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Asia exhibit spotlights designer Lacroix's costumes

By Miral Fahmy

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - His pouf skirts and fanciful designs have made him a fashion icon, but Christian Lacroix's true love is the arts, and a collection of ballet, opera and theater costumes he designed debuts in Singapore this week.

"Christian Lacroix the Costumier" is the first overseas trip for a major collection of costumes and sketches by the French designer, whose work spans two decades and more than 25 productions including the operas "Carmen" and "Cosi fan tutte" as well as Shakespeare's "Othello."

"Drawing for dance or for theater allows me to breathe," Lacroix is quoted as saying in one of the exhibition panels at the National Museum of Singapore, which showcases 80 spectacular costumes and 60 illustrations from the designer's own collection and France's Center National du Costume de Scene (CNCS).

Delphine Pinasa, deputy director of the CNCS in Moulins, said the exhibit offers viewers the chance to appreciate Lacroix's signature extravagance in a different light.

"Christian Lacroix often said that if fashion for him was not such a success, he would have done costumes and stage design full-time," she said.

"Even as a child, his mother would take him to the opera and the theater or the ballet, and he would come home and redesign the costumes he saw onstage."

Fittingly displayed in a setting inspired by the experimental "black box" theater, with faint red lighting, the costumes are a feast of colors and textures, ranging from gorgeous 18th century-style gowns made from rich velvets, delicate lace and twinned with modern cropped jackets to outfits made from embroidered paper and textile scraps.

TWIRLING TUTUS AND FLEA MARKET TEXTILES

For the ballet, Lacroix creates costumes made of taffetas and velvets that would not look out of place on a catwalk, and extols his love for the tutu.

"I love extravagant things. Tutu is one of them. It's a mad invention, both magical and surreal," an exhibition booklet quotes him as saying. "No designer, no top fashion designer, will ever be able to compete with such a piece of apparel."

Unlike in fashion, where he has free reign over his collections, Lacroix said he listened to the actors and directors when designing costumes "with all humility."

And while haute couture needs to be perfect in every way, stage costumes can be made from materials picked up at flea markets, or even from nylon or paper, he says, adding that the outfits must be striking as well as practical.

"I'm not serving my own universe, but am responsible for illustrating the imaginary word of others, sharing it with inspiration," he explains.

Inspired by everything from classical art to rags, Lacroix has twice won France's national theater honor, the Moliere, for his costume designs for "Phedre" and "Cyrano de Bergerac."

To allow people to fully appreciate the costumes, the National Museum has put most of them in shop windows-style enclosures covered with mesh, not glass, suspended some from the ceiling, where they twirl to music, and set up others in a central space where images of Lacroix's favorite performances are projected on white sheet curtains.

"At this exhibition, people can dream," Pinasa said. "The imagination, the passion that has gone into the costumes is inspirational. It shows anything is possible."

The exhibition is also scheduled to go to Brazil and possibly Moscow, she added.

Christian Lacroix the Costumier

March 20-June 7, 2009

National Museum of Singapore

(Editing by Dean Yates)

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