Strategy

Luxury and Ballet: Leaping towards a more diverse future?

Luxury and ballet have long been criticized for promoting elitism. While today’s society demands inclusivity and innovation, the two mediums risk reinforcing outdated traditions. Collaborations in the Post-Covid era pose a compelling opportunity to evolve. This article, written by Meredith Hunter-Mason, is one of the two winning texts of the writing competition developed by Luxury Tribune and addressed to the MBA students of the University IESEG School of Management in Paris and Lille 

"Dance Reflections", the latest Van Cleef & Arpels initiative in the world of ballet (Dance Reflections/Van Cleef & Arpels)

Luxury and ballet’s love affair dates back to the early 20th century with designers taking inspiration from ballet’s iconic tulle silhouette and some of fashion’s most prolific maisons – Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent – creating costumes for dance. The relationship bloomed out of a common desire for prestige and elegance and was sustained by extreme exclusivity. The two mediums thrived off of catering only to those with high cultural capital. At the time this made for a blissful collaboration that allowed the two to boast their exquisiteness and savoir-faire. However, ballet and luxury have been criticized for carrying these outdated traditions into the new millennium by promoting impossible body image standards, supporting gender stereotypes, and lacking in racial diversity.

More courage is called for

Chanel costumes for the Paris Opera opening gala (Chanel)

In order to survive, brands have recently taken strides to abandon their elitist biases by diversifying runways and experimenting with streetwear styles. Similarly, dance companies have made efforts to remain pertinent by innovating in the studio and refreshing their company rosters. Independently, advancement in these industries can only go so far. Ballet companies lack the financial support to progress while luxury brands, even those considered trend-setters, like Gucci and Balenciaga, have inherent limits to their accessibility. However, when working together, ballet and luxury have the potential to reinstate themselves as cultural drivers. For brands, sponsoring artistic endeavors provides them the opportunity to appeal to new consumers by expressing themselves through movement. For dance institutions, the ample funding from such companies allows them to take risks on cutting edge productions. These mutual benefits make future collaborations attractive and were put on display last month during Van Cleef & Arpels' dance festival.

New proposals are emerging

Without the jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels, "Dance Reflections" could not have been staged by the dance companies, due to limited financial means (Van Cleef & Arpels)

Dance Reflections, Van Cleef & Arpels' new annual initiative, premiered in London from March 9 to 23. The groundbreaking festival included contemporary ballet and modern dance pieces choreographed by both world-renowned artists, like Lucinda Childs, and emerging choreographers such as Christian Rizzo. The festival was a remarkable success for the dance world; without Van Cleef & Arpels, Dance Reflections would have been an impossible feat for dance companies coming out of the pandemic slump. With a diverse set of partners, the brand was able to bring dance to a wide range of new audiences. The luxury jeweler teamed up with the Royal Opera House, Sadlers Wells, and Tate Modern to carry out the fifteen-day event. Furthermore, this marks the company’s first major initiative outside of classical ballet. In the past, the French maison has partnered with the Bolshoi Ballet, Australian Ballet, and is even credited for inspiring the creation of George Balanchine’s iconic ballet Jewels. Van Cleef & Arpels’ Dance and Culture Programs Manager, Serge Laurent, explained this atypical move to Dance Magazine, “Van Cleef & Arpels are anchored in tradition, but if you look at their collections, you also see that many of their pieces work with contemporary approaches and pure abstraction.” This pivot allowed the brand to position themselves as modern and dynamic while simultaneously diversifying such prestigious stages as the Royal Opera House.

Combining the quest for excellence with a taste for beauty and harmony, Van Cleef & Arpels has drawn on dance as an infinite source of creativity (Van Cleef & Arpels)

While Dance Reflections is a testament to the relevance that collaborations can create for ballet and luxury, there are other benefits to such partnerships. Fondation d’entreprise Hermès heightens their brand image by centering dance in their CSR strategy. The pilot year of the new foundation-funded dance school, Élan, is coming to a close next month. Élan, an initiative created by the Centre National de la Danse, was created to provide supplemental dance training to underrepresented and financially disadvantaged students that hope to have a career in dance. The aim is to support today’s ballet students so that tomorrow’s ballet companies are more reflective of our current society’s diversity. This project illustrates how luxury and dance could surpass achieving relevance and become agents of change.

Accomplishing such a state of influence won’t be easy. Ballet companies can financially afford to be more daring with the support of traditional luxury brands, but they risk limiting their reputation to that of their classic sponsors. Conversely, fashion houses could be pigeonholed for spotlighting a historic and exclusive art form. In such a relationship the two industries' futures are entwined. In order to leap towards a more diverse future, ballet and luxury must commit to surrendering elitism and embracing change – together.

"Dance Reflections", the latest Van Cleef & Arpels initiative, took place in London from 9 to 23 March (Van Cleef & Arpels)

This article, written by Meredith Hunter-Mason, is one of the two winning texts of the writing competition developed by Luxury Tribune and addressed to the MBA students of the University IESEG School of Management in Paris and Lille 

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