Three French Couturiers for Maya Plisetskaya's Wardrobe

Three French Couturiers for Maya Plisetskaya's Wardrobe

She was perfecting her figure and taste all her life and has become a ballet legend and style icon. Grigory Kataev, a fashion historian, talks about three fashion designers who influenced Plisetskaya's style.


During her first Paris tour in 1961, Maya Plisetskaya met Serge Lifar, a former artist of Diaghilev's Russian Seasons and choreographer with the Grand Opera. Lifar dreamed of collaborating with the Bolshoi Theater, so he decided to ingratiate himself with the Soviet ballerina. So, one evening he took Plisetskaya to Gabrielle Chanel, who appreciated ballet talents and trusted Lifar immensely for a long time.

In the legendry house at 31 rue Cambon, the work on a new collection was in full swing, and Mademoiselle Chanel decided to put on a little show for the late guests. She was sighing and swearing at the models in her usual manner and finally invited Maya Mikhailovna to “show class”. The ballerina tried on a straight suit made of white silk and walked in front of French models. Coco Chanel approved the runway walk and gave the ballerina a dress and a jacket to match. Much later, the Soviet people saw this white Chanel suit with golden buttons in the 1969 Blue Light TV show. In the program, Maya Plisetskaya demonstrated the fashion trends for the upcoming 1970 season, all the outfits were taken from her personal wardrobe collected over the years. Today, this suit is in the personal collection of Alexander Vasiliev.

Yves Saint Laurent

In the collection of the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Paris, there is a sketch of a dress for the Death of the Rose ballet staged by the choreographer Roland Petit. Yves Saint Laurent, a passionate admirer of ballet and everything Russian, invented the costume in 1973 for the performance, in which Maya Plisetskaya was to dance, he met her thanks to his long-standing friendship with Lilya Brik.

The marvelous chiton dress was made of a pink elastic leotard and a skirt of long petals. The sensual outfit was a great discovery for Soviet designers used to weighty cotton costumes with underwire and ties. Now, this exquisite creation based on a drawing by Saint Laurent is kept in the Moscow Theater Museum.

Pierre Cardin

However, Maya Plisetskaya met her main fashion designer later, in 1971. Nadia Léger - the wife of the famous artist and jewelry designer - was making sketches for the Pierre Cardin Fashion House. She picked the right moment and introduced the prima ballerina to the French master. This happened at the theater festival in Avignon, where Plisetskaya danced the famous Carmen Suite. Pierre Cardin was captivated by the ballerina's passionate performance and charmed by the modest conversation with her. Maya Mikhailovna asked his advice on what to wear to the evening reception. In return, she received a box with a gorgeous dress - her first outfit by Cardin. This is how the actress found her designer, and the couturier - his eternal muse.

Already in 1972, Pierre Cardin created amazing costumes for the Anna Karenina ballet. Maya Plisetskaya got an idea to stage this production when she was taking part in a feature film based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy. The music for the movie was written by the ballerina’s husband, composer Rodion Shchedrin, and it turned out incredibly dramatic and theatrical. Pierre Cardin undertook to transfer the costumes of the bustle era to the modern stage. This was a unique work as he had to combine the voluminous 19th century dresses with the lightness of the ballerina's play. Although the name of the Western designer was not announced to the Soviet audience, Maya Plisetskaya called the ten dresses by Cardin her “treasures”.

Riding the wave of success of the Anna Karenina ballet, they adapted it for the screen in 1974; the credits read: costumes for M. Plisetskaya - Pierre Cardin (France). This was followed by a new film, Fantasy, based on the Torrents of Spring by Turgenev, performances The Seagull and The Lady with the Lapdog by Chekhov, which have become classics. In many ways, this contributed to the enormous popularity of the Pierre Cardin fashion house in the Soviet Union and secured the status of a style icon for Maya Plisetskaya.

The creative union of Plisetskaya and Cardin culminated in 1998 in the grand show called "Fashion and Dance". It was a retrospective show of the prima ballerina and the great couturier, which included ballet performances and a costume exhibition at the Rossiya Concert Hall, where Maya Plisetskaya was shining in the outfits by Pierre Cardin.