August 31 2014

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Lacroix, A Stranger In A Strange Land


Christian Lacroix has famously stepped away from the catwalk, and to hear the master couturier tell it, he feels far away from the world of fashion—”a stranger in a strange land,” as he says. But that doesn’t mean he’s been sitting idle. Au contraire, the designer is busier than ever. This week, the fruits of his latest collaboration with Paris’ Opéra Garnier, a series of Swarovski-studded costumes for the nineteenth-century ballet La Source, hit the stage of the Opéra de Paris. (Swarovski donated two million crystals to the project, few if any of which, it seems, went to waste.) Above and below, Lacroix shares a few exclusive costume sketches. checked in with the designer to find out the impact trends have on what he is doing now (none), the freedom of the stage, and the various other projects he has up his sleeve.

How do you feel about the ballet, and what were your inspirations for La Source?
I feel quite happy about La Source, and of course it’s such a privilege to work with the Opéra Garnier—this is our fifth collaboration. They have wonderful workrooms, and incredibly skilled artisans who are always in a good mood. They’ve become friends. That said, it was a quite a challenge to make a forgotten piece into something new that was faithful to classicism and yet modern, which would fit with the unique talents of the Opéra de Paris dance corps and still speak to today’s audience. I was inspired by Eric Ruff’s poetic set, and of course Jean-Guillaume Bart’s strong yet subtle choreography. Fortunately, the ballet seems to be a hit. And I find that the music sticks in my mind.

What are the similarities and—more importantly—the differences in designing for the ballet and Couture?
A costume is made to be seen from afar; it has to “speak,” to convey a character from the moment the performer steps onto the stage. An haute couture piece is particularly beautiful when it’s right under your nose.

The distance between the stage and the audience is also magnified by light and the illusion of spectacle. You can improvise by using humble materials, which you can then patina, trim, and paint, forcing your point so that from a distance they appear sumptuous. In couture, you cannot use anything but the highest quality fabrics, embroideries, and other elements.

But the process is the same—for me in any case. I considered my couture clients heroines of their own lives, and I tried to create second skins for them that were in harmony with their bodies, their character, their lifestyle—exactly as for an actor, a prima ballerina, or an opera star. My fashions were theatrical, operatic, spectacular, and very akin to stage life. Trends of the moment are of scant importance to stage creations.

Much of the original 1866 ballet was lost in a fire: What sources did you have to draw on, and how much sprang from your imagination?
The Opéra’s library still has some set designs and costume sketches from that time, but I preferred not to look at them until the end, taking cues instead from Bart and the dramatist Clément Hervieu-Léger, whose color notions were very precise, plus the music and set design. I had only to illustrate their ideas: My aim was to create timeless costumes that were situated somewhere in between “period” and the imagination. I wanted touches of the Ballets Russes and modernized nineteenth century, with a dash of ethnic detail.

What other projects do you have coming up?
I am going to keep designing costumes in 2012, for productions of Don Pasquale, for Adrienne Lecouvreur at the Frankfurt Opera, for Peer Gynt at the Comédie Française, for Salomé at the Opéra de Saint-Gall, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme in Paris, a staging of Madame Butterfly in Hamburg, then Radamisto at the Viennese Opera in January 2013. I am also working on a hotel in Bangkok with Sofitel, and continuing my collaboration with the Monnaie de Paris, notably with a Kings of France-themed coin collection. And I am also finishing lines 3 and 4 of the Tramway in Montpellier, which will be operational next April.

What’s your view on fashion now, given the dramatic events of the past year or so?
Answering that would take hour upon hour and page after page. I do feel far away from that planet now, as if I were a stranger in a strange land!

Illustrations: Christian Lacroix