Portmanteau Commentary: Fashion in Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes

Being a fashion blogger, it was the costumes which interested me the most. Diaghilev aimed for complete creative control in order to give the audience a complete experience which harmonized on all levels. In commissioning not only choreography but also music, set design and costume, he introduced a beautiful collection of work that anyone who loves ballet can spot the influence of in many spectacles. Furthermore, there is currently a heightened interest of ballet in the world of fashion due to Natalie Portman's depiction of Swan Lake in the new film "Black Swan".



This strong sense of creative vision led Diaghilev to work with the best of the best contemporaries and at the exhibition I was able to witness collaborations with Ives Saint Laurent, Chanel and my personal favourite, Giorgo De Chirico. Those were of course not the only designers and hall upon hall the intricate embroidery, applique's and designer craftsmanship was somewhat difficult to comprehend in any environment other than on a runway. Far from being costumes, they were full fleshed modernised and conceptualized designer collections, there is no other way of describing it. What only confirmed my impression was the fact that each commissioned outfit was given the budget and indeed cost £50-£60 pounds in the early 1900s, which in comparison to now would be something between £1600 - £2000.

When one is told to visit an exhibition within an allotted time frame, it becomes clear that said exhibition is very much in demand. I therefore had my eyes firmly on the ground in shame upon fashionably late arrival at the door to meet with in-law family awaiting. Once we stepped inside, something happened that has, in my entire life of being schlepped from exhibition to exhibition, NEVER happened.

There was a line. No following the flow, looking where the exhibition leads you. No. You stood in line until the person next to you kindly moved onto the next piece of display so you could eagerly have a look at the highly, line-filled anticipated explaining text. It was insurmountably irritating, much like having to wait in line to see a slide show of pieces from an entire painting, rather than looking at the painting as a whole and letting your eye wander over it however the eye wishes.

Considering there was an "allotted time frame" I did feel the least the V&A could have arranged was to make sure that the halls weren't overfilled with people so you CAN actually have a look. Isn't that the point of such a scheme?

First impressions aside, however, which I quickly jumped in order to enter the second, larger hall with no crowding (jumping the queue, so to speak) the exhibition was insightful, broad in the discussion of the circumstances and impact as well as detailed in terms of displaying specific historic pieces actually used.

After reading several soap opera-like details of Diaghilev's and the company's affairs and dramatic private stories that are bound to happen when you work so closely that the company is called "the family", a scene played out in my head in which the prima-ballerina would prefer taking on a lesser role just so she could wear the more amazing costume. I bet that happened!



Picasso's depiction of two dancers by a beach, blown up to enormous and imposing proportions onto the front cover of the stage.

If after the exhibition the feasting on gorgeous pieces of historic couture has made the shopaholic in you itch, there are some seriously worthwhile pieces awaiting you in the shop, and I am not talking about the post cards! First off, what should I encounter but a custom, exclusively commissioned piece inspired by this very exhibition by a designer who, had he lived during the times of Diaghilev, would certainly have been involved in his collaborations... none other than ERDEM! And oh, what a beautiful silk scarf it is. For you bargain hunters, it's on sale, reduced from £185 to £60.



There were some other pieces as well, quite a few worth the money and exclusive to the exhibition, such as this gorgeous silk blouse that I wanted to take home with me.


The exhibition, which is open until the 9th of January (hurry!) is worth a visit, just make sure you pick a less busy time.

Thank you so much to Sue and Martin for inviting me to see the exhibition and to the rest of the in-laws for the lively discussions over some much needed cake.

And here's what I wore to the occasion, taken within the gorgeous halls of food consumption... coming with a general apology for poor images that were taken on the iPhone... I need to find my camera battery charger!


Image by Stuart Bannocks

Silver Sculpture Lira Leirner dress
Silver and Net Lira Leirner bracelet
Tie up navy blue and pearl necklace
Gray Calvin Klein ribbon tights
Silver Prada silk stilettos