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Theatre Costume

1924 (made)

Midnight blue stockinette bathing costume designed by Chanel for one of the gigolos (the men of the corps de ballet) in Le Train bleu (1924) which reflected the fashion for sea bathing in the mid-1920s.

No actual place is referred to but the ballet, Le Train bleu takes its title from the nickname for de luxe first class only train which began service in 1922 to take visitors from Calais and Paris to the South of France. It acquired its name in 1923, just one year before the creation of the ballet as the sleeping quarters were decorated blue and gold. The plot is very simple concerning flirtations on the beach and the sports popular at seaside resorts – bathing, golfing and playing tennis. The actual set, once the front cloth had risen, by the sculptor Henri Laurens included his trademark fish as wing pieces. It showed two neo-cubist beach cabins on the sand as well as a neutral backcloth, wings and ramp. The sea line is marked out on the floor cloth. The whole evokes a popular beach in the south of France rather than showing it realistically.

The ballet is a deliberately contemporary production and reflected current attitudes to sports and fashionable seaside holidays. It is typical of life-style modernism presented by Nijinska and the Ballets Russes in the mid-1920s. it was described as an ‘operette dansée’ and the music is deliberately light-hearted. Milhaud was commissioned to write the score in the style of Offenbach (a nineteenth century composer of operetta) incorporation the rhythms of popular songs while avoiding quotations from such songs. The score provided easy listening and was unchallenging for an audience. It was Jean Cocteau’s last direct involvement with Diaghilev’s company and his libretto was necessarily simplified to make the ballet work in dance terms.

Le Train bleu is the only ballet by Diaghilev's company for which Chanel designed all the costumes. Nevertheless in the 1920s Chanel both sponsored productions financially and became one of Diaghilev’s inner advisory circle. He would turn to her when dissatisfied with costumes produced or to keep productions up-to-date. She created new simpler costumes when the originals for Apollon musagète, apparently made after ideas by Bauchant, were replaced in 1929. She created a new dress for Felia Doubrovska to wear when she took over the role of the Hostess in Les Biches in 1927 to help the production to appear right up to date. She contributed to the costumes for The Gods go a’begging The only aspect of the costumes for Le Train bleu that would have surprised audiences were just how up to date they were. It is interesting that the leading swimmers, Anton Dolin and Lydia Sokolova have hand-knitted bathing costumes while the chorus of poules and gigolos have machine-knitted costumes. What is surprising today is that the navy costumes for the gigolos appear very similar to the ‘vest and pants look’ favoured by many contemporary choreographers from the 1990s onwards.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Wool jersey, cotton tape, silk tape, metal hooks and eyes
Brief Description
Costume for a 'Gigolo' in Nijinska's ballet Le Train bleu designed by Chanel for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1924.
Physical Description
Royal blue jersey, machine-knitted bathing costume for a 'Gigolo' in Bronislava Nijinska's ballet Le Train bleu designed by Chanel for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, 1924. The sleeveless, full-bodied costume has a short overskirt at the front and attached shorts. Fastens on left shoulder.



Dimensions
  • Height: 158cm (Note: This is a 'footprint' measurement for the costume when mounted.)
  • Width: 60cm (Note: This is a 'footprint' measurement for the costume when mounted.)
  • Depth: 45cm (Note: This is a 'footprint' measurement for the costume when mounted.)
Credit line
Acquired from the Friends of the Museum of Performance
Object history
Acquired by the V&A from the Friends of the Museum of Performance. They bought it at the auction by Sotheby's auction of Diaghilev Ballet Material at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 19 December 1969 (Lot 92). At that point it was said to be Ninette de Valois costume as one of Les Poules. By looking at the production photographs this is clearly a costume for a gigolo (man) not a poule (woman). It is one of three extant costumes from the production. Buckle in cataloguing lots for Sotheby's obviously confusd this costume with what appears to de de Valois' costumes sold at the 1967 auction which I take it was the one displayed in his 1954 exhibition.



Exhibited in Diaghilev exhibition at V&A 2010-11 and on tour.

Summary
Midnight blue stockinette bathing costume designed by Chanel for one of the gigolos (the men of the corps de ballet) in Le Train bleu (1924) which reflected the fashion for sea bathing in the mid-1920s.



No actual place is referred to but the ballet, Le Train bleu takes its title from the nickname for de luxe first class only train which began service in 1922 to take visitors from Calais and Paris to the South of France. It acquired its name in 1923, just one year before the creation of the ballet as the sleeping quarters were decorated blue and gold. The plot is very simple concerning flirtations on the beach and the sports popular at seaside resorts – bathing, golfing and playing tennis. The actual set, once the front cloth had risen, by the sculptor Henri Laurens included his trademark fish as wing pieces. It showed two neo-cubist beach cabins on the sand as well as a neutral backcloth, wings and ramp. The sea line is marked out on the floor cloth. The whole evokes a popular beach in the south of France rather than showing it realistically.



The ballet is a deliberately contemporary production and reflected current attitudes to sports and fashionable seaside holidays. It is typical of life-style modernism presented by Nijinska and the Ballets Russes in the mid-1920s. it was described as an ‘operette dansée’ and the music is deliberately light-hearted. Milhaud was commissioned to write the score in the style of Offenbach (a nineteenth century composer of operetta) incorporation the rhythms of popular songs while avoiding quotations from such songs. The score provided easy listening and was unchallenging for an audience. It was Jean Cocteau’s last direct involvement with Diaghilev’s company and his libretto was necessarily simplified to make the ballet work in dance terms.



Le Train bleu is the only ballet by Diaghilev's company for which Chanel designed all the costumes. Nevertheless in the 1920s Chanel both sponsored productions financially and became one of Diaghilev’s inner advisory circle. He would turn to her when dissatisfied with costumes produced or to keep productions up-to-date. She created new simpler costumes when the originals for Apollon musagète, apparently made after ideas by Bauchant, were replaced in 1929. She created a new dress for Felia Doubrovska to wear when she took over the role of the Hostess in Les Biches in 1927 to help the production to appear right up to date. She contributed to the costumes for The Gods go a’begging The only aspect of the costumes for Le Train bleu that would have surprised audiences were just how up to date they were. It is interesting that the leading swimmers, Anton Dolin and Lydia Sokolova have hand-knitted bathing costumes while the chorus of poules and gigolos have machine-knitted costumes. What is surprising today is that the navy costumes for the gigolos appear very similar to the ‘vest and pants look’ favoured by many contemporary choreographers from the 1990s onwards.

Collection
Accession Number
S.837-1980

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record createdJuly 1, 2009
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