Review of the Dance & Fashion Symposium
by: Caroline McCauley
The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology held a two-day fashion symposium last Thursday October 23 to complement the Dance & Fashion exhibition. The Dance & Fashion symposium was part of the Fashion Culture Fall 2014 Special Programs and marked The Museum at the FIT’s fourteenth annual fashion symposium. The symposium brought together an eclectic group of speakers to discuss, in Dr. Valerie Steele’s, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, words “the synergy between dance and fashion.” Among the twenty-five speakers at the Dance & Fashion symposium were artists, professors, curators, dancers, designers, and historians. The diverse list of speakers from fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez to New York City Ballet dancer Wendy Whelan to French artist Ann Ray provided a keen insight into the relationship between fashion and dance from various vectors and angles. There was an emphasis on the triad of dance, fashion, and art that was strongly developed throughout the symposium with the broad range of speakers.
The symposium comprised the presentations of fourteen essays featured in the book Dance & Fashion (2013). As with the great range of speakers, the essays broadly incorporated various elements of the relationship between dance and fashion, from the relationship that takes place between the designer and dancer to the beauty ideals that emerged from the Balletic Body Image in 1940s New York.
My favorite part of the symposium was in conversation with Wendy Whelan and Narciso Rodriguez. I loved how Narciso Rodriguez remarked “that often the most beautiful thing is the most simplest thing.” From the conversation, I learned that simplicity and bareness is the ethos of Rodriguez’s designs for ballets. The audience could sense Wendy Whelan’s appreciation and respect for Rodriguez, as he explained that he wished to show the beautiful architecture of Whelan’s athletic body and sought to strip his designs of anything that would distract from the magic of the ballet performance. Whelan added that she always felt “very sexual and sensual” as well as in her “own skin,” while wearing Rodriguez pieces.
The essay “Martha Graham & Modern Dance” also expressed the intimate experience that takes place between the dancer and her costume. The conversation on Martha Graham between Janet Eilber and Melissa Marra really elucidated the relationship between the renown dancer and her self-designed costumes. It was fascinating to learn that Graham made her own costumes for many of her performances and, as a perfectionist, would even make alterations right before the show. Graham was so inventive in designing costumes that she was the first to design and wear the ensemble with tights in the front and skirt in the back. Though, what I found most memorable about the symposium was when Dr. Steele quoted French shoe designer Christian Louboutin, “Isn’t the classical dancing ballet slipper the ultimate heel? The heel which makes dancers closer than any other women to the sky, closer to heaven!” Louboutin’s comparison of the dancing ball slipper to high heels, that was most likely a reference to his eight-inch stiletto ballet slipper that was sold at an auction to help raise funds for the English National Ballet, epitomizes the intertwining and melding of fashion and dance.