Thursday, December 9, 2010


Every one is a-flap over Rodarte's gorgeous black swan costume ("Odile" to ballerinas) for Natalie Portman in her latest film, "Black Swan".

Natalie Portman in "Black Swan", costume by Rodarte

The costumes are beautiful  though they function more on the red carpet than in actual ballet.  Mila Kunis was quoted complaining of wardrobe malfunctions in these lovely tutus -- and they weren't even really dancing.

Real costumes have straps to keep things in place!
American Ballet Theater's Gillian Murphy and Angel Corella
in "Swan Lake"

Let's gloss over the fact that, yet again, there is a dance movie where non-dancers pretend to be graceful.   Instead, let us focus on what ballet costumes and couture have in common.  Rodarte isn't the only design label to get involved in ballet.  Jean Paul Gaultier, Isaac Mizrahi, Versace and Giorgio Armani are just a few others who have taken to ballet costume design.

It may surprise many to know that professional tutus can cost over $1,000 each.  In fact, when I needed a swan costume a few years back, I decided to see if I could do it for less with the help of a friend who is a bridal couture designer.

DIY Swan costume
photo by Lily Dong

Materials alone were staggering:

  • Delicate, expensive fabrics
  • High-quality tulle, beaded appliques and special materials like feathers (lots of them)
  • Pre-made plain bodice with boning and pancake tutu skirt was already over $200
  • Additional accents cost over $200 before labor!

beaded appliques and feathers on tulle
photo by Lily Dong
We cut and hand-sewed all these trims. Both of us toiled several hours a day over a few days.  Imagine the billing cost per hour of that at a couture house.

Now you begin to see what you are paying for.  Experienced cutters, designers, and hand finishing all add up.  In some couture ateliers, the fabric is individually hand-dyed or distressed (say, at Rodarte) before expert folding and tailoring techniques are applied.

But the finished product -- expressed with grace, line and true technique -- is well worth it.

Julie Kent of American Ballet Theater
as Odile in "Swan Lake"


  1. Hi Jenny,

    You are the perfect white swan! Don't know much about Portman's movie except the black and white swans... I'm glad we took pictures of you for this blog, you look fantastic!

    Oh by the way, I now finally have a website for my photography, check it out on

    Did you hear back from Cynthia, any new updates there?
    HAPPY NEW YEAR, if I don't see you...

    -Lily : )

  2. Thanks, Lily, for the beautiful swan costume and the photographs! I also loved your flash website. Saw some familiar models? :-)


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