Irene Sharaff – born in Boston in 1910, died in New York in 1993 – studied at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts. She began her career as a fashion illustrator for Vogue Magazine. In 1928, she was hired by Eva La Gallienne, the great actress who was then founder and managing director of the Civic Repertory Theatre to design costumes and scenery. Because the company operated on low budget, she learned to compensate with creativity and haunted sources for unusual fabrics and trimmings. She never outgrew that approach even when, years later, she worked with generous Broadway and Hollywood budgets.
In 1931 Irene Sharaff fulfilled a dream by going to live in Paris. There she studied the work of painters who designed for the theatre: Christian Bérard, Pavel Tchelitchew and André Derain and was exposed to the fashions of great couturiers of the day like Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli.
Back in New York, an award for her first Broadway production »Alice in Wonderland« pushed Irene Sharaff’s career. Dividing her work between Broadway and Hollywood she not only received five Academy Awards and nine nominations, she was also nominated for five Tonys. The production of »West Side Story« was the first time she had worked with Jerome Robbins as both choreographer and director, who also invited her to design the costumes for »Afternoon of a Faun« and »The Concert«. Irene Sharaff’s understanding of movement made her the ideal creator for ballet costumes. She designed for leading companies such as American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.