Art is an imitation of life. Garments, clothes and costumes have always played an important role in the framing of the human body, creating a basis for social conduct via the direct influence of behaviour and thoughts. Just as in real life, the arts, theatre and dance incorporates the garment's autonomous representation, signification and meaning-making. Western theatrical dance has since the eighteenth century been an important indicator for what is in vogue – as it has been both formed by and had an monotonous tendency to resemble the ruling men and women of Western high society. Another result has been a wide usage of cultural appropriation – a tendency still remaining in both dance and fashion today.
The liberation of the body in the early twentieth century was of great importance for the evolvement of the modern dancer and the dancing body; a signifier of the contemporary free spirit. The theaters also allowed a greater variation of bodies to be staged. The dance, the dancer and the costumes influenced both artists and designers, and the interrelationship between dance and fashion emerged. An early example is the cooperation between Coco Chanel and Les Ballet Russes. Chanel created an ensemble of costumes for the ballet Les Train Bleu inspired by the modern, sporty body. The costumes were swim-, golf- and tennis wear; showing modern sportswear on stage. As Coco Chanel became a pioner in fashion as her fashions freed the female body – a body being “captive” and “imprisoned” by garments – the staging of sportswear on dancers makes sense.
Since then fashion designers and choreographers have used each other to help the furthering of their crafts. Interesting cooperations are Merce Cunningham and Rei Kawakubo for Scenario (1997), Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker and Dries Van Noten for Rain (2001), Angelin Preljocaj and Jean Paul Gaultier for Snow White at Austrialian Ballet Company (2008). Hussein Chalayan has created costumes for both Michael Clark and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and in 2015 he directed and made costumes for his own production performed at Sadler's Wells. Anually both The Paris Opera Ballet and New York City Ballet creates evenings of ballet where fashion designers such as Valentino, Rodarte, Balmain and Riccardo Tisci are invited to create costumes for the companies. It is of course not only the dance world benefitting here, as designers, the fashion world and popular culture has made dance into a (fashion) genre of its own. From Christian Dior's Black Swan couture gown in 1949 via elements such as cotton lycra, the ballet slipper, the tutu-skirt, the body, the cha cha-heel, the jazz sneaker, the tights, etc. to Acne Studio's Spring/Summer 2019 Women's collection paying tribute to the modern dancer as phenomena – wearing oversized dance company t-shirts and knitted leg warmer leggings. Maria Grazia Chiuri‘s Dior RTW SS2019 show presented at Paris Fashion Week 25. September were a portrayal of the ethereal fantasy dance inhabits. It was presented in a room resembling a black box stage using the dancers from Sharon Eyal’s company as living – dancing – props. The show underlined the mystification and romanticisation given dance – dance being an universal language, dance as a liberating act – ideals loved by Christian Dior himself. Just as Acne Studios, the Dior collection showed how the female dancer uses her training wear as a part of her daily wear.
Editorials and collections often pay tribute to or even go as far as creating reproductions of the dancer. In fashion, dance works both as inspiration, gimmick and PR-tool.