The Ballets Russes and the Haute Couture 2/3

Whether they were contemporaries of the movement or had Russia as an inspiration in their collections, many haute couture designers have infused their work with Slavic accents, often with the Ballets Russes and the avant-garde in the background.

I propose to explore together the work of some designers whose work inspired me, or that I discovered more fully during my research for the Sew me Ballets Russes collection.

The collection called "Opera - Ballets russes", from autumn/winter 1976 by Yves Saint Laurent:

It was impossible not to start with this emblematic collection and although the aesthetics of this fashion show is far from what attracted me to evoke the theme, its name alone opened the way to my research.

The influence of Léon Bakst's work is notable in Yves Saint Laurent's work for this collection.

Drawings by Yves Saint Laurent

Sets for the Russian Opera-Ballets collection by Yves Saint Laurent

Russia is embodied in the traditional blouse with puffed sleeves, the wide and voluminous skirt, the bright colours, the embroidery on waistcoats and belts, the fur. But there is also a more orientalist approach (with work on turbans, jewels, taffetas) which also permeated the set design and costumes of the Ballets Russes company.

clothes from the Opera-Ballets Russes collection by Yves Saint Laurent

drawing by Léon Bakst, Bérénice 1913

Costume by Léon Bakst for the Ballets Russes (character "the Blue God" 1912)

These multiple influences can be found in the work of the fashion designers Paul Poiret and Jeanne Paquin, contemporaries of the Ballets Russes.

Paul Poiret evening dress 1991

Paul Poiret coat 1919

Afternoon dress by Jeanne Paquin (circa 1923-24). The fur and embroidery work are reminiscent of the Slavic theme.

Evening dress, collaboration between Jeanne Paquin and Léon Bakst (1912)

This work on the silhouette with an ultra decorative and diverted approach to clothing and traditional Russian craftsmanship is also found in the work of designers decades later and will highlight the richness of the folklore of the great Empire and the world of dance mixed:

Oscar de la Renta set 1980

Fabergé" dress by Olivier Rousteing for Balmain 2018

Silhouette from the AH 2010-11 Alexander McQueen

Olympia Le Tan fashion show AH 2015-16

From Coco to Karl, the Russian Paris by CHANEL

Last but not least, I end this article on the relationship between Haute Couture and the most emblematic Russia that has inspired (and fascinated) me enormously.

Coco Chanel was a friend and patron of Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes. She notably signed the costumes for the ballet "Le train bleu".

In 1923, Coco launched an Haute Couture collection inspired by traditional Russian clothing: the roubachka (men's blouse), folk embroidery and fur are all part of Gabrielle Chanel's romanticized vision of Russian sophistication.

Later, Chanel hired the Russian artist Iliazd for his company TISSU CHANEL from 1927 to 1935, who designed motifs influenced by the Russian avant-garde and constructivist art movement.


Coco Chanel's history with Russia has many facets: patronage, art, but also several more intimate stories. After the 1917 revolution, many Russian artists fled to Paris. Gabrielle met the composer Igor Stravinsky, whom she sheltered and with whom she had an affair. This episode is recounted in this film with an ultra sleek aesthetic"Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky".


And the Parisian exile of the Russian aristocracy will be at the origin of her meeting with the Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovitch, cousin of tsar Nicolas II who will become her lover, and the sister of this one the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna who will associate with Coco Chanel. Indeed, the precarious financial situation of Maria Pavlovna will push her to use her knowledge for the traditional techniques of embroidery and it is in association with Chanel that she will found her embroidery workshop the company Kitmir.

Chanel evening dress Kitmir (1928)

Chanel's history with Russia will notably give rise to a "Cuir de Russie" perfume, jewelry collections, and Karl LAGERFELD will reinterpret these Slavic influences in 2018 with the "Paris-Moscow métiers d'Art" collection .

One finds there pell-mell the rich embroideries, the kokochnik, the fur, but also the modern motives of the constructivists.

Well, now you know everything about the long and exciting road that led me to the Sew Me Ballets Russes collection. I've focused here on the close relationship this movement had with fashion and how it continued to influence designers long after.

See you soon for the last episode, a real creative and collaborative surprise that I hope you will enjoy and be inspired by ;)

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