American costume designer Irene Sharaff (1910–93) was a leading figure in costume design, creating designs for more than sixty shows and more than forty films. She had a strong collaborative relationship with Jerome Robbins, for whom she created the original costume designs of Afternoon of a Faun (1971) and The Concert (1975), among others.
Sharaff was born in Boston and studied at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, the Arts Students League and L’Académie de la Grande Chaumière. She went on to work as a fashion illustrator for magazines including Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. She made her stage debut in 1932 designing set and costumes for Eva Le Gallienne’s production of Alice in Wonderland. In 1935 she became the first American to design for Ballets Russes, on Union Pacific. She first worked with New York City Ballet in 1937, on George Balanchine’s Jeu de Cartes, and went on to create designs for Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and PAMTGG and Robbins’s Fanfare, Interplay and The Age of Anxiety, among others. She was nominated for every major theatre award and won a Tony for her designs for The King and I (1951).
Sharaff won five Academy Awards, for her designs for An American in Paris (1951), The King and I (1956), West Side Story (1961), Cleopatra (1963) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). She was noted as a creator of historical costumes and dressed almost every major theatre and film star of her era.