Ballets Russes Style

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Diaghilev’s Dancers and Paris Fashion
By Mary E. Davis

In the decades between its debut performance in Paris in 1909 and the death of impresario Sergei Diaghilev in 1929, the Ballets Russes was an unrivaled sensation not only in France but in London, New York and the other cities it toured. Attention has often focused on the links between Diaghilev’s troupe and modernist art and music, but there has been surprisingly little written concerning the company’s role in tastemaking and trendsetting. Ballets Russes Style reveals for the first time the full extent of the ensemble’s influence on haute couture.

The Ballets Russes’ seasons were an exciting laboratory for ambitious cultural experiments, often grounded in the aesthetic confrontation of those great designers, artists and composers who travelled with the troupe from St Petersburg – Léon Bakst, Alexandre Benois and Igor Stravinsky among them – and Paris’s avant-garde, which included Picasso, Satie, Matisse, Debussy and Ravel. The ensemble brought the stage and everyday life into creative contact with each other, most noticeably in the world of fashion. In its heyday, the Ballets Russes was a potent force in defining Paris Style, bringing the work of great designers such as Jeanne Paquin and Coco Chanel to the stage, and creating sensibilities that resonated in the collections of couturiers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent and beyond.

Beautifully illustrated and drawing on unpublished images and memorabilia, this book illuminates the ways in which innovations by the Ballets Russes in dance, music, sets and costume both mirrored and invigorated contemporary culture.

‘A wonderful addition to the large body of literature available on the topic, this is a small, compact and well-organized book focusing specifically on the impact the troupe had on designers working at the time … What is nice about this particular volume is the links drawn between specific theatrical designs or performers and the couture they inspired … I will be spending considerable time with this book in the coming months.’

Reaktion Books, 2010. Paperback, 256 pages.