I went looking for inspiration in the unexpected, dusty corners of dance history. I wanted to celebrate ballerinas and feminine strength without using tulle or tutus. And that is when I found the Ballet Russes' Le Coq d'Or. Classical ballet is known for its swans and fire birds, but there is a lesser-known rooster in the flock.
The ballet was based on the fairytale opera by Rimsky-Korsakov. It tells the satirical story of a foolish Tsar who makes a bad deal in exchange for the magical Golden Cockerel, a rooster who crows when danger is near. In the Ballet Russes' 1914 premier, the Cockerel was merely a set piece in a mystical folktale production designed by avant-garde artist Natalia Goncharovna. The ballet was revived in 1937, and ballerina Tatiana Riabouchinska brought the Golden Cockerel to life. Her costume was made by famed ballet designer Barbara Karinska. The Cockerel became an integral part of the dance and the story (she ultimately kills the Tsar), and is one of only two roles en pointe in the entire ballet.
I was inspired by the fact that so many creative women have been a part of the Cockerel's development into a dynamic character. Visually, I love the abstract art deco elements of the original 1937 costume, and the mystical, fairy tale qualities of the production. Many of my recent projects have included gold motifs or applique, and this corset provided an opportunity to combine them. On a more personal note, I used to raise fancy show breed chickens and I know these birds well.
I chose the Sanakor pattern as a base because I've always thought it seemed bird-like, and because I've always wanted to make it. I adjusted it to an overbust height. The corset is a single layer of coutil with bronze silk satin fashion fabric. Like the original costume, I sought to evoke the feeling of wings without using any actual feathers. Metallic gold leather is appliqued to the corset in abstract feather shapes. The corset is boned with a mixture of synthetic whalebone, spiral, and straight steel. The leather tail feathers are partially wired and built into the modesty panel. Construction order was the most challenging aspect of this piece, since bone casings, applique, and binding intersect in unusual ways.
The opportunity arose to have my sister Clara model the corset. We don't get to see each other very often, which makes this project quite special. Clara possesses the poise and strength of a professional model with ballet training. She worked with photographer Shawn Hanna to create the perfect atmospheric setting. The Golden Cockerel emerges again from ages past. What does she have to say?
Photoshoot photographer: Shawn Hannah
Model: Clara Settje