To coincide with the major retrospective at the V&A and the centenary of the Ballets Russes, London College of Fashion and English National Ballet have spent the past year working together on a unique project which examines the Ballet Russes and the incredible legacy of artistic director Diaghilev on dance, art and, of course, fashion. To mark the culmination of this exciting collaboration we decided to talk to Rob Phillips, the Creative Director of the School of Fashion Design and Technology to learn more about the project. In the first part below we set the scene and learn how the project evolved over the course of the year. Here, we learn about the creative and design processes displayed by the students throughout the course of this very special project.
Tailored trousers and jersey drape T-shirt by Deema Abi-Chahine
SS: The project began in 2009 with LCF students having the chance to explore the Ballets Russes through English National Ballet’s performances, rehearsals, set design and importantly, giving students a unique insight into costume design for dance. I'm really intrigued to hear more about the creative processes that the students explored and demonstrated. Could you talk us through some of the processes displayed?
Rob Phillips: The project gave the students amazing opportunities to explore the rich heritage of English National Ballet. The students were given access to Marden in Kent where ENB have their storage facility of costumes and sets. It is a treasure trove of all the performances past and present that ENB have been involved with. We were lucky enough to be given a guided by Head of Costume Wizzy Shawyer. Marden is also where new costumes and sets are made so it really was an unique visit.
Students also visited the rehearsals at the ENB studios in London Kensington where they were preparing for the Ballet Russes season in June 2009 at Sadlers Wells. Some of the students that went along sketched and recorded what they saw.
Fleur Derbyshire-Fox Director of Learning at the ENB gave the students a lecture about the history of Ballet Russes and the ENB which helped the students start to put into context what they were seeing. It also provided them with inspiration for what the ENB was all about. During June 2009 students were able to see performances at Sadlers Wells – for some of them this was the first time they had seen a ballet performance and was a great inspiration for them. So the students really had many experiences to draw upon when they set out on their design process whether this was through drawing or watching and listening to what was around them.
Despite the fact that it was a very creative brief – it was important the outcome was relevant to fashion. One particular menswear student was very inspired by the set, colours and lights and how all of this goes in motion with the movement of the ballet dancers - so her garment was designed to have movement in it, rather than a garment that can be danced in – in fact although the garment looks as though there is movement in it is actually quite restrictive!
The whole process for students is to create and negotiate their own path to answer the brief. The process from there is all about the individual student and the world they create from their own view point. The brief is there to give structure but the outcome is like a jigsaw, it can be played with and essentially it is all about the autonomy of each student and how they decide to interpret the brief.
Ivy printed multi-layered Vest and trousers by Tomi (Wai Yee Ho)
SS: Ultimately, the project has brought together three cultural powerhouses with spectacular results. Looking back over the finished designs and the project as a whole, how proud are you that the students have managed to the incredible legacy of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and the significant impact the company continues to have, not only on dance but also on art, design and fashion? I know this must be difficult but do you have any particular highlights?
Rob Phillips: The highlight for me has been watching how each student has developed their ideas. Through this process the students come to realise, that through people such as Diaghilev, elements such as fashion, art, costume, theatre ballet and dance all intermingle – they all affect each other and lend themselves to each other.
This project has opened up the mindset of the students that fashion is not just about wearing clothes and that in the design process other factors come into play – they have seen that fashion designing can be more fulfilling by using different approaches. They have become enriched when given an opportunity which isn’t just about producing designs which are for the everyday – this project showed them about creating an impact and pushing the imagination to be inspired by other practices, such as Diaghilev was. It is great that the students will now take this experience and new ways of working into their final collections – so watch this space!
Appliqué Cotton Top and shorts by Tristan Lahoz
Full Credit list for the shoot is as follows: Creative Director - Rob Phillips. Photography - Sean Michael. Assisted by - James Finnigan. Hair & Make Up -Dora Veronica Simson & Marina Kerecsanyi using M.A.C. Models - Jay, Abella and Jodie all at Nevs. Location - English National Ballet - Marden.
The finished designs will be displayed at the V&A for one night during the landmark exhibition ‘Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929’. The display is part of a special evening entitled Ballets Russes Design Perspectives – which takes place at the V&A at 8pm on Friday 19 November and is free (hurray!) to the public.