Ballet News Reviews | Fairy Tale Fashion
Once upon a time…..
Beautifully printed and bound in Italy, where fairy tales first thrived, Fairy Tale Fashion is a fascinating look at the curated content put together by Colleen Hill. This book combines with an exhibition at The Museum at FIT. This is the first book to examine the history, significance and imagery of fairy tales through the lens of high fashion.
So, what do you get ? Among other things –
- An intro into fairy tales and dress
- A series of short essays on 13 stories including The Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella
- Dancing, Desire, & Death : the role of footwear in Fairy Tales
- Sleeping Beauty : A Fairy Tale’s Dance with Fashion
The eagle eyed among you will notice some of Kirsty Mitchell’s Wonderland photographs appear in Fairy Tale Fashion (A Forgotten Tale and The Journey Home), and in fact Mitchell will be in New York to speak about Wonderland at the Museum on March 31st and you can buy tickets here.
Who hasn’t thought about the fairy tale dress of their dreams, especially for a wedding ? Fairy tale fashion has to be something quite spectacular – for example Cinderella’s glass slippers which could hardly be considered practical as they couldn’t actually be walked in. The fairy tales themselves often lack detail – not much more than the basic plot would be given to the reader and they are rarely set in any particular time or place – so it’s a surprise that the mention of clothing within fairy tales is often extremely vivid, like the glass slippers, blond hair or red shoes.
Did you know that in Charles Perrault’s version of Sleeping Beauty there is an added detail to the story ? The Princess wakes from her 100 year nap, fully dressed in a magnificent gown as you’d expect (no nightwear here, however fashionable)…. BUT… the Prince notices (but does not comment) that her dress has gone out of fashion and was in fact the kind of thing his grandmother would have worn.
Other details are interesting too, for example in the same version of Sleeping Beauty the Prince and Princess pass through a “salon of mirrors” on their way to dinner – a detail that could be included in a ballet set.
And then there’s the troublesome spindle. A spindle would never be associated with the trappings of royalty or court life, so why is it so pivotal to the plot ? You could argue that its inclusion highlights the historical importance of fabric and clothing manufacture.
Ever wondered where “spinning a yarn” came from ? Spinning was entirely the preserve of peasant women who distracted themselves from the hard labour by telling tales to its repetitive rhythm, until telling a tale and spinning a yarn became one and the same.
Throughout the book, the photos and illustrations are stunning, including a hand painted silk taffeta gown from Dolce & Gabbana from 2012. The very definitions of fashion – excess, symbolism, status, intangibility – all tie in neatly with fairy tales, which are largely rooted in oral traditions – just like ballet.
Plenty of designers have their work displayed in the book and exhibition from Rodarte, Louboutin, Mugler and McQueen.
Cinderella is a good example of the symbolism of her clothing and the status conferred on her as her ‘magic’ ball gown and shoes appeared before the ball. Indeed, it is Cinderella’s clothing (initially, her dirty rags), rather than her demeaning circumstances that gave her her name. In 1386 Cinderella meant a man who wore dirty clothes.
The Shoe Test
Then there’s the ‘shoe test’. Cinderella’s feet were tiny, which was an important detail in her story because it would ensure that nobody else had feet that would fit her lost slipper. Some versions of the tale have it that she didn’t lose the slipper and that the Prince covered the stairs with ‘pitch’- a sticky substance designed to make sure that Cinderella stayed within the castle. However, Cinderella’s slippers were made from glass, and not the fur fabric that Perrault would have known was fashionable as a shoe lining at the time. Fur could stretch a bit. Glass could not, ensuring that only Cinderella’s feet would be a perfect fit and she’d get her man.
And then an interesting question : if fashion is a nonverbal form of communication, can we ‘read’ clothing the way we can read a story ? As a means of identity? Do you meet strangers and try to read their clothes to determine either their social position or aspects of their personality ? Are fashion designers, then, storytellers ?
In her essay Sleeping Beauty : A Fairy Tale’s Dance with Fashion, Patricia Mears tells how classical ballet influenced fashion as haute couture looked to classical ballets such as Sleeping Beauty for style inspiration – for example – the tutu.
From 1932, articles on dance appeared in Vogue and Harpers Bazaar, both in terms of editorial featuring ballet dancers and dance coverage itself. Fashion mirrored classical ballet in the west and their intertwined ascent echoed the fairy tale narrative in full length ballets. In terms of the actual fairy tale stories, Sleeping Beauty was exceptional because few ballets actually featured, or were dominated by, fairies, and the story includes other fairy tale characters such as Red Riding Hood.
Fairy Tale Fashion is a comprehensive and beautiful swish through high fashion & story telling with a good dose of ballet and dance sprinkled throughout.