Dance is a language. It helps to raise spirits, communicate stories, an act of passion, and, like clothing, a medium for self-expression. Dance enriches our lives and our culture, but any performance wouldn’t be complete without a costume. There’s no wonder that fashion and dance go hand in hand, and that the revolution of merging the two art forms together came from none other than Mademoiselle Chanel.

It was known that Gabrielle Chanel adored the art of dance. She took dance lessons with Isadora Duncan and Caryathis that revealed her natural inclination towards precision and movement – something she translated into her clothing.

Performers from Le Train bleu. Costumes by Chanel.

In 1913, she watched a performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring featuring choreography by Nijinksy, the principal dancer in Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. This piece of avant-garde theater, which was considered extremely controversial by the conservative public, captivated the young visionary. In 1917, she was introduced to the Polish socialite, pianist, muse and patron of the arts, Misia Sert. Thanks to Mrs. Sert, Gabrielle Chanel was propelled into the world of creatives and artists, who eventually became some of her closest friends and confidants. Among those connections was Sergei Diaghilev himself, the revolutionary founder the Ballet Russes company. He combined the classical conventions of dance to transcend ballet into a new art form, inviting the best musicians, choreographers, and painters to take part in his pieces. In 1924, Gabrielle Chanel lent her talents to create the costumes for Le Train bleu, a performance about the idle rich, having fun on a beach, and bathing in the sea: a perfect metaphor for the 1920s lifestyle. Chanel crafted silhouettes for bathers, golfers and tennis players – revolutionary designs that are still on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum today. She was involved until the last minute, making alterations to the costumes up until the final rehearsals to ensure they weren’t restricting the dancers in their movements.

Over the course of the next 20 years, Gabrielle Chanel continued to create some of the most astonishing stage pieces that were modern and memorable. Now that Karl Lagerfeld is the creative mind behind the fashion house, he continues to honour the patronage work of the brand’s founder, such as holding the role as the official partner of the Nijinsky Awards Ceremony in Monaco.

Fashion has always been an integral part of dance. A performance is not complete without a costume, and the stories told through clothing are just as important as those told through movement. As a nod to the House’s revolutionary past with modernizing dance, and to celebrate the beginning of a new cultural calendar, CHANEL sponsored the Opening Gala night of the Opéra de Paris’ new dance season.

The night was something magical: Karl Lagerfeld was in attendance and designed special costumes just for the evening. The Gala programme included a presentation of the Ballet Corps (meaning all the Opera dancers from the kids to étoiles), followed by the ballet DECADANCE by Ohad Naharin with a pas de deux, BOLERO, danced by Aurélie Dupont and Diana Vishneva, in costumes created by Lagerfeld. The night concluded with a midnight ball.

Aurélie Dupont, the director of the Opéra National de Paris since 2016, spoke about his excitement for this partnership. “After weeks of rehearsing for a show, where we work on the positions and reflect on the role, putting on the costume allows us to completely metamorphose, to embody a role. Just like the Opéra de Paris, the House of CHANEL is an institution that is both classical and contemporary: it has an incredible heritage, but also a strength, a modernity, and an open mind. For me, this partnership with the House of CHANEL for the Opening Gala of the dance season is so right. Because when you love CHANEL and CHANEL loves you…”

As the fashion powerhouse continues to expand its cultural influence with supporting creative initiatives, young designers, and artists across the globe, we expect that the story of CHANEL and dance will continue on, and there are many more fantastical nights and performances infused with Gabrielle Chanel‘s spirit, love and charisma to come.

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