Sometimes it helps to have friends in high places, even if your name is Toni Maticevski. The Melbourne-based, internationally renowned fashion designer readily admits that his current collaboration with Sydney Dance Company is all thanks to a suggestion from Katie Noonan.

The four-time ARIA award-winning singer, who has known Maticevski since she purchased one of his frocks eight years ago, approached SDC artistic director Rafael Bonachela about what she saw as the perfect fit between Maticevski’s equally romantic and sultry designs and Bonachela’s new double bill, Les Illuminations.

The pair knew of each other: Bonachela attended Maticevski’s Australian Fashion Week show in April, while Maticevski was inspired by the choreographer’s 2012 production 2 One Another. “Katie asked me if I would be interested in working on something with her and SDC and I said yes immediately,” Maticevski says.

Les Illuminations is an intimate production choreographed with just eight of the SDC dancers to the music of Benjamin Britten in the centenary of his birth. The production is divided into two halves. There’s a light-hearted work to the composer’s 1934 Simple Symphony, while the second, Les Illuminations, is much darker. With libretti inspired by the poetry of French writer Arthur Rimbaud and performed by Noonan to a live accompaniment by members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, it explores the romance and yearning of love and betrayal.

For Maticevksi, the music drove his designs. “That set the tone, some innocent and the latter darker and more sensual and suggestive,” he says. In Simple Symphony the costumes are largely nude in colour and sheer in fabric, with draped and knotted chiffon; whereas the costumes for Les Illuminations are dark with black opaque and sheer inserts in provocative lines.

This isn’t the first time Maticevski has designed for dance. Last year, his astounding avian costumes (along with the work of milliner Richard Nylon) for Melbourne contemporary dance company BalletLab’s Aviary won the Helpmann Award for best costume. It was Maticevski’s second collaboration with that dance company. He goes one step further when he teams up with The Australian Ballet’s corps de ballet member Alice Topp for the upcoming experimental choreographic season bodytorque at the Sydney Theatre.

“I love dance to begin with,” Maticevski says. “I love the relationships, being part of something that creates and inspires people in a collaborative sense.” He knows about the restrictions a rigorous art form like contemporary dance places on his approach to design and has an awareness of what dancers like to show off and what they like to conceal. “I try to be respectful to dancers when designing costumes, I really want them to love what they’re in,” he says.

The costumes need to be hardwearing. The rigours of the stage are far more demanding than the catwalk. “What’s important to off-the-rack fashion and made-to-measure details and finishing is not relevant here,” he says. “They have to be robust and sturdy and still beautiful in appearance, from a distance especially.”

Each of the Les Illuminations costumes is handmade and custom fitted by Maticevksi and Sydney costumier Fiona Holley. “In fashion, I create the architecture on the models, whereas with dancers they are the architecture I dress. With dancers, I find you want to see the body in motion and not have it overly masked or covered. To be able to experience their movement is key.”

It’s not the first time Bonachela has worked with fashion designers either. In some ways, he is a latter-day Sergei Diaghilev, the man who exploded the staid, conservative reputation of classical ballet when he founded the Ballets Russes in 1909, bringing together artists from disparate worlds including Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso, composers Igor Stravinski and Claude Debussy and choreographers George Balanchine and Vaslav Nijinski.

Previous collaborations initiated by Bonachela include Project Rameau with Dion Lee, Sarah Blasko, Nick Wales and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and 6 Breaths with Josh Goot and Italian composer Ezio Bosso.

Maticevski, then, is the perfect fit. Not one to be boxed into being ‘just’ a fashion designer, Maticevski’s designs transcend the catwalk. It’s no mistake that they are held in the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles and the National Gallery of Victoria.

“It was always important to me to be more than just a fashion designer,” he says. “I love the arts and their significance in our life and ideas. Fashion can feel so two-dimensional sometimes and I love that dance or art can move an idea in fashion over and bring a different view. I like the idea of being outside the box. Who wants to be boxed in?”

Les Illuminations plays at the Sydney Theatre until August 31.

sydneydancecompany.com