August 30 2014

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Stella McCartney, En Pointe  


Stella McCartney knows her way around a runway collection, a Met ball gown, or even a line of Olympic-ready sportsgear. But when she was asked to costume the new ballet Ocean’s Kingdom—scored by her father, Sir Paul McCartney, and choreographed by the New York City Ballet’s Peter Martins—the seasoned veteran had to stretch her muscles a bit more than usual. Tomorrow night, the ballet debuts at Lincoln Center. Beforehand, caught up with McCartney to talk working with dad and designing a tutu-less ballet.

Did you do ballet when you were you a little girl?
I didn’t really do it when I was younger. I tried for a moment, but ballet kind of passed me by, it wasn’t really part of my life. Maybe we were a little too rock ‘n’ roll for the ballet lessons? My daughter is big into ballet though.

What was this collaborative process like for you?
It’s more of a collaboration than most things I have ever done, actually. Working with Dad was more talking to him about his vision for the characters and what they symbolize. There is definitely a clear storyline. But it’s funny, the music has been a little less important than the hair and makeup for the costumes.

How did you work with Peter Martins and the dancers to create the costumes?
Working with these incredible dancers, I treated them like athletes. The athletic thing comes pretty naturally for me through my work with Adidas and the upcoming Olympics. With Peter, it was working on the aesthetics, like elongating legs, revealing their extreme movements, and emphasizing the technique, and also telling a story. You are telling a story through costumes. It’s been an incredibly complex process. Being asked to design costumes for music that hasn’t been finalized, or choreography that hasn’t been finished, isn’t easy.

I can’t help but notice there are no tutus in this ballet. Why not?
It’s funny, from the first day, my biggest question was: How did Dad see it? It was very contemporary, musically and visually. As a fashion designer, when you are asked to do a ballet, the first thing you want to do is an amazing, elaborate tutu—especially as a woman. It’s been refreshing to not do that. It’s easy to get so theatrical with this but I wanted to make sure to bring my brand and voice into the ballet.

These costumes took a lot more time than you predicted. How long have you been working on them?
Every day, since we started a couple of months ago. It’s definitely been a thought-consuming and time-consuming process, for sure.

What were you most surprised by?
There was nothing I was totally surprised by, but it’s been more extreme than I would have thought. We have this incredible music by Dad, this amazing choreography, and it’s the bringing together of all those elements. Maybe it’s the timeline and the way the choreography comes so much after that has been difficult? The choreography and music was an ongoing process, but the clothes have to be set a little more in stone. Nothing really whacked me in the face from left field, luckily. To do a ballet for the New York City Ballet, it’s incredible.

Would you do this again?
Maybe—I am open to everything. For me, I have a fashion show as my normal venue and with this, it’s really exciting that this will travel and thousands will get to experience the entire process. It will fill their life for one moment. I definitely have a tutu in me, somewhere. I wanted to create elements I would be proud to put down the runway, if that were to happen. In no way did we want it to be too theatrical or comic. You really have to find a balance between ridiculous and storytelling.

On the big debut night, will you be backstage or in the audience?
I have been seated in the audience, but I feel a bit like I should be backstage. I will know that during those key days, where I should be. I’m a bit nervous, you always are. It’s a totally new arena for me. I’m hoping it goes OK. I haven’t even seen the costumes on stage yet. I finally got to see it in a rehearsal room, so at least I could see it to scale. That’s really important to me and that was really cluttering my mind.

Did your work on the ballet influence your work as a fashion designer in any way?
Had we had more time, and had the timing been in conjunction with my collections, I think it might have. Maybe it influenced my ready-to-wear collection a bit? Perhaps it’s more the other way around. It’s an interesting process working with dancers. It’s kind of like you have a grid and you have to work into that. There’s a reason that ballets look the way they do. It’s not like an opera where no one is moving—headpieces can fall off mid-pirouette!

Get a sneak peak at rehearsals and costume fittings with Stella, here.

Photos: Courtesy of Stella McCartney