Cary, NC — When Lindsey and Hal mentioned to me that their neighbor designs ballet tutus worn in New York City and around the world, I knew that I had to investigate. Artist/entrepreneur Diane Schaubach sat down to chat with me about the reasoning, artistry, and passion behind her professional tutus.
I could tell that Diane was an artist from the moment I stepped into her house. My eyes immediately wandered to a sparkling light pink tutu costume displayed on a mannequin in her kitchen. Three more tutus, in a variety of colors, were elegantly placed on the floor.
We sat down with coffee and immediately stated chatting about how she got started.
Q: What spurred your tutu business?
Diane’s oldest daughter started dancing when she was four or five. During those dance classes, Diane would sit upstairs with some of the other moms to sew costumes for the company’s production of The Nutcracker. She told me that:
We all had very basic sewing skills, we had our sewing machines, so we just talked and sewed. I started thinking, ‘There’s got to be a better way. I know there’s a better pattern, a better way that we can do this instead of just gathering up net and sewing on a piece of elastic.’ And so I started researching, and I found a small company called Tutu.com in Charlotte.
Tutu.com was started by a retired professional dancer who saw a need for ballerina costumes. From her website, Diane was able to purchase instructional books and patterns for the craft of making professional tutus.
It was 40 pages of very intricate detail–just a few photos. [The book] was basically on how to make a professional bodice tutu, so I just started playing. I’d say to my daughter, ‘Leah come here, try this on.’ If that didn’t work, I’d tweak it, try something else.
Q: And it took off from there?
That’s when I first got the interest, and then I taught myself how to do it. [At first] I just worked for [my daughter’s dance company] and, when you’re working with a school, you need lots of different sizes because the kids are constantly changing; coming and going. So I made bodices of a couple different sizes and tutus that were separate that we could attach and mix and put together for different bodies.
Later on, Diane started seeking out more original design work. She saw that there was a need for nice tutus for kids to wear to competitions, and she thought, “Let me try that.”
Diane explained to me that, in the competition world, there is a huge need for tutu rentals. Dancers will sometimes wear three different costumes for one competition. They seldom need to wear them again, and they often grow out of them in a year. That’s what spurred her rental line–which is an important part of her business today.
Diane makes rental costumes for local dancers and dance studios throughout Cary, Raleigh, and Wake Forest–but she didn’t stop there. Her hard work has expanded her clientele, and her tutus have gone to New York and beyond.
Q: Who else wears your tutus?
Diane first formed a connection with New York City dancers through Lauren Lovette, a soloist for the NYC Ballet. Lauren is from Raleigh and danced with Diane’s daughter before she moved to New York for school. When Lauren came home for a visit, Diane showed her the tutus.
I had done costuming for her when she was younger, and she said, ‘That’s so pretty. There’s such a need for this in New York.’ At the time, her boyfriend was the principal of the NYC ballet. So she told him [about the tutus] and then, 9 months later, I got an email. He was starting and his own small company and needed costumes.
Professional NYC ballet dancers wear Diane’s costumes during the off-season when they go off and create their own companies or perform independently. These dancers travel with the costumes, so the tutus been to places like Italy, Japan, and China. Diane just shipped her first costume internationally to a client in Australia.
Since her first New York commission, Diane has made five tutus for Lauren Lovette and 11 for Ashley Bouder, one of the most well-known ballerinas in the world today. She’s even made a wedding dress for a friend’s daughter who wanted a tutu-style ensemble.
Her costumes have been worn by ballerinas in big-time dance companies like the Youth America Grand Prix and the World Ballet Competition. Diane told me that, “Between the professional gig season, the competition season, and the Nutcracker season, [my work] keeps me going all year long.”
Q: Your tutus are so intricate. I bet that sets you apart.
Yes, Diane has been extremely successful with her commissions–but it was her artistry that fascinated me. If you take a look at her masterpieces, you’ll see that each tutu is elaborately embellished with trims, laces, and even Swarovski rhinestones. Diane only uses the highest quality fabrics and materials in her tutus, and she takes it upon herself to mix and match different elements to create unique, striking costumes.
I’m always trying to find the best of the materials that I can use so that the garment is nice. Something as simple as the elastic–I use European mesh elastic–and it’s expensive. But it makes all the difference with the dancers on stage because it kind of blends in with their skin and it’s hidden.
What’s even more fascinating is that Diane is completely self-taught. She told me that:
My mother was an artist, my whole family is artistic, and I’ve always been drawn to the embellishments and the textures and the different colors. I’ve never taken a class; I learned it all myself with just a little bit of sewing knowledge from my Home Ec. class and from my mom. After my first commission, I took the proceeds and invested in a really nice sewing machine and, from there, everything I did I just put back into building up what I needed for the business.
See for yourself.
Story and lead photo by Jessica Patrick. Additional photos by Luis Pons and Christine Prisk.