Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes Exhibition Review at V&A

Costumes for brigands in Fokine's ballet Daphnis and Chloé, designed by Léon Bakst, 1912
Costumes for female dancers in The Rite of Spring, designed by Nikolai Roerich, 1913. 

My senses were blasted with burgundy paint, a euphoric musical harmony and most importantly the divinely creative costumes. Diaghilev’s legacy has been lovingly represented by this collection of costumes, sketches, videos, theatre sets and music. We gaze in wonderment at the costumes that were far ahead of their time, dramatic and exotic creations some of which were conjured up more than one hundred years ago.

A vast majority of the costumes were composed of rich colours infused with gold and silver brocading and jewels. Even after the fall of the Tsar during the Russian revolution in 1905 Diaghilev kept up these glamorous designs which represented his Russian nationalist style. He acknowledged that ballet defied gravity, as it appeared to suspend dancer’s bodies in air, he needed composers to create the most original and daring music, and designers costumes, to compliment this.

There are many creations by the French Couturier Paul Poiret who was known for his grand and debaucherous fancy dress parties. I was particularly excited by the Russian National identity being portrayed in outfits which showed belts with horses stylised on archaeological finds. The illustrations exhibited show real bodies with fleshy body parts and muscular physiques. I highly recommend these for inspiration and insight into illustration with their wonderful colour, detail and body positioning.

A major highlight of the exhibition was work by Pablo Picasso. He designed thirty-one sets, props and costumes for Le Tricorne. He was extremely specific about every aspect and accessory, drawing the front and back of each design in specific detail. Picasso’s costumes hinted at the disintegration of the world that the Ballet Russes knew.

The finale of the Exhibition is five outfits from four separate collections by Yves Saint Laurent, who was directly influenced by The Ballet Ruses repeatedly throughout his renowned career. After seeing so many intriguing costumes I have no doubt that many of the current collections of our greatest designers this decade are inspired by Diaghilev’s genius.

Over the past year and a half several courses from The London College of Fashion have been involved in a competition dedicated to designing for the modern day Ballet Russes. This is soon to come to completion, so keep your beady fashion scout eyes out for the finished garments soon to hit the stage.


Charlotte Summers
Fashion ScoutComment