P. Garst 1930s Costume Designs

This exuberant of collection by P. Garst comprises copies of the costume designs for the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, along with historical fashion plates. Reaching from the early years of WWI all the way to the end of WWII, the works in this collection encompass a golden age of design, luxury and modernity. Peter Garst was an actor, dancer and costume designer in the early 1930s and 40s. One of a troupe of touring actors known as the International Ballet, which ran from 1941-53, Garst appears on the playbill for a number of theatrical productions in England in the early 1940s.

Garst clearly dedicated his life to creativity, theatre and production, and the span of his career provides a fruitful lens through which to consider the breadth of this collection. The majority of works here are finely modelled copies of costume designs taken from popular productions of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, a smaller splinter group of the original and more well-known Ballet Russes, founded by Léonide Massine and René Blum that ran from 1937-1968. Many of these copies are retrospective – they often engage with costume and set design that occurred in some places up to ten years before, while also considering contemporary stage and screen, including working directly from film stills of the 1939 Victor Fleming production of Gone with the Wind.

There are also a significant number of documentary graphite sketches of historical fashion, taken directly from Victorian ladies magazines and journals, in an attempt to trace and understand the minutiae of changes in popular apparel design.

Due to their nature as copies, it is likely this collection was meant as a type of visual reference book for Garst’s own role within the theatre. This, paired with the handwritten notes on the back of some of the historical drawings, indicates that Garst was most likely working as an amateur costume designer during this time, possibly for the International Ballet, with whom he toured in the 1940s. This collection not only can continue to serve this type of purpose today, but can also act as an aesthetic memento to the Golden age of Art Deco creative design and theatricality.