The world of sopranos, Wagner and vibrato is usually considered more classic than cutting edge but, thanks to Beyoncé, who wore a pair of sheer opera gloves with her Schiaparelli couture gown to the Golden Globes last Sunday, opera and its sartorial trappings are having a fashion moment.
She hasn’t engineered it single-handedly. Celine Dion stepped out late last year in a floral Marc Jacobs opera coat in the same month that Lil Nas X attended the American Music Awards in a Granny Smith-green suit by Christopher John Rogers, accessorised with zebra-print opera gloves. At Rihanna’s Fenty show in September, a diverse cast of models wore lingerie and single opera gloves. Lana Del Rey accessorised with a pair of opera glasses in 2018. Opera gloves were seen on autumn/winter catwalks from Ralph Lauren to Balmain, and British designer Richard Quinn designed dramatic floral opera coats in pink and green brights.
It might not be a trend that has yet hit the high street, but look for opera coats on vintage sites and it won’t take long to stumble across one. On Pinterest, searches for “opera outfit” increased by 50% between December of 2018 and 2019, and “opera coat” saw a 30% rise.
Old-school luxury leather goods brand Dents, founded around the time Mozart was probably getting his first girlfriend, has noticed a definite increase in interest in all its extra-long gloves. It is now creating more opera-style gloves than it has done for some time.
The grandeur of opera is catnip for fashion designers. In December Dolce & Gabbana staged a show inspired by opera at La Scala in Milan. They were trying, as Steffano Gabbana told Vogue at the time, to translate the drama in the music into the movement of the fabric. As Gabbana put it: “Opera is drama. Very Italian drama.” Others have gone one step further and become costume designers. Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo designed the costumes for a production of Orlando at the Vienna opera house last month. Karl Lagerfeld and Gianni Versace also dipped into the world of divas. Valentino Garavani designed frothing couture costumes for a production of La Traviata in 2016, Miuccia Prada designed distressed leather coats and cycling helmets plumed with feathers for a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Attila in 2010, and Christian Lacroix, who designed for many operas, most recently worked on a production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
On a different tack, Yeezy designer Kanye West, an opera lover, starred in his second one, Mary, at Art Basel in December.
So what is it about opera that hits the right fashion note, and vice versa? “Designers understand the shape of a body, the way clothing should support, how clothing can give expression to the way in which we move,” says soprano Aida Garifullina, star of the Royal Opera House’s current show La Bohème.
“That kind of understanding is exactly what a singer hopes for, and it is always so clear to see when someone with a real understanding of both art forms has been involved.”
“The emotion that opera can bring to someone is extraordinary,” says Natasha Mackmurdie, a costume supervisor at ENO. “The combination of music, voice and design draws the audience in and can leave one breathless.” She points to an early example of costume design finding fans among fashion-lovers: the Merry Widow Hat, which, she says, “became a much sought-after item of fashion” off the back of Edward Morton’s The Merry Widow costumes in 1907.
There is a glamour and opulence that is reflected in the garments that would traditionally have been worn by opera-goers – the long, below-the-elbow gloves and the coats, made with expensive fabrics and often with dramatic collars. They have a retro charm, but are also being brought bang up to date. Prior to the Golden Globes, Beyoncé had worn a pair of opera gloves by Lebanese brand Jeux de Mains.
“I gave what is ostensibly a classic clothing item a very modern twist,” says creative director Salim Cherfane. He thinks his playful colour-blocked take “was attractive to a lot of people who had seen opera gloves as maybe a stale and outdated fashion item that is losing relevance to a younger generation”.
Die Zauberflöte meets pop royalty meets fashion … what’s not to love?
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