Creepy Ballerinas

I’ve been waiting for Black Swan to come out, because firstly I really love Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler; Requiem for  Dream), secondly, I saw a preview and it looked craaaaazy, and lastly but not leastly because Rodarte designed the costumes. It’s a totally excellent descent into ballerina madness, replete with lesbian sex, nods to Italian horror maestro Dario Argento and shades of the psychotically overprotective mother from Carrie. I saw it Friday night, at the start of a horrible cold, and now it is Monday night and I’ve spent all but three hours in my bed, wearing a giant BOSTON hoodie, looking like a townie too sick to make her shift at Dunkins’. It’s not pretty. But know what is pretty? Creepy ballerinas.

Black Swan is the first film the Rodarte sisters have made costumes for, forty ballet costumes with tutus built from scratch and over 250,000 Swarovski crystals sparkling all over everything. They’re said to be fully functioning ballet costumes, but Natalie Portman’s boobs are on the verge of jete-ing from their feathered nests throughout the film, so I don’t know how they’d hold up in the harsh world of actual ballet. Mila Kunis, who plays the bad-girl ballerina (Will I ever tire of narratives with good-girl / bad-girl dymanics? No, I will not.) said in some AP article, “You would never go and do ‘Swan Lake’ and wear a full on swan outfit without having a strap. The busts kept constantly falling.” I did keep wondering if Natalie’s lovely breast was going to fly out of her costume, much like I wondered if she was truly stabbing bitches with broken glass and lezzing out on ecstacy – or if she was losing her mind! Such elements keep a moviegoer on the edge of her seat.

Natalie Portman lost twenty pounds to achieve the anorexic, overachieving, perfectionist-on-the-verge-of-a-psychotic-break look ballerinas are famous for. She even dislocated a rib while getting tossed in the air, and her sadistic director had the on-set medic banished and ordered fragile Natalie to dance . . . dance . . . dance! Just like in The Red Shoes, another creepy ballet movie Black Swan takes some cues from.

The Red Shoes


I’m really feeling full ballerina fashion after seeing Black Swan – not just the intense feathered numbers, but all the little leotards and skirts and leggings the dancers wear during rehearsal. Costume Designer Amy Westcott hung out watching ballet dancers go through their numbers, taking note of the way they worked little pieces of knitwear into their outfits. As Natalie’s character begins to crack, her color palette darkens, and she starts wearing these Rodarte-esque gray wide-weave knits over her leotard, or as a single unraveling armband – unraveling like her sanity! All the rehearsal leotards are by Yumiko, the leotard choice of stylish ballerinas, and the brand even designed a couple of limited edition pieces to celebrate the film.

Winona Ryder is so excellent as the washed-up, aged ballerina who – like all ballerinas, eventually – is also losing her mind. There are two scenes in this movie that actually caused me to scream, and she is responsible for one of them. Winona Forever! I’m pretty sure the gown she wears in this scene is a Rodarte number, ’cause check these other Rodarte pieces:

Right? Natalie wore a silk tulle Rodarte number to the premiere. You may think it’s red, but it’s actually claret:

She should have fully committed to the look and paired it with some Nicholas Kirkwood for Rodarte stompers:

. . . at least that’s what I would have done. Rodarte may not have designed costumes for a movie before, but their Fall 2008 collection was inspired by Degas ballerinas:

This whole wicked ballerina thing has prompted me to peek at some stills from Dario Argento’s films. Shooting in Italy in the 60s and 70s, his stills look like a cross between Cindy Sherman and The Sartorialist, and could function as a lookbook for how I want to dress right now. His most famous film, Suspiria, takes place in a ballet school that is actually a cover for a coven of evil witches! But, aren’t they all?


As if being a dancer isn’t exhausting enough, now you have to try to not get killed by witches.

Makes me think of Nan Goldin’s Bottega Veneta ads.

Wishing for a creepy-styley haunted ballet school/slumber party/infirmary right now.

There was a rumor that the guy who made Pineapple Express was going to shoot a remake of Suspiria – weirdly, with Natalie Portman in the lead – but thankfully someone in movieland came to their senses! Let’s look at some more Dario Argento stills. If Albert Maysles gets to make eyewear, someone should let Dario design a capsule collection! Dario Argento for Opening Ceremony? For Chloe? For Roberto Cavalli? Hmmmm . . .

Note the afghan. Thank you.


You don’t want any clothes detracting from the hair and jewelry.

Another visually inspiring, stylish horror movie is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, which was produced by Dario Argento’s brother, Claudio. I tried to be the deaf-mute ballerina-mime Alma for Halloween a few years ago, crafting her headpiece from a Goody headband, paper plates, ric rac, curtain fringe and Modge Podge.

Alma is so awesome because she always has her face on, even when not miming:

Alma with her True Love, tortured young Fenix, whose dad ties him to a chair and stabs an amazing blue eagle tattoo onto his chest with a knife when he’s like ten years old:

When you live in a traveling circus you get to dress like this all the time. Lucky! Anyway, Fenix grows up to be super hot and totally out of his mind:

What’d I tell you? Foxy, fey and bonkers. The Tattooed Lady is likewise bringing it hard and tragic:

Nothing good happens to anyone in this movie.

My favorite recent use of a tutu in fashion comes courtesy of Vivienne Westwood, who sent Pamela Anderson down the runway in one for her Spring 2009 collection:

In case you’re wondering what’s happening here, Pam’s arms are tied behind her back, and the tutu is starched way up. Too bad about the socks. Here’s Kate Moss making it all better in a Westwood tutu and the best shoes ever – Nina Ricci I’m pretty sure:

The End. Time to take cold medicine and sleep for another fourteen hours.



About Michelle Tea

I chanted "I am a fashion magnet" in the shower and subsequently found a Gianni Versace - era Versace skirt at Buffalo Exchange for $17. Once I got a beyond-my-means Fendi purse for free and sat staring at it, crying. Also cried at Olivier Theyskens' last show for Nina Ricci in Paris. Other things that make me cry: a good lip synch; my emotions. I have stolen two Jeremy Scott swag items from two Jeremy Scott events I was not quite invited to. Sometimes I want to age into Patti Smith, sometimes Baby Jane Hudson. I frequently dream I am in a magic thrift store where I can have whatever I want. I regret not buying the Alexander Wang purse when it was half price at Barney's. Like a delusional guy at a strip club, I feel special when the people who work at Barney's remember me. Having a Leo rising gives me big hair and a need for attention. My favorite designers right now are Alexander Wang, Philip Lim, Proenza Schouler, Vivienne Westwood, Viktor Rolf, Rick Owens, Rodarte, Helmut Lang and Surface to Air. I was once shamed by an employee of a high-end department store for pronouncing 'Rodarte' incorrectly.
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