English Version | It’s a tulle thing

07 Feb 2023
By Pureza Fleming

Shoes inspired by pointe shoes, tulle skirts, romanticized dresses, and hairstyles à la ballerina... Ballet has returned to the streets of the world to consummate a shamelessly strong statement of femininity. We want a lighter, softer, more optimistic Fashion. It is therefore time to adopt as much as we can of this graceful trend.

Shoes inspired by pointe shoes, tulle skirts, romanticized dresses, and hairstyles à la ballerina... Ballet has returned to the streets of the world to consummate a shamelessly strong statement of femininity. We want a lighter, softer, more optimistic Fashion. It is therefore time to adopt as much as we can of this graceful trend. 

About a year ago I decided to join a dance school to start taking classical ballet classes. Thirty-odd years later, I've slipped into a maillot and ballet shoes again (I still don't consider myself worthy of the tulle tutu). I had been mulling over this idea for some time, but it was the last performance of Swan Lake (one of the most famous ballets of all time, which I think needs no introduction), which I had the pleasure to attend, that made me decide to finally go back to ballet classes. Someone who starts dancing at the age of 40 cannot have any professional ambition. So why do it, especially since ballet is such a hard and demanding discipline? The answer is simple: because this art, and everything that surrounds it, is one of the most beautiful human creations in memory. And, as confirmed by today's Fashion, one of the most timeless, surpassing all notions of beauty that beauty has known throughout the ages, forgive the redundancy. At first glance, it is not difficult to understand why Fashion and ballet can have so much in common: the beauty and gracefulness they both bear are unquestionable in anyone's eyes. Let's just say that both ballet and Fashion can be breathtakingly serious affairs. For this very reason they have, for centuries, had an intrinsic connection. Essential items such as bodysuits (or maillots), tulle skirts, leggings, leggings, or delicate ballet slippers, have inspired Fashion in an up and down that is both cyclical and certain - certain that, one day or another, it will be back on trend. Consider the runways of the year 2022, and the references to ballet can be palpably felt: Simone Rocha's tulle-tutu dresses, the looks by Molly Goddard, the London designer who is mostly known for her tulle or silk dresses; or the homage (quite literally) from Michael Halpern, the creator who, for spring/summer 2022, opted for a digital presentation, held during the London Fashion Week, where he exchanged the usual models for some of the stars of the Royal Ballet School - Fumi Kaneko, Katharina Nikelski, Sae Maeda or the dancer of Portuguese and Guinean origin, Marcelino Sambé. Still, when we think of the rise of the ballet core, it is Miu Miu's Fall/Winter 2022 show that comes to mind. And it's not surprising: how can we remain indifferent to those ballet-inspired ballet flats, regardless of our inclination towards the sport? But it is Simone Rocha who is responsible for the proliferation of this trend, all thanks to her heightened romanticism, evident in her ultra-feminine silhouettes, bold and slightly gothic in tone. Then there are the tutu-like skirts courtesy of Lanvin, and the voluminous, ruffled dresses by Giambattista Valli. Even Zara, in 2021, collaborated with the New York City Ballet to present a collection that was a veritable devotion to the universe of classical dance. In addition, it is impossible to ignore the influx of ballet shoes, which has generated numerous debates about the return of this trend: either through the hashtag #balletcore, booming on TikTok, where Generation Z shows how to interpret this aesthetic; or through the stars of the American Ballet Theatre, who have left their mark on that platform. Either way, the final verdict is that there is no room for doubt: ballet is being reborn for a new generation.

