PARIS — Having dressed the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kanye West, Olivier Rousteing is bringing his glam aesthetic to a different crowd of performers: Ballet dancers.
Dancer and choreographer Sébastien Bertaud has tapped the Balmain designer to create the costumes for “Renaissance,” a ballet that will be performed as part of a program of four pieces by up-and-coming talents at the Paris Opera from June 13 to 18.
He noted that the ornate Palais Garnier, the historic home of the Paris Opera, belongs to a tradition of visual opulence.
“My ambition is to create a classical ballet for today, so the idea was to be able to continue mining that DNA while looking to the future. For me, Olivier was the only person today who shares the same approach of innovating while respecting traditional techniques,” Bertaud said.
It turns out that Rousteing has been a closet ballet fan since childhood, having even taken some classical dance classes when he was little. Now he is more likely to be found twerking in nightclubs with friends like models Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, which made his commission all the more unexpected.
“To be honest, I was really surprised and moved because, for me, this goes beyond designing clothes for the opera. This project really represents French heritage,” Rousteing told WWD. “Obviously I love the world of pop, but for me, it all goes back to classical dance. I’ve been fascinated with it since I was a child.”
“With the world of the Opera, we are opening up a new sector and a new era for Balmain,” said Rousteing. “It’s a really nice validation of my style and a way of showing you can remain international even while being very Parisian.”
Bertaud gave Rousteing carte blanche to interpret his choreography and the score — Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto No. 2” — with the aim of making ballet appealing to a new generation. He even drew inspiration from elements of Rousteing’s costume design to direct the dancers.
“I used drawings that Olivier made — for example, embroidery patterns — and I tried to transcribe them into dance movements and to place groups of dancers like human chains that would echo Olivier’s sketches. It’s a dialogue between costume, music and dance,” Bertaud said. “I think that’s the first time that’s been done.”
Both men share a fascination for the period of Louis XIV, France’s Sun King, who founded the Royal Academies of Dance and of Music, which later gave birth to the Paris Opera. Rousteing noted his designs often reference the more flamboyant aspects of France’s heritage.
“We created costumes that combine an element of the classical world of dance with a sexy, sensual and glamorous Balmain twist,” he explained. “We tried to give the embellishments a very couture spin and contrast that with the modernity of the cuts and the juxtaposition of oversized with body conscious.”
The designer said he drew on his experience designing a collection for NikeLab last year, as well as his track record of collaborating with performers on tour outfits.
“We are very strong in the world of showbiz and the universe of pop stars and contemporary dance. We dress everyone from Beyoncé to Frank Ocean, Kanye West, Rihanna and Justin Bieber, so I’m familiar with the world of the stage, dance and movement,” he said.
“When you dress someone like Beyoncé, you have to understand every dance move she makes during every minute of her show. And when you learn how to work with Sébastien and the principal dancers, it’s more or less the same process but you learn different movements,” he added.
Bertaud is part of a new generation of talents being promoted by the Opera through its Academy of Choreography, where his mentor was William Forsythe. The aim is to reach out beyond its traditional fan base.
“Today classical dance is gaining more visibility. Increasingly, fashion is tapping into the dance universe. A lot of fashion shows take place these days at Opera Garnier and I get the feeling that the new contemporary approaches to classical dance are resonating with our generation,” he said.
The choreographer is no stranger to fashion collaborations. He has appeared in a fragrance advertisement for Repetto and collaborated on costume designs with Yiqing Yin and Haider Ackermann — the latter on a performance with model, actress and director Laetitia Casta.
“This kind of dialogue has existed for a long time. Coco Chanel created costumes here, as did Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix and Karl Lagerfeld more recently, so it’s something that is really part of our culture here at the Opera and as a young creator, I really wanted to continue developing that,” Bertaud said.
During his research, he also discovered that founder Pierre Balmain designed costumes for the opera in the Fifties that were worn by prima ballerina Yvette Chauviré. “I liked the idea of nodding to that history and writing a new page in the collaboration between the house of Balmain and the opera,” he said.
Rousteing, meanwhile, was pleased to join the pantheon of designers who have worked with the venerable institution.
“I feel honored and flattered because I know that other couturiers who have a lot more experience than me, who have built empires and contributed to French culture, were lucky enough to be asked, so knowing I am one of them now makes me really proud — proud of my country, proud of what I am and proud of Balmain,” he said.