as you want them to work in real life. Yet, there are certainly a number designers that are theatrical for instance John Galliano, the late Alexander McQueen, Christian Lacroix and I wish I had been able to require the Eonnagata costumes that McQueen had created for Sylvie Guillem but I wasn’t able to get them. Christian Lacroix has made a number of beautiful costumes for the ballet and that’s not at all surprising as he has always been extremely theatrical.
As a fashion historian, what does dance mean to you?
Dance is an art form that shares certain concerns with fashion, like the idea of adorning the moving body and this was one of my favourite shows to work on, I really loved working on it and when I finished on it, I thought I’m only just beginning to understand the subject, I would love to take it up in a few years and see what else can be done with it. It’s so incredibly rich and I wasn’t even able to touch on half of the dance cultures from around the world. I’ve spent a lot of my time in Bali and even though I’m the worlds worst dancer, I’ve studied Balinese dance just so I could see how difficult it was to actually do it and those costumes and the Cambodian Royal Ballet have extraordinary costumes and there’s definitely more that can be done with the subject of dance and fashion.
Images from http://www.valeriesteelefashion.com