Dear Shaded Viewers,
Marc Happel isn’t just the Director of Costumes at the New York City Ballet (NYCB); he is an artisan who has seamlessly stitched together the worlds of fashion, dance, and theatre for over a decade. Tasked with overseeing the entire costume repertory at NYCB, Marc has contributed his own designs to landmark ballets like George Balanchine’s Symphony in C and Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, among others. His journey in the world of costume began with theatrical productions, working with the Metropolitan Opera Costume Department and Barbara Matera Ltd., before ultimately finding his home at NYCB in 2006—a position he describes as one of the most significant milestones in his career.
A historical costume enthusiast from a young age, Marc’s early career was steeped in theatrical productions. However, his love for ballet costume design ignited during his stint at Barbara Matera Ltd., where costumes for American Ballet Theater and NYCB were crafted. This passion only intensified over the years, leading him to design for roughly 15-20 ballets and oversee countless more.
The ballet world offers its own unique challenges, especially when revitalizing iconic Balanchine ballets. Marc had to strike a perfect balance to please dancers, the Balanchine Trust, and NYCB at large. His keen eye for design and attention to legacy, such as retaining Barbara Karinska’s original black and white color palette for Symphony in C, earned him praise and partnerships, notably with Swarovski.
But where Marc truly revels is in the Fall Fashion Galas. Initiated in 2012 and often conceived in collaboration with fashion luminaries, these galas provide an exciting crossover between haute couture and the athleticism of ballet. They’ve also led to enduring friendships with fashion icons like Giles Deacon, Valentino, Thom Browne, Iris Van Herpen, and Dries Van Noten, to name just a few.
Each gala is a labyrinthine journey from concept to curtain rise, involving choreographers, designers, and even NYCB board members like Sarah Jessica Parker. Despite the complexities, Marc finds immense pleasure in guiding fashion designers through the nuances of crafting for the dance stage rather than the red carpet.
It is this decade-long adventure that inspired Marc to create a book. This volume, endorsed by Rizzoli, captures the essence of ten Fashion Galas through captivating photographs, original sketches, and personal reflections from everyone involved. “The book is a testament to the remarkable artisans of the New York City Ballet Costume Shop and the world-class designers we’ve collaborated with,” says
Marc. “It’s a layered narrative of these gala events, told through the eyes of the dancers I chose as models, punctuated by insightful quotes and essays.”
This labour of love is not just a tribute to the artists he has worked with; it’s a homage to his journey in an industry that he cherishes. As Marc puts it, “I do love this company and what it has brought to my life over the years. Incredibly rewarding and challenging on many levels. And I feel that this book is a testament to the variety of work that I have been able to do here.”
Beyond his professional accomplishments, Marc’s personal relationships with dancers have enriched his experience, often transcending the professional sphere. “Many friendships have been formed that go beyond the theatre and fitting rooms. At times, this is the culmination of working outside the company on separate projects where the dancer and director click naturally,” he reflects.
Marc Happel’s storied career serves as an inspiring lens through which to view the harmonious confluence of ballet, fashion, and the deeply human stories that underpin both. It’s clear that whether he’s sketching a new design, overseeing a fitting, or contemplating the perfect color palette, Marc Happel lives and breathes his craft—and he’s inviting all of us to take a look behind the curtain.