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Zac Posen on Designing for the New York City Ballet

The fashion designer discusses his collaboration with the NYCB and dancer Lauren Lovette

“A real labor of love” is how the charismatic fashion designer, Brooks Brothers creative director, and cookbook author Zac Posen describes his recent project for the New York City Ballet. From the other end of the phone, I could almost feel him light up as he spoke about designing costumes for the New York City Ballet’s The Shaded Line, a ballet choreographed by NYCB principal dancer, Lauren Lovette. Known for his trademark body-hugging red carpet looks worn by starlets such as Claire Danes (hello light-up Met Gala dress), Rihanna, Iman, and Sarah Jessica Parker, Posen’s passion for atelier and draping shines in his costumes designed for Lovette’s ballet, which returns to Lincoln Center in April 2020.

“It has been my dream for many years to design for the stage,” Posen tells me. He worked tirelessly with Lovette, the dancers, the costume shop’s Marc Happel, and the entire staff at the atelier to bring the elegantly modern ballet costumes to life for The Shaded Line and represent the ballet’s themes of isolation, identity, and self-discovery. “I researched the NYCB itself and the history of Balanchine and the great costume designer Karinska, and I asked if there were any old ballet costumes from the classics that I could take a look at. Magically, Marc [Happel] delivered to my office incredible original Karinska costumes, and I was very inspired by the make of them and how the pieces were constructed. Each piece had a soul,” Posen explains. “I didn’t want to take the pieces apart, but I did want to distort them and drape them. So, I played with them on a mannequin and digitally—tweaking them and looking at the textures inside out. I must have draped about 16 different variations of costumes to come down to about five.”

Chatting about the ballet itself, he adds that “Lovette came up with the idea of the story she wanted to tell through choreography from where the costumes were going, and it became the journey of a dancer and the story of the struggles, discipline, beauty, and the ugly side of dance. It’s a beautiful piece. Everything from the lighting and the makeup to the headpieces are all components that Lauren and I discussed. She was a wonderful collaborator.”

He excitedly mentions a couple of his favorite designs for the ballet saying, “There are two of the soloist’s pieces that I am truly in love with. One has wings and one has a tiered skirt and a satin bodice that I really adore.”

Before we hang up, Posen shares a proud moment with me. He received an Instagram comment from someone at a Russian ballet company about the amount of detailing they’d seen in his costumes, specifically about how they hadn’t seen hook and eyes ever featured in costume work. “You know, I think I tried to be as understanding and sensitive as possible to the history and then really rework it to tell this story. As the designer I’m there to help tell a story that Lauren kind of found through the process. I will tell you that Lauren is a spectacular dancer on her own. Any of your readers should find out when she’s dancing and go see her in her performances as I did,” Posen gushes. “We look forward to working together on other collaborations.”