For the past ten years, NYCB’s costume director-led New York City ballet shop has collaborated with some of fashion’s biggest names and brightest emerging talent on wardrobe for the company’s annual fall fashion gala. Tonight, Raf Simons and Paloma Spain founder Alejandro Gómez Palomo join a list of 30Thirty designers that includes Valentino Garavani, Dries Van Noten, Sarah Burton, Carolina Herrera, Virgil Abloh, Christopher John Rogers and Iris Van Herpen. Simmons worked on NYCB Resident Choreographer Justin Peck’s live performance premiere. Solo, and Palomo joined forces with choreographer Gianna Reisen on the world premiere of Solange’s original score. Gilles Deacon, who previously partnered with choreographer Kyle Abraham for the 2018 Gala, is returning for an additional collaboration for the new world premiere of Abraham.
This year’s 10th anniversary honors NYCB Board of Directors Vice Chair Sarah Jessica Parker, who conceived the Fall Fashion Gala in 2012 and has spearheaded the annual gala’s fundraising efforts, which has raised more than $24 million for NYCB over the past decade. Before the gala performance, bazaar.com He chats with Happel about how to decorate an outfit with 800,000 Swarovski crystals, design calls from Valentino yachts, fashion and dance, among others.
Ten galas, thirty designer collaborations – I’m sure it’s hard to choose, but are there any in your mind that were particularly successful or that you particularly liked?
Mark Happel: Of course, I have to say that since Mr. Valentino, those moments with him have been the highlight of my life because he will always be a fashion icon. When he was in town, he always presented himself. He was seen in a clothing store with Giancarlo. [Giammetti] noon or so. Worn to the nines, and smells amazing. He comes and basically holds court in a suitable room.
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Another time, he would call me from his boat in the Mediterranean, which he liked to call a boat, until I finally said I had seen the photos and it was indeed a boat. He would only call me with small details that something should be rushed instead of being enjoyed. Then he would tell me how hot the deck was and the puppies paws were burning.
Other than that, it’s hard for me to say because they were all amazing in one way or another. Mrs. Herrera introduced me to beadwork in India and I love Dres Van Noten’s use of color and pattern, how he mixes them. There are definitely some designers who were more hands on than others.
Thom Browne was another pleasure to work with. I think he had a special interest in challenging the shop in any way he could. At one point he wanted me to outline all the skirts with grocery ribbon. He showed me a sample of what the studio had done and said, ‘Will you see if you can do this?’ He came two days later and the dress was completely made. He was like, ‘Oh, okay, well, since you did that, now what about this?’ He always had little challenges for us and we always met them. I think he was very surprised by what we were producing.
How did you find collaborating with designers who weren’t necessarily involved in designing a platform?
MH: There are three things I always talk about. One is the balance and detail and how it disappears with distance on the stage, as opposed to the airport or the red carpet. I often put something on a dresser and have them stand at the opposite end of a long corridor and say, ‘You’re ordinary. Everyone’s away,’ I say. I want you to understand that small details will be lost.
Next is the stage lights and how heavy they are and how much color they can change. Oftentimes subtle colors stand out and you have to push everything a little to make sure it reads.
Then the third thing is to use fabrics that are stretched in them. There are so many, so many stretch fabrics made these days, so if a designer comes to me and wants to do everything in chiffon, I say, ‘Well, what about chiffon?’ i say. Or if you want organza, ‘How about stretch organza?’ That was really interesting because sometimes I meet designers who don’t even know these stretch fabrics exist, and then I take them into their studios and see them play with them in their own fashion.
Some of the costumes are obviously very tailored – like traditional leotards and tutus – and some of them are really out there. What are your discussions about the shapes you make for dance? I’m thinking of Christopher John Rogers, for example, with those huge volumes that are very different from what we normally see in ballet. I bet Alejandro Gómez Palomo is cooking up something for this year’s gala.
MH: Choreographer Sidra Bell, who worked with Christopher John Rogers, specifically requested volume. She was interested in working with these very large, graphic, colorful forms. She sang around that somehow.
Same with choreographer Gianna Reisen and Alejandro Gomez Palomo. What he cooked up was outrageous: his clothes were covered in 800,000 Swarovski crystals! She was very accepting of what his concept was and worked around it. When the dancers enter the fitting room, they feel the weight at first. But then, once it’s on them, I think they’ll see how amazing it is.
Did all these crystals have to be applied by hand?
MH: No, no. Swarovski provided us with very generous sheets of crystals, these 36″ x 18″ plastic films. You put that on the pattern pieces and then with a big hotfix machine – it’s basically a big heat press – the crystals are glued into the pattern.
I think Iris van Herpen could be another designer with a very fresh approach?
MH: That was the time when I felt that dressmaking had moved into the 21st century because when we were making her dresses, we realized that they were all shapes that reflected the musculature of the body in some way. Each consists of perhaps 25 to 50 crescents in graduated sizes. We realized early on that it would take us forever to make this pattern. At the time, her husband was working in an architecture company and she took a position at home. He said, ‘Well, this is something you can do on a computer.’ We basically had him create files for us that were printables of patterns so we could use those to cut out these shapes. It was a huge help and probably saved us months of work.
Are there any collaborations you weren’t sure about at first?
MH: Zac Posen had the idea of taking old clothes and flipping them upside down. He asked me for a bunch of old tutus, and at first I was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that was going to happen.’ Then digging a little, I found some old ones Symphony by C Clothes. Old, discarded overalls that are in very bad shape and should never really be seen on stage anymore. I sent them to him and he took them and did wonderful things with them. He took them inside, turned them upside down, cut the skirts and put them back in different places.
What is the process for choosing choreographer designer couples?
MH: What usually happens is that we come up with a list of fashion designers that we think we might be interested in. We usually come up with five or six. Some years it’s been 10 or 12 years. I present them to choreographers and find out who they like. Then Sarah Jessica Parker reached out to the designers and made them ask the official. In most years, they said yes. I can’t think of many who didn’t accept the invitation.
When a choreographer starts choreographing, does the designer start drawing clothes?
MH: We try to make that happen as much as we can. The cart is always a little bit before the horse, because we start dressing in late spring and often the music isn’t even chosen at that time. When Gianna thought of her piece for this year’s gala, Solange wasn’t at first.
Often the three of us sit together – the choreographer, the designer and myself – and we talk about what they think, no matter what idea or concept they have, even if they have a remote idea, at least so that the designer can. here you go. I find that often the designs can inform the choreography, and that’s very different than in ballet.
This season you’re teaming up with Raf Simons as well as previous collaborator Gilles Deacon. What are their theories?
MH: Raph, I’ve never met. He talked to Justin and sent the finished clothes, which is a first for us. They are made-to-measure suits for overweight men and they have an atelier somewhere in Italy, I think, or Paris that makes them. This is the only single dancer in the piece; Anthony Huxley will perform at the gala and later Sarah Mearns will play the role.
This is the second time Giles has designed a ballet for Kyle Abraham for a gala. He sends publications. This time he sent three of them and had them printed on five different fabrics. Those involved in making costumes with historical references are somewhat mixed and put together in a unique way. Giles dabbles in a lot of Renaissance imagery—pumpkin hose, very full shirts, that sort of thing—and there are classical tutus, too. The pictures are of the type assembled by the publications.
What is the most important element to ensure the success of the partnership?
MH: Here at the New York City Ballet Costume Shop, we have an amazing team of artisans who give 100% of themselves to creating these costumes. They often meet the most unusual techniques, and always rise to the occasion. This gala would not have happened without them.
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