Selection of 10 CNCS master-pieces

This gallery of costumes chosen from the 20,000 pieces of the CNCS collection, dating from the 18th century to nowadays, reveals some of the maker’s secrets, from the creativity of the costume designers that drew them, to the know-how of the workshops that created them to the imprint of the artists that have worn them on stage.

Habit d’homme en velours rouge brodé de paillettes datant de la fin du XVIIIe siècle, costume pour le rôle de Pasquin pour Le Jeu de l’amour et du hasard de Marivaux. Coll. CNCS/Comédie-Française.

Authentic costume from the 18th centurye siècle

The Comédie-Française possesses several items of clothing of this type, in addition to men’s waistcoats that are authentic courtiers clothing, given or bought by the theatre during the 19th century for theatrical representations of 18th century inspiration. Some have been adapted for use on stage right up until the 1950s.

These are the oldest pieces in the collections. Few costumes remain from before the end of the 19th century, as they were worn then reused over several years until they became completely worn or were destroyed in theatre fires. Fires which are still frequent today.

Man’s clothing in red velvet embroidered with sequins dating from the end of the 18th century, costume for the role of Pasquin in The Game of Love and Chance by Marivaux. Collection CNCS/Comédie-Française.

Aïda, 1880

Some of the stage costumes in the collection dating from the end of the 19th century illustrate the style of this century: sumptuous dramatization, sets that are ever more impressive, with a host of artists and extras dressed in costumes copied from historical documents.

For the creation of the opera Aïda in Cairo in 1871, the costumes were drawn by the Egyptologist , Mariette. When the Opera de Paris performed it several years later, Eugène Lacoste reconstituted an almost exact replica of this Egyptian clothing ensuring no detail was missing!

Costume for a musician in Aïda, opera by Verdi that entered the repertory of the Opera of Paris in 1880 in the costumes of Eugène Lacoste. Collection CNCS / National Opera of Paris.


Sarah Bernhardt in Ruy Blas, 1872

Sarah Bernhardt, a French actress, is considered one of the greatest tragedian actresses of the 19th century. A real legend, thanks to her personality and her talent, her career in both France and abroad was truly impressive.

The CNCS preserves costumes from some of the greatest performing artists like those of Mounet Sully, Serge Lifar, Maria Callas, Jean Marais, Luciano Pavarotti, Rudolf Nureyev, Isabelle Adjani, Jean Louis Barrault…

Louis XIII style dress in brocaded satin decorated with pearls, braids and gold sequins, for the queen in Ruy Blas, by Victor Hugo worn by Sarah Bernhardt for the first time at the Odeon Theater in 1872, then for the reproduction in 1879 at the Comédie-Française. Collection CNCS / Comédie-Française.


Bakst, Shéhérazade, 1951

This ballet was created by the famous Company of Russian Ballets directed by Serge de Diaghilev in 1910 at the Opera of Paris. Serge Lifar, dancer of the company then director of the ballet of the Opera of Paris, reproduced this show in 1951.

The costumes of this ballet, with their bright colors, richly decorated with pearls and stencil-painted motifs, produced an esthetic shock to the Parisian public, triggering an enthusiasm that had repercussions reflected in all of the artistic domains, notably in fashion.

Costume for the role of the Indian Prince in Scheherazade, ballet by Michel Fokine, costumes by Léon Bakst, National Opera of Paris, 1951. Collection CNCS/ National Opera of Paris.

Cocteau, The Lady and the Unicorn, 1959

Jean Cocteau animated all of the sectors of performing art. To create his shows he solicited painters like Picasso, and the leading figure of fashion, Coco Chanel. He also designed himself like here in this ballet where he closely followed the making of these costumes, marked by the simplicity of their forms and material.

The Unicorn is wearing a leotard decorated with strands of wool representing the mane and tail of the animal.

