Tale of the Hot Pink Tutu

Dancers of the San Francisco Ballet

Tom Zimberoff


©1990 Tom Zimberoff / All Rights Reserved • L to R: Shannon Lilly, Jennifer Karius, Galina Alexandrova, Elizabeth Loscavio; Bottom: Alaina Albertson

I am lucky to live in a city filled with world-class music and dance, including its namesake San Francisco Ballet. So when the opportunity came along to hang out with some of the elite dancers in this ensemble, photograph them, and pretend to be a (sort of) choreographer for a day, I leaped at the chance.

I’d gotten a call from a small advertising agency representing the French eyewear manufacturer Vuarnet, asking me to bid on a shoot for their Ziari-branded sunglasses to appear in the British fashion magazine Harpers & Queen. Along with a production estimate, I pitched the idea of posing top professionals in various fields wearing occupation-specific uniforms or costumes in small groups. With the addition of dark glasses — voila! The Ziaris would stand out as a fashionable twist of incongruity.

The agency bought it: a campaign to showcase the sunglasses, starting with a group portrait of five prima ballerinas, then five French chefs, five Coldstream Guards (given the British magazine connection), five firefighters, five prizefighters, and so on. From tutus, toques, bearskin hats, fire helmets, and boxing gloves, you get the idea. They would all be accessorized with Ziari.

We were pleased to recruit five principal dancers with the San Francisco Ballet for our first ad. This was to be a color campaign, and since every five-year-old Plisetskaya wears a cute little pink tutu come Halloween, it seemed like the right color to not only jump off the page with graphic appeal but also register familiarity with women who read the magazine. It would be a no-brainer to source five pink tutus from local costume shops, right? Nope! The largest one I could find wouldn’t fit over a grown woman’s leg, never mind her entire torso.

Coming up empty-handed, even after querying the San Francisco Ballet itself, I telephoned every other dance troupe I could think of, from LA to New York, then Paris to Leningrad, trying to find and hoping to rent five pink tutus. Still, no luck. To my despair, I discovered that no ballet had ever been choreographed for pink tutus unless you count kindergarten dance recitals. But the ad agency and the client were already committed to the concept; it had run a gantlet of approval. It would be difficult for my…