Design in Motion
A NYC Ballet Fall Fashion Gala Retrospective
September 24, 2019 – October 20, 2019
INTERSECT BY LEXUS
412 West 14th St
Marc Happel might not be the face of the NYCB stage, but he holds the plaster that brings the classical dance shows together. As Director of Costumes of the NYC Ballet, Happel lives for the backhouse; he oversees every aspect of it: managing an in-house costume department of more than 40 people, sourcing costume fabrics and trims, and working alongside Sarah Jessica Parker, who has been invested in the NYC ballet for years now. “Because this is her creation, she has always been very involved in the process – making lists of designer options, talking with the choreographers, and making the various asks. In recent years as the event has grown and become more established she has trusted me to handle a lot of that responsibility,” Happel says about their trusting creative relationship.
The creation Happel is referring to is The Fall Fashion Gala, an annual fundraising event that invites fashion designers to collaborate on costumes with the ballet in-house costume team; this year, the chosen ones are Zac Posen and Anna Sui. The Gala was launched in 2012 with legendary designer Valentino, and the list grew to include creatives like Jason Wu, Oscar De la Renta and Giles Deacon, among many more.
To celebrate the success of the past seven seasons, and in conjunction with INTERSECT by LEXUS, the NYCB opened a first-of-its-kind exhibition showcasing the costumes that have graced the stages of the NYC ballet’s Fall Fashion yearly galas. Titled Design in Motion, on display is the work of twenty-six top fashion designers who collaborated with Happel and Parker. To learn more about the intricate design/collab process and the Ballet’s behind-the-scenes, we sat down with costume director Marc Happel for an exclusive interview. The exhibit is up at Intersect By Lexus in NYC through October 20th, 2019.
You curated the exhibition Design in Motion, where iconic ballet designs by top couturiers are currently on view. Can you describe the process of curating an exhibit like this?
In terms of specific selections, I had to think about many factors, particularly how a costume would look in an exhibit environment instead of on stage. Those are two very different settings, so I had to be sure the costumes could work well in both. In making choices it was also very important to me that the selections highlight the incredible work that the members of the NYCB Costume Shop do on a regular basis. They are stitchers, cutters, drapers — but also amazing artists, which is something I don’t feel is fully understood. I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to showcase their work.
Is this the first exhibition you have curated for the Ballet?
To this extent yes. I have coordinated other smaller scale displays in our theater – one for the fifth anniversary of the Fall Fashion Gala in 2016, as well as small rotating costume displays that we switch out from season to season to promote the ballets being performed.
How was the process of choosing the costumes to be exhibited?
In some ways the criteria was simple — I knew I was going to include at least one design from every ballet. In some cases if there was both a male and female costume, I would try to work them in together to complement one another. Any designs that I felt were particularly exceptional or varied, might have multiple costumes displayed. Some just have that “wow” factor — such as the woman’s gown and man’s embroidered coat by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, or the Giles Deacon design with the elaborate feather collar.
How long does it take for each costume to be created? What is the process behind the creation?
The process varies greatly — from a week or two, to two months — depending on the complexity of the design, the amount of detail, trims, beading, etc. It is an intricate process – working with fashion designers and helping them realize their two-dimensional vision into a three-dimensional costume that can be danced in, by a dancer who is an athlete. There is an incredible amount of give and take, collaboration, and comprise that happens on a daily basis to arrive at something that is both beautiful and danceable.
In your opinion what are the highlights of the exhibition? Are there any particular designs that really stand out?
They really are all wonderful and unique in their own ways. I think what is most interesting about this exhibit is seeing all these costumes together in one space – the variety and diversity of the designs we’ve put on the stage over the years is impressive to see.
This year’s chosen designers for the ballet costumes were Zac Posen and Anna Sui. What was the inspiration for choosing these two designers?
I wanted this year to be New York-centric in terms of our designers. I also happen to have friendships with both Anna and Zac, and knew there was some interest from their end to be involved, so it all came together nicely and easily.
Sarah Jessica Parker has been working with the NYC ballet for years now. Can you explain how you both work together to bring about the Fall Fashion Gala?
Because this is her creation, she has always been very involved in the process – making lists of designer options, talking with the choreographers, and making the various asks. In recent years as the event has grown and become more established she has trusted me to handle a lot of that responsibility — working with the choreographers and designers from the onset to connect them and begin the process of collaboration.
We understand you work side by side with designers and choreographers. How does a regular work day look for you?
A regular workday for me is about maintaining the look of NYCB, and particularly the look of our Balanchine repertory with costume designs by Barbara Karinska and other great designers of the past. It’s my job to make sure the costumes look fresh and fit our dancers well. My days are spent meeting with designers, fitting costumes on dancers, working with my assistant to source fabrics and trims, watching dress rehearsals, and meeting with our artistic staff to discuss how our costumes can keep the same look but also work for our modern dancers.
What do you have on your ballet schedule for 2020?
We have new ballets coming up in Winter 2020 by Alexei Ratmansky and NYCB Resident Choreographer Justin Peck, so there will be new costume creations for those. I will also continue working with our Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford and Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan on new ideas for existing ballets, discussing how new costume designs may revitalize older ballets. And of course, there’s always the planning for our next Fall Fashion Gala, which is sure to get underway soon.
How did the Lexus partnership for Design in Motion come about and how does it all tie in?
“At INTERSECT, our mission is to highlight exceptional design in all its forms and bring people together to experience amazing. We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with a cultural institution like New York City Ballet on Design in Motion, and bring to life their first-ever Fall Fashion Gala costume retrospective,” said Rachel Espersen, Director of Creative Programming and Partnerships at Lexus. “Working with Marc Happel and his team on the exhibit, and having Sarah Jessica Parker host the launch was a dream for INTERSECT. We look forward to sharing this experience with everyone who is a fan of dance, design, and fashion.”
The exhibition is open to the public and can be experienced on the first and third floors of INTERSECT. There is no admission fee.