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Architecture & design

Fashion goes to the opera

— February 2014

Article read level: Art lover

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Zandra Rhodes. Costume for Princess Leila (sung by Isabel Bayrakdarian), reflecting the strongly exotic flavour of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, staged at the San Diego Opera in 2004. Photo Ken Howard

Fashion and opera work together in a range of sometimes surprising ways, says Karen Hasin-Bromley

Fashion Designers at the Opera by Helena Matheopoulos

For their men's fall-winter 2012/13 collection, the fashion house Dolce & Gabbana featured music recordings  of Verdi and Pavarotti. The architect Stephen Pimbley was so inspired by an exhibition at Singapore’s National Museum that featured the designer Christian Lacroix’s opera and ballet costumes that he based his design for the Starhill Gallery on them.

The combination of fashion designers and opera has proved to be a winning formula for a considerable time.  For Jonathan Miller’s 1995 revival of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte at Covent Garden, Emporio Armani’s designs, rather than costumes, were chosen to enhance the feel of a modern-day production. Nonetheless, such collaborations are less well known than perhaps they ought to be. Pimbley admitted: ‘I never knew Lacroix designed for opera, and I found it fascinating, the way he drew and designed the diaphanous clothing and flowing robes’.

Helena Matheopoulos investigates this domain in her book. Each of the 10 chapters focuses on a different designer and the operas with which they were involved.  These include Giorgio Armani (Erwanterg, Cosi fan tutte), Karl Lagerfeld (Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Les Troyens, La Rondine, Manon, Norma), Miuccia  Prada (Attila), Zandra Rhodes (The Magic Flute, The Pearl Fishers, Aida) and Versace (Salome, Dr Faustus, Capriccio). 

Stories, anecdotes and comments from the opera’s directors and cast and the ideas behind the designs give an engaging insight in to the difficulties and triumphs of designing and staging the productions.  Fashion sketches embellish the text pages and the photographs taken of the actors present the costumes as they actually appeared on stage.

Though Mathepoulos has published several books on opera, the text does not assume any prior knowledge, and it will be enjoyed by a wide readership.  The captions provided for the sketches and photographs help to put everything in context. It is beautifully produced and an enjoyable behind-the-scenes view of fashion designers at the opera.

Fashion Designers at the Opera by Helena Matheopoulos is published by Thames and Hudson. 192 pp. 195 colour/7 mono illus, £35.00. ISBN 9780500515761


Karen Hasin Bromley
Independent art historian

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