The relationship between art and society has always existed as a symbiosis, where ideas go back-and-forth, are reconsidered, reimagined, and then left for interpretation. One of my favorite dialogues between society and art happens to be between Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and exoticism in fashion. In particular, I would like to highlight the jaw-droppingly gorgeous costume illustrations of Leon Bakst.
To begin, Serge Diaghilev was a Russian impresario and businessman. When he created his Parisian dance troupe, Ballets Russes, in 1909, he aroused the otherwise sleepy world of ballet– a world that relied on classic costume and unwaveringly traditional choreography. He brought with him a current of new. Into the world of Ballets Russes, he threw pinches of abstract, cubist, and surreal art, and spiced it all with generous doses of “Orientalism.” He called upon his drool-worthy roster of artist friends (from Picasso to Igor Stravinsky) to help him construct his fantasy of bright colors, geometrics, rich textures, and exotic influences.
Most instrumental to the creation of Diaghilev’s sumptuous illusion, Ballets Russes, were the costume designs of Leon Bakst. Bakst’s artistic inventions went on to inspire then-contemporary designers– most notably Paul Poiret. Later, He inspired Yves Saint Laurent to create one of his most celebrated haute couture collections: the 1976 “Belle Russe” collection. Even a century later, Bakst’s beautiful designs and the impact of Ballets Russes can be detected in high fashion, from Galliano to Alexander McQueen. The romance between haute couture and Ballets Russes continues!
Yves Saint Laurent “Belle Russe”
Bakst costume (left), Poiret (right)