The first manifestations of the ballet took place in Italy and date back to the 1500s - the term "ballet" derived from the Italian word "ballare," meaning "to dance." It was, however, when Catherine de Medici married King Henry II that the first dance styles began to appear in French court life. This eventually influenced Louis XIV of France who, in 1661, decided to inaugurate the Académie Royale de Danse (Royal Academy of Dance), an artistic institution whose purpose was to train professional dancers to enliven his court. The unofficial debut of ballet in Fashion dates back to the 1830s: "The great ballerina of the Romantic era of the 1830s and 1840s, Marie Taglioni, was such a star in Europe that fabrics and corsets were named after her, as well as her most acclaimed role, in La Sylphide," Patricia Mears, deputy director of FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) and curator of the exhibition Ballerina: Fashion's Modern Muse, revealed in a conversation with W magazine. La Sylphide is considered, even today, one of the most important ballets of the 19th century: it was the first piece to be developed and choreographed purposely for pointe shoes, demonstrating all the lightness of the ballerina. Mears also credits the Ballets Russes, a ballet company founded in Paris in the early 20th century by Russian Serge Diaghilev, as being the first popularization of ballet as a source of inspiration for several Fashion designers. The Ballets Russes became known for being one of the most influential ballet companies of the last century "thanks to collaborations with copious prominent artists/designers of the time, including designer Coco Chanel," Mears adds. George Balanchine's Cotillon Ballet (1932), the same ballet that introduced ballerina Tamara Toumanova (1919-1996) to the world, is believed to have served as inspiration for the Chanel signature tulle dresses launched at that time. The production of Sleeping Beauty, with its bluebird and lilac costumes, was in turn responsible for inspiring Elsa Schiaparelli to create her second signature color: sleeping blue. The story goes those pointe sneakers, as an assumed Fashion object, date back to the 1940s: it all happened when the designer Claire McCardell, not finding shoes that fit her collection, decided to incorporate them in her show. Her "supplier" was Capezio, a ballet specialty store that, at Diana Vreeland's suggestion, ended up producing versions of these sneakers for the common mortal to wear on the street."

"Classic ballet costumes are the true Haute Couture", suggests David J. Amado, dancer, director, choreographer, and ballet teacher for adults, in a conversation with Vogue Portugal. Born in Jamaica 34 years ago, he remembers that since he was a child he used to dance to the sound of Janet Jackson's video clips. At the age of 12, he headed to New York where he started dancing contemporary ballet and modern dance. "I felt that classical dance was not for me, because I was male, black... 'That's rich girl stuff,' I thought." Fact is, the legendary choreographer, George Balanchine, even stated, "Ballet is women." And, truth be told, few art forms are as decidedly feminine as classical ballet. However, at age 16 David entered The Ailey School in New York City, where he saw other, black men dancing classical, and so began his journey into classical dance. His mother, who made costumes and had a huge interest in Fashion, tried her luck in Paris, but to no avail: "It was the 80s, 90s, someone from the third world, and black, didn't have many opportunities in Fashion, especially in Haute Couture." David thus grew up under the sewing machines, while serving as a model for his mother's creations. In parallel, he also saw a passion for Fashion associated with ballet grow: "Just like in dance, I liked the fantasy, the beauty of Fashion... And classical dance is pure Fashion: the fantasy, the beauty, the detail, the textures, the fabrics, the colors..." For David, the most iconic ballet is the famous Swan Lake, but he also mentions La Vie en Rose or Raimunda which, he stresses, "has very beautiful tutus." In ballet everything is about aesthetics: "Everything has to be very beautiful. Very beautiful." She also recalls that classical dance saw its boom during times of war, and it was no accident: "[Watching a ballet] was a way for people to abstract themselves from real life, because real life was very hard, raw, sad, and scary, too. And when we create something, we want it to go beyond the every day, to transport people to another world, a world of beauty and fantasy." He considers, therefore, that classical is "in fashion" because we are, again, living in a hard, scary world: "We want to see something that takes us to another world, more beautiful, safer, a more absolute world too - because in classical dance, in Swan Lake, for example, the white swan is good, the black swan is bad. It is all very definite and absolute, there is no room for confusion. In our current world, everything is very confusing, nothing is black and white," he concludes. Like Fashion, ballet suggests such beauty that it rarely lets the work behind these stunning works show. But not everything is roses. Ballet requires discipline, lots of it, which should never be visible on stage. "Ballet is not natural, nobody is born with 'those feet', or with 'that' balance and flexibility... Nobody!", notes the dancer. "In our training, we have to change and mold our bodies to turn dance into something fanciful, beautiful, and totally out of every day." David J. Amado mentions designer Rick Owens as someone who represents the ballet universe well - even if, at first instance, this seems unlikely to us: "His platform boots give that feeling of being higher, in the air, which is something very ballet. A lot of times in dance it feels like your feet don't even touch the ground." There is, in ballet-inspired fashion, an irresistible romanticism and grace. You see someone wearing ballet shoes or a tulle skirt and you imagine them to be cute and delicate ballerinas or, why not, über chic Parisians. Reality has proven to be a little harsh lately. And there is, in these pieces, a certain sense of escapism, which is sometimes all that we need in our lives - even if it is just a small note.

Translated from the original on Vogue Portugal's The Innocence Issue, published February 2023.Full story and credits on the print issue.


Pureza Fleming By Pureza Fleming



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