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New York City Ballet's Fall Fashion Collaboration: 3 Things to Know

Chaired by Sarah Jessica Parker, three ballets with choreography from Benjamin Millepied, Justin Peck and Angelin Preljocaj, and costumes from Iris Van Herpen, Prabal Gurung and Oliver Theyskens premiere on Sep. 19.

Prabal Gurung
Paul Kolnik

Though Fashion Week has moved on to London, Manhattan is still in a stylish buzz as the New York City Ballet prepares to debut its latest trio of fashion collaborations. The fall season features new choreography from Angelin Preljocaj, Benjamin Millepied and Justin Peck, and custom costume designs from Oliver TheyskensIris van Herpen and Prabal Gurung. These works will premiere on at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater at the annual fall gala on Sep. 19, chaired by Sarah Jessica Parker and bookended by a cocktail reception and a black-tie Supper Ball alongside NYCB's principal dancers -- a current roster that includes Robert FairchildSara Mearns and Tiler Peck, who was recently cast in Kennedy Center's upcoming musical production of Little Dancer.

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The three designers inevitably tweaked their design approach to make their fashion fit for ballet dancers. “They’ve asked a lot about how lighting affects the costumes, and distance -- they’re used to designing for the runway or red carpet, and suddenly they’re designing for the stage, which puts much more distance between the performer and the audience,” Marc Happel, NYCB director of costumes, tells The Hollywood Reporter. After working with Valentino for last year’s fall premiere, Parker made a list of designers she thought would be interesting for NYCB. All collaborative pairs then worked independently from each other -- and consulted with Happel via telephone and email for fabric choices and technical suggestions -- and created three distinct sets of couture costumes for the choreographers' new works. At this time, none of the three ballets have a name.

Here are three things to know about NYCB's triple-debut this Thursday:

1. Iris Van Herpen integrated hundreds of pieces of polyvinyl chloride plastic.

For her collaboration with Black Swan choreographer Millepied (and soon-to-be director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet come September 2014), Van Herpen draws from her ballet dance background and 3D printing fascination for costumes that resemble her couture collections. Men will don sleeveless unitards while women wear strapless dresses. “They’re black and smoky gray; each one is covered with hundreds to thousands of individually-cut pieces of PVC plastic,” says Happel. “They’re stitched on, overlapping each other in patterns that catch the light in different ways.” The ballet, set to a score for viola and piano called “Drones and Viola” by the noteworthy American composer Nico Muhly (a frequent Millepied collaborator) is a guaranteed showstopper, since the Dutch designer has also dressed Lady Gaga and Björk in performance outfits.

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2. Prabal Gurung features fashion-friendly harnesses.

Set to Lukas Foss’ Capriccio for cello and piano, dancers will perform Peck’s premiere choreography in Gurung’s fashion-friendly harnesses. “It’s three girls in three little cocktail dresses – one red, one white, one black, except they have an additional detail to each one: different kinds of black leather harnesses they wear over the dress,” describes Happel. Male partners, dressed in white tank tops and black tights, will also wear a black leather harness. It’s a relative departure for Gurung, whose designs are favorites of first ladies Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton. This collaboration is his first foray into theater costume work.

3. Olivier Theyskens gave female dancers a specific silicon scar.

Of the three, Preljocaj’s work is the only one with a recognizable element of plot. “The Peck ballet and the Millepied ballet don’t have a story, it’s just pure movement; the Preljocaj ballet is supposedly, very, very loosely based on the Salem witch trials,” says Happel. For moves set to several pieces of music by composer John Cage, Theyskins will dress male dancers in gray stretch suits that “have a Puritan-like historical feel to them,” and female performers in flech-colored unitards with “deconstructed Puritan dresses in chiffon that are attached to the unitard along these giant silicon scars, which they have on their backs.” The theatrical design approach is familiar to the artistic director of Theory – he dressed Madonna and the Smashing Pumpkins early on in his career, and also created stage costumes for the National Opera of Belgium.

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NYCB’s fall season runs through Sunday, Oct. 13. Tickets range from $29 and are available at nycballet.com.

Twitter: @cashleelee

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