Gabriela Hearst Costumes World Premiere Of Female-First 'Carmen' At San Francisco Ballet

In Arielle Smith's retelling of the classic, Carmen is not a lusty tragic figure; she is the badass boss of her domestic sphere -- a survivor -- clad in Gabriela Hearst.

Onstage during Arielle Smith's new, female-first vision of the classic "Carmen," which had its world premiere at the San Francisco Ballet Thursday night, the titular character wields a fiery red apron like a tool of manipulation -- using it to tug at, toy with, and take control of her lovers.

At 27, the Cuban-born Smith is a rising star, one of the youngest ever to receive the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance. Her reframing of the familiar Bizet opera-turned-ballet is set in Cuba, not Spain, and told through the eys of Carmen herself, with costumes by the Uruguayan-American fashion designer Gabriela Hearst, whose collections are often inspired by artistic female heroines.

The dancers wear ribbed merino wool pieces in vibrant red, sunflower yellow and black, sensual and sustainable, showcasing every toned muscle, tendon and curve.

"It's always been a dream of mine to do ballet costumes..and it's a Latin production," Hearst said during a dress rehearsal Wednesday, adding that she studied dance as a child, "until my mom didn't want to drive me anymore.

The costumes are modern, everyday, body-conscious looks ranging from androgynous flared pants and slightly cropped tops for the background dancers, to a knit trench coat and “husband beater” for lover José, to the dramatic red dress with fluted sleeves and matching apron that is central to Carmen’s story line.

The new production is the culmination of a collaboration between Latina and Hispanic female artistic forces led by Tamara Rojo, the Madrid-raised director of the San Francisco Ballet, who has been instrumental in bringing more women’s stories and storytellers to the dance stage.

Rojo suggested that Smith and Hearst meet, and they bonded immediately, working together over a year on the costumes, which could inspire a future fashion capsule collection, the designer said.

“Sometimes I’d go see a ballet and the costumes just distract me,” Hearst said during a joint interview with Smith. “When you said you wanted the clothes to feel normal…and that you resonated with the colors I thought were very Latin but not a caricature, I was so excited. The other thing was people always ask me what is the most sustainable fiber you can use? And its wool, and merino is one of the thinnest wools there is in the world, and high performance so I think that was also exciting to do all the costumes knitted.”

“Dos Mujeres,” including the world premiere of “Carmen” choreographed by Arielle Smith, runs through April 14.

Photography by Katie Thompson/WWD

Carmen (World Premiere) Production Credits

Choreographer: Arielle Smith
Composer: Arturo O'Farrill
Set Design: Riccardo Hernández
Costume Design: Gabriela Hearst
Lighting Design: Jim French
Dramaturg: Lucinda Coxon

World Premiere: April 4, 2024—San Francisco Ballet, War Memorial Opera House; San Francisco, California

Music: Original composition commissioned by San Francisco Ballet. Scenic construction and painting by San Francisco Ballet Carpentry and Scenic Departments.


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