Trading His Furs For Fouettés
With just hours before the curtain rises at the David H. Koch theater for the New York City Ballet’s Spring Gala tonight, J. Mendel’s Gilles Mendel is busy making the finishing touches on the costumes he’s designed for mater in chief Peter Martins’ new work, titled Mes Oiseaux. “I have been running back and forth to Lincoln Center with my scissors for two days now,” he told Style.com before heading back to the theater today. “It’s like doing a haircut—just a little more on this side and on that side until it’s perfect. It’s so surreal, here I am standing on the stage at Lincoln Center having the dancers of the New York City ballet do pirouettes for me so we can see that everything looks just right.”
It’s not the French designer’s first spin in the dance world. Back in 2010 he created the costumes for NYCB’s performance of Melissa Barak’s original ballet, Call Me Ben, which also provided inspiration for his Spring 2011 collection. “I like my clothes to be very precise because in fashion you want to look at them up close,” he said. “But from that experience, I learned to let go and stand 20 feet away from the dancer—things have to look good from a distance on the stage.”
For his second act, the designer brought the same femininity that’s linked to the J. Mendel aesthetic using tulle, stretch georgette, and muslin. But, he warns, “I think people will be quite surprised—it’s very graphic. The ballet is about three women and their relationship with a man. Peter and I wanted to give to the public a moment of discovery, so you wouldn’t know immediately that one woman is good, one is bad.” He designed a series of mostly-black costumes for the number, which only show the dancer’s true colors—figuratively and literally—when they move. An exclusive sketch of one of Mendel’s costumes is above.
Mes Oiseaux will be performed tonight alongside the Balanchine classic Symphony in C, with costumes by Marc Happel, and the latest work (titled Two Hearts) by former NYCB principal dancer and husband to Natalie Portman, Benjamin Millepied, with costumes by Rodarte. And check back tomorrow in People & Parties for our full report on the gala, hosted by honorary chairman Natalie Portman.