I heard that Los Angeles Ballet was about to celebrate its 10th season during an editorial meeting at the magazine. I called dibs on the story. Immediately I pictured dancers flying across the pages of our November style feature in silk gowns, swaths of shimmering fabric trailing behind them. Turns out, ballerinas in haute couture was an easy sell. My editor gave me the greenlight and I booked the dancers—prinicipals Julia Cinquemani and Allyssa Bross and soloists Chelsea Paige Johnston, Kate Highstrete, and Bianca Bulle. Photo director Amy Feitelberg booked photographer Henry Leutwyler, who is known for his photos of the New York City Ballet, to shoot the feature. I scoured the Web for inspiration and the latest gowns and jewels. Before long, many of Degas’ ballerinas, high-fashion ballet-themed pics, and performance and portrait photos were tacked to my wall, along with what I consider the season’s most dramatic couture dresses and over-the-top jewelry. I wanted this to be our most luxurious shoot to date. Many of the gowns traveled across an ocean and a continent to get here from Paris. I felt so fortunate to have been able to include haute couture pieces from Alexis Mabille, Christian Dior, Elie Saab, and Naeem Khan.
The day of the shoot we had four armed guards watching over diamond earrings, necklaces, and bracelets from Chanel, Dior, and Chopard fine jewelry collections. The dancers arrived at their studio the morning of the shoot in layers upon layers of the the chicest practice clothes—tights under shorts, leg warmers over tights, stretchy tunics over leotards. At one point Julia used her zip-up hoodie as a skirt, tying the arms around her waist. When I asked her about it, she said dancers improvise a lot when it comes to clothing, that it’s all about keeping their muscles warm.
Some of the dresses I pulled for the shoot lent themselves to movement and some did not. A few of the dresses weighed nearly ten pounds each. The dancers tried everything on and then we accessed which gowns they could move in and which they could not. Once that was established, we began shooting. There was a collective gasp when the first shots (of Julia in an emerald Monique Lhuillier organza gown that billowed around her like a cloud) appeared on the tethered computer monitor. The gasps continued to follow shot after shot. We sent a screen grab to our editor, who told us it gave her chills. The final product is in the November issue on newsstands now. Click through the slideshow above to see a few of the inspiration photos that hung on my office wall and a few behind-the-scenes pics then catch this short clip from the shoot.