Costume of a unicorn for the Lady and the Unicorn, ballet by H. Rosen, scenery and costumes by Jean Cocteau, National Opera of Paris, 1959. Collection CNCS/ National Opera of Paris.




Turandot, 1968

With its very imaginary Chinese style, this costume was designed from test effects by Rorschach, forming large stains according to a symmetrical median axis.

Jacques Dupont, French painter (1909-1978) designed the scenery and costumes for numerous shows just like several other generations have from the 18th century to the present, each of them adapting their pictorial esthetics to the stage.

Costume for the role of the Princess Turandot in Turandot, opera by Puccini, costumes by Jacques Dupont, National Opera of Paris, 1968. This costume was worn by Montserrat Caballé interpreting the role for a new production in 1981. Collection. CNCS/ONP.

Thierry Mugler, Macbeth, 1985

Like numerous fashion designers since the appearance of haute couture fashion, Worth, Chanel, Saint Laurent, Lacroix, Gaultier and many others, Thierry Mugler puts his name to the costumes of this play. For this tragedy he imagines costumes made like sculptures giving to the actors an impression of imprisonment.

For the costume of Lady Macbeth, the fashion designer created a crinoline dress in steel blue satin, studded like armor. The stiff structure of the fabric encases the character in a sort of carcass reinforcing the drama.

Costume for the role of Lady Macbeth, in Macbeth by Shakespeare, dramatized by Jean-Pierre Vincent, scenery by Carlo Tommasi, costumes by Thierry Mugler, Comédie-Française, 1985. Collection CNCS / Comédie-Française.

Jean-Paul Goude, Parade, 1989

In 1989, to commemorate the Bicentenary of the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Goude organized a gigantic parade along the Champs-Elysées with 6000 artists and extras presenting dozens of living paintings, mixing music, dance, regions and countries. This costume belongs to the painting of the U.S.S.R. Colors, geometric shapes, plastic materials and Cyrillic inscriptions, create this constructivist character raised on accordion shoes.

The costumes of this parade, just like those designed by Philippe Guillotel for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Albertville orchestrated by Philippe Découflé in 1992, bear witness to the inventiveness of contemporary artists with a plastic vocabulary particularly innovative for important national events.

« Constructivist » costume for the parade of the bicentenary of the Revolution, designed by Jean-Paul Goude, scenography by Philippe Découflé, costumes by Philippe Guillotel, 14th July 1989. Suit in painted cotton, painted black shoes in polyurethane, yellow and green cotton. Collection CNCS / BNF.

Swan Lake, 1992

This crinoline dress and long veil is bestowed with exuberant pagoda sleeves and a jeweled headdress with multiple rows of glass beads. This spectacular costume embodies by its shapes and size the spirit of greatness so often present in the theatre.

The fabric, fully pleated gold and silver brocade, sparkles in the light of the projectors and gives to the character of the queen that wears it, all of the splendor that she deserves, reminding us of the richness of the costumes of queens at court. Even if the costume comes from a ballet, it dresses a non-dancing role which allows it to achieve all its greatness.

Costume for the role of the Queen in Swan Lake, scenery by Roberto Platé, costumes by Tomio Morhi, National Opera of Paris, 1992. Collection CNCS / National Opera of Paris.

Sleeping Beauty by Noureev, 1989

Symbolic costume of the classical dancer, the tutu appeared in 1832 in the ballet The Sylph in the form of a flowing dress in white mousseline, evoking the evanescent character of the dancer on her pointes.

Since then, it has been adapted to the evolution of dance techniques, becoming shorter little by little. Its tulle skirt is more or less voluminous. It is available in colors, style and decoration ad infinitum according to the dance production, like here in this tutu in layered red satin, black tulle and golden lace, stones, pearls and sequins.

Tutu for a fairy in Sleeping Beauty, choreography by Rudolf Nureyev from Marius Petipa, costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis, National Opera of Paris, 1989. Collection CNCS / National Opera of Paris.