San Francisco Ballet principal Dores André has long had an interest in fashion. In recent years she's become a costume designer in her own right, creating looks for Estonian National Ballet, Ballet Idaho and, most recently, Royal New Zealand Ballet's Sleeping Beauty. Designing for dancers while being one herself gives her a unique way of thinking about what works and what doesn't. Here are a few things she's learned:
Choose materials wisely: "I think of weight, materials, whether you can wash it or not and it will be durable, whether it's going to be worn by one person or multiple casts. For a lot of things, if you use certain materials, you're not going to be able to use them more than once. There are just so many factors when you design for ballet—we sweat and we move a lot, and you can ruin the costume."
The deciding question: "For Sleeping Beauty, the Bluebird had this tutu that looked kind of like a cage, so it was like the cage and the bird, but no one wants a tutu with a diamond-shaped cage. It's too crazy. Artistic director Patricia Barker was like, 'If you were dancing it, would you like to wear it?' "
Your taste won't work for every dancer: "There are some commonalities—everyone likes to look thin and with long legs, so you're going to accentuate those if you can, with shading or seams, or stuff like that. But I also know that what I find comfortable is not what other people find comfortable. I like my tutus and T-shirts baggy, to the point that my partners hate me for it. I don't trust my taste in that regard."
Imagination versus function: "I like crazy costumes—anything that will make you feel like it's not you, to a degree. You want something that will change the way you feel once you put it on, in the sense that you feel transformed, therefore your performance will be transformed. But what you don't want is to not be able to perform at your maximum because you're restricted by the costume. So it's a fine line between those two."