Jan 16, 2020
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MFIT to pay tribute to the ballerina’s influence on fashion

Jan 16, 2020

Starting this February, The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT) will be hosting an exhibition exploring the influence of the centuries-old art form of classical ballet on modern high fashion.

A ballet-inspired Christian Dior gown from 1947 - Photo: Louise Dahl-Wolfe / MFIT

Entitled “Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse” and organized by MFIT’s deputy director, Patricia Mears, the exhibition will feature some 90 pieces, ranging from haute couture gowns with tutu-inspired skirts, to ready-to-wear designs based on leotards, as well as an array of extravagant ballet costumes.
Most of the objects on display date from the 1930s to the early 1980s and have been selected from MFIT’s permanent collection, as well as from British institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of London and the Fashion Museum Bath.

Other lenders include the New York City Ballet, the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the private holdings of fashion editor Hamish Bowles.
A number of the pieces in the exhibition, which also seeks to look into the ways in which Britain and America helped drive the mid-century revival of classical ballet, will be on display in the United States for the first time ever.
Visitors will be able to see evening gowns by the likes of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Chrisitan Dior and Pierre Balmain, alongside ballet costumes designed by Christian Bérard for the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, Barbara Karinska for the New York City Ballet, and Geoffrey Holder for the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
American ready-to-wear also features heavily in the exhibition, which will include activewear, knitted separates and dresses by designers such as Claire McCardell, Vera Maxwell, Stephen Burrows and Bonnie August of Danskin.
Among the pieces set to go on show, Mears’ personal favorites include the Dying Swan costume worn by the great Anna Pavlova – on loan from the Museum of London – as well as the couture wardrobe of the celebrated British ballerina and “woman of style”, Dame Margot Fonteyn, which features pieces by Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, and is on loan from the Fashion Museum Bath.

A costume designed by Barbara Karinska for the New York City Ballet - Photo: MFIT

“The exhibition illustrates how the ballerina’s corseted tutu, practice tights and leotards, and footwear inspired many of fashion’s leading designers, from the 1930s and through the 1970s,” Mears explains. “Surprisingly, there had never been a large-scale exhibition nor comprehensive publication on the subject of classical ballet’s influence on fashion.”
And as anyone with an eye on the runways might have noticed, it’s an influence that can still be seen today. As Mears points out, “classical ballet has been undergoing a resurgence in popularity over the past decade or so. Its rise is reflected in the many fashion collections centered on balletic themes. The Ballerina exhibition reflects this phenomenon.”
“Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse” runs February 11 through April 18, 2020 at MFIT, NYC. The exhibition will be accompanied by a public program featuring panels and symposiums.

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