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Ballet meets Valentino at glittery NYCB gala

The Associated Press Modified: September 26, 2012 at 2:30 pm •  Published: September 26, 2012

NEW YORK — One by one, the ballerinas of New York City Ballet made their grand entrances in "Bal de Couture," a new work by Peter Martins, and the glittery crowd applauded in delight. But the applause, this time, wasn't for the dancers.

It was for the costumes.

You might have thought Fashion Week at Lincoln Center was already over. But on Thursday night, on the same plaza where models had strutted the runways just days earlier, it seemed like that had been a mere prelude to NYCB's glittery fall gala. The evening's star was legendary designer Valentino, and the focus was on clothes, onstage and off.

And they were pretty cool clothes: Designer gowns in the audience, of course, many of them in Valentino's signature red, but truly dramatic concoctions onstage: flouncy dresses in layers and layers of black and white tulle, for example, revealing a surprise under-layer of bright red or pink, like red bloomers on a can-can girl.

Or a one-shoulder ballgown covered with rosettes, all in ruby red. Or sculpted, bubble-shaped tutus with tight bodices, in black, white, and, of course, red.

Valentino, whose full name is Valentino Garavani, is now 80, a statesman of the fashion world. He retired nearly four years ago from the fashion house he founded in 1960.

But one of his most loyal celebrity fans, Sarah Jessica Parker, a board member of City Ballet, came up with the idea of a collaboration for the fall gala. It didn't hurt that Valentino was a longtime friend of Martins, City Ballet's master in chief. Fashion, the company clearly reasoned, could be a way to connect with younger audiences.

It wasn't the first time City Ballet has reached out to top designers; the last gala, in the spring, was a French-themed evening featuring costumes by Gilles Mendel, of the J. Mendel label. And last spring's gala featured "Ocean's Kingdom," with music by one Paul McCartney. The costume designer? His designer daughter Stella, of course.

But Thursday's gala was the company's most sweeping ode to fashion yet. In the crowd, along with Parker, were other famous fans like actress Anjelica Huston, model Iman, actress Anne Hathaway, and Martha Stewart. A number of ballet patrons wore Valentino, sometimes with accompanying rubies and diamonds.

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