If all the world’s a stage and we’re all mere players, where does that leave us now? Waiting in the wings, you might say, bracing ourselves for the moment that curtain finally goes up again. Erdem Moralioglu isn’t one for banal lockdown analogies (leave that to the critic) but he is at heart a dramatist, forever living for those exasperating theatrical seconds of silence between lights-out and showtime. In Great Britain, the strict confinement period is proving paradoxically motivating for the transformative narrative fashion that drives Moralioglu’s work. Conceived in the realm of ballet, his fall collection freeze-framed a dancer’s wardrobe between the stages of rehearsal and performance.
“When I was working at the Royal Opera House, that was the moment I found so exciting: the dancers shifting around, criss-crossing, half-dressed in what they wear during the day and half-dressed in their costumes,” he said on a video call, recalling Corybantic Games, the ballet he created costumes for in 2018. Incidentally, the contrast between a ballerina’s everyday dancewear and her ornate costumes served as a rather poetic illustration of our impending transition from domestic dressing to dressing up. As far as the latter goes, Moralioglu is well-versed. The exquisiteness of feather-embroidered 1940s jackets, Swan Lake headpieces and plumed skirts, giant opera gowns daubed in night-time florals, and jewel-encrusted shirts inspired by the costumes favored by Frederick Ashton came as no surprise.
Moralioglu’s investigation of the dressed-down—the drab—played a far more compelling part, simply because it’s so far from Erdem territory that it could never be drab. He expressed it in gray ribbed knitwear fashioned into quietly dramatic skirts that moved like knife pleats, into softly cinching cummerbunds, and body-conscious tops that had the elegance of eveningwear but the tactility of the comfort-wear of lockdown. With similar duality, he elevated ballet slippers onto stilted platforms that gave his silhouette an air of fetish. Perhaps that feeling was spurred by the narrative that underpinned his story: the relationship between Rudolf Nureyev and prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn, whose on- and off-stage wardrobe also informed proceedings.
“When they met, he was 22 and she was 43. She was very much at the end of her career. There was something about the arc of a dancer’s career that I found quite inspiring,” Moralioglu said. In a film choreographed by Edward Watson of the Royal Ballet, he portrayed through a cast including four accomplished ballerinas—Christina Arestis, Elizabeth McGorian, Marguerite Porter, and Zenaida Yanowsky—a simultaneous defiance and embrace of age. “With a dancer, one is what one does. Regardless if you’re 60 or 70, you remain a dancer for the rest of your life. There was something about that obsession that got me thinking about The Red Shoes; someone so driven by one thing,” he reflected, referring to 1948 ballet film based on Hans Christian Andersen’s chilling tale of a pair of shoes that won’t stop dancing.
“The contrasts, the dichotomies of a dancer…that Hitchcockian self-possession and drive for perfection,” Moralioglu paused. “I find the psychology of it interesting.” Perfecting a look—a sculpted sleeve, a nipped-in waist, a little plumed hat, a pair of neat red slippers—seems practically avant-garde at this stage in our interrupted lives. It was nice to be reminded of that feeling.