As soon as I heard that Jean Paul Gaultier had designed the ballet costumes for Angelin Prelijocaj’s Snow White, I hurried to buy a ticket in a fever of excitement. Images circulating in the press showed the evil stepmother in what I would expect to be typical Gaultier fashion: thigh-high stiletto boots, a cutaway leather bustier with caged circles and a cape dipped in red. The Grace Jones-meets-dominatrix choice in costume made me wonder what lay in store for the rest of the ballet company.
Perched high up on the second balcony, I watched as Snow White emerged: a vision in white jersey. Snow White is, after all, a tale of innocence and sexual awaking. So the choice of white was not surprising. But the design of the dress – with its long panels draped over a high-cut leotard – was a surprising show of her sides, her upper thigh and rear. Somehow, the costume survived the performance by some clear elastic miracle.
“It’s really not a costume,” Gaultier told The Washington Post. “It’s just some fabric.” For Gaultier, purity of design (and yes, Snow White’s ignorance in the showing of her own skin) was the means of capturing innocence.
Elsewhere, Gaultier’s imagination ran wild. The prince, dressed like some superstar matador, wore high-waist orange trousers with panels of sparkly appliqué along the sides. I personally admired the playful colour riff with the neon suspenders. The hunter – sent out to kill Snow White – looked more like a trio of Jean-Claude Van Damme impersonators with their green berets than hit men. And the court, in dip-dyed rags of white and black made me wonder just how wealthy this particular kingdom was – given the fact that even the princess couldn’t afford to wear a proper dress with dance shoes.
Gaultier isn’t the only fashion designer to venture into the world of dance and performance. Just as Muuse’s Sara recently discovered, the Mulleavy sisters of Rodarte flexed their creative muscles in designing opera costumes for Mozart’s Don Giovanni in Los Angeles. But even before Gaultier and Rodarte, there were couturiers like Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel who with their strong opposition to corsetry, liberated the ballet dancer and advanced the design of performance costume. Gaultier isn’t the first and he won’t be the last. But his fetishist ballet costumes were certainly the most interesting to hit the stage.