FW ’16 Borrows Inspiration from Les Ballets Russes

4 years ago

Les Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company set up in 1909 by Sergei Diaghilev who has been called an impresario, dictator, devil, charlatan and sorcerer to say the least. Les Ballets Russes revolutionsed the arts in the 20th century and continue to inspire fashion today. Here, ballet was not only a celebration of dance but a collaborative and equal partnership between dance, art, music, fashion, design and culture. This camaraderie across disciplines feels very relevant to the current mood across the fashion industry and especially on the Fall runways.

Diaghilev and Stravinsky

After her FW16 show, Miuccia Prada declared that “We need to understand who we are today. Everything is symbolic. It is like a collage of what is happy or painful, of whether you are feeling beautiful or horrible, when you have love or no love.”

At the same time, Alessandro Michele’s debut collection for Gucci used references as diverse as rock ‘n’ roll, China and the Renaissance. His collection featured fashion as a way to visually contain time, history, politics and identity. The fact that designers are constantly looking outward and using their reactions as a canvas for fashion is telling of the depth with which fashion and trends are conceived.

Fashion is fighting for relevance, by looking back at the ballet ruses, the industry reflects on the importance of clothes as not one designer’s aesthetic put into practice, but a whole ethos of a moment or period. Fashion is a collaborative art, between art itself, culture, music, romance, history, colour and this is something Diaghilev understood.

Post the shows which were almost like an homage to Les Ballets Russes’s concept of collaboration and partnership, the idea of fashion as a crucible to what is happening in the world becomes definitive. Prada has stated that it is fashion’s ability to encompass and reflect multiple meanings that makes it relevant.

Here is a look back at key moments in this Russian company’s short but significant history.

Ballet in the 19th century was romantic and predictable where choreography remained classic and costumes traditional. On 19th May, 1909, Diaghilev challenged everything Europe knew about ballet and introduced a world of strikingly colourful sets, exotic costumes, athletic Russian dancers, and designs inspired by the art world, namely surrealism.

Les Ballets Russes was not only a celebration of dance but a collaborative and equal partnership between dance, art, music, fashion, design and culture. Diaghilev brought together great minds such as Igor Stravinsky, Coco Chanel, Léon Bakst, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Henri Matisse in the name of ballet.

Throughout Diaghilev’s collaborations, it is Leon Bakst who shines the brightest as he was the first designer to come on board and remain so till his death in 1924. He was most famed for his use of colour and Erdem, who designed a scarf inspired by Bakst stated that “’the designs of Bakst are so surreal and vivid. I think it’s the exoticism and escapism of Bakst’s work that is so inspiring and what makes it quite timeless.”

We see this connection back to escapism on the Fall runways where a traveler layers on clothing to exaggerated proportions at Balenciaga while taking a trip to the Orient with Gucci.

Yves Saint Laurent applauded Les Ballets Russes’s representation of Russian fashion and textiles in his 1976/77 Fall Winter collection which has been referred to as “Ballet Russes,Opera et Ballet Russes, Rich Peasant, The Russian Collection, or simply as YSL’s 1976 collection”. Yves Saint Laurent applauded this aesthetic by presenting Cossack style boots, peasant tops, fur hats and woven textiles.

“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” Coco Chanel


The influence of Diaghilev and his collaborators continues to move great minds even today, as the styling of Les Ballets Russes was a story of more than simply ballet. Fashion does not operate in a vacuum and the ripples of Les Ballets run through Fall Winter 2016 as much as any other season at Mary Katranzou, Gucci, Givency and Celine.