Given the ballet studio setting of Emilia Wickstead’s latest lookbook, the first question that arises is whether Wickstead is a dancer herself. “I did jazz and ballet as a kid, but I only ever won an award for the most improved dancer,” she said laughing. “So it’s not to do with any particular pastime of mine.” Instead, Wickstead’s love affair with ballet stems from her fascination with Annie Leibovitz’s 1983 book Dancers, which features striking portraits of stars including Mikhail Baryshnikov and Darci Kistler both training in their studios and stepping onto the stage. “What I loved about it were these rehearsal images mixed with portraiture mixed with the big grand productions,” said Wickstead. “I loved the purity, and how raw it was.”
What did Wickstead do? Call up a handful of London’s most prestigious ballet companies, and invite some of their most accomplished soloists to model the collection within the surroundings of the English National Ballet’s Centre for Dance. Not only do the extraordinary contortions of the dancers’ bodies show off Wickstead’s signature swishy full skirts and crisp, elegant knits with grace and flair, but they also continue a tradition of Wickstead looking to real communities of women to model her pre-collections. “I think it adds another angle to the clothing,” she said. “I always try to find our woman in different places, and dress her for different environments.”
While there are some new, dance-ready riffs within the collection—masculine, oversized shirting to slip on after ballet class, say, or artfully cropped cable knits to wear while warming up—it’s only natural that Wickstead’s interpretation of the world of dance would lean more opulent given her background in eveningwear. Wickstead’s theatrical spirit was still evident in the collection. A bold print of red roses on a red background was inspired by the flowers thrown onto the stage to the prima ballerina during applause, while a particularly ravishing series of looks were cut from a new fabric Wickstead and her team developed that they’ve nicknamed a “lurex Tweed,” and that carries a delightfully festive, tinsel-like shimmer. Wickstead’s other textile innovations included a palpably luxurious performance fabric used to craft voluminous skirts that are feather-light, yet have the structural integrity almost to stand up on their own.
Another notable detail was Wickstead’s use of pinstripes, which she described as having been influenced by the dance teacher’s hovering in the background of Leibovitz’s images. In Wickstead’s hands the classic suiting pattern feels anything but austere. Lavished across soft wools and crepes—and in a particularly lovely pleated skirt loosely inspired by the shape of a tutu—the pinstripe pieces were as light as a dancer’s pirouette.
Indeed, the various chapters of a dancer’s life—the grueling hours of training, the grandeur of the performances, the later-in-life transition to teaching—all dovetailed surprisingly neatly with the full cross-section of Wickstead’s typical product categories, even as she’s made increasingly ambitious forays into tailoring and knitwear. (Her These chunky, cable knit sweaters are a huge hit in the last few seasons. But it’s her romantic eye for eveningwear that shone brightest—and proved once again that Wickstead’s ability to spin a romantic, escapist yarn.