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Interview with “Dancing With The Stars” Costume Designer

Actress Denise Richards dancing during a show.

The eighth season of “Dancing With the Stars” culminates next Monday and Tuesday (May 18 and 19) when one of the remaining three celebrities (Olympian Shawn Johnson and professional partner Mark Ballas; actor Gilles Marini and professional partner Cheryl Burke; and former “Bachelor” contestant Melissa Rycroft and professional partner Tony Dovolani) is awarded the coveted Mirror Ball Trophy and named this season’s winner.

Each week, Emmy Award winning costume designer, Randall Christensen, along with his team of sewing and design experts designs and produces the glamorous costumes for all of the dancers for the next show. Threads asked Randall Christensen how he handles the task of dressing so many in such a short time. You’ll be amazed when you read about the details of this task. 

Randall has been the sole costume designer for the show since season two, is one of the premiere designers in Hollywood and was recently nominated for a Costume Designers Guild Award for his work on the show. The mere fact that he can pull this off week after week is worthy of an award in my book!

Here are the questions we asked:

How do you begin the process of creating the beautiful and elaborate costumes the celebrities and professionals wear on television each week?

Randall Christensen: 
After the Results Show each Tuesday, (when one of the couples is eliminated), the couples are given their music and dance assignment for the following week. Since the music plays such a vital role in each couples’ performance, we can’t get a jump start on the next week’s costumes until the music assignments are complete. Following the assignments, the dancers make a mad dash up to the Wardrobe Department to reserve the colors they’d like to wear the following week. I try to assign a unique color for each couple, so they all want to be the first to meet with me. Couples have even called me on their cell phones as they make their way upstairs, just to reserve their desired color!  Once I meet with a couple, we begin research on the internet, we find magazine clippings and gather any other type of media to pull as many visuals as possible to make it easier to show the celebrity what we are striving to create. The professional dancer and I speak a “dance language” with each other, and then I translate what we’ve said to the celebrity. You see, I consider the professional dancer to be the director of their “scene” aka-dance. The pros each have a vision about the mood and image they want to create, and they know their celebrity’s dancing strengths and weaknesses. This puts a lot of pressure on the professional dancers, too, because they must conceptualize the new dance on the spot. 
   The next morning we fabric shop for the entire show; we finish by 5pm that very day! All of the fabric, notions and supplies we’ve purchased have to be rushed to our tailor and our women’s fabric cutters before the day’s end. I go over each sketch with our cutters and leave it in their hands. They must cut everything that night and the following day (Thursday). All of the costumes are sewn and ready for preliminary fittings the next day (Friday). The costumes are altered and finished on Saturday. The FINAL fitting happens on Sunday, after each couple has blocked their routines for the camera, orchestra and director. 
   On show day, only a few hours before the show goes live, each couple has the opportunity to perform their first and ONLY rehearsal in their new costumes! During the dress rehearsal we have a clothing rack of robes ready just in case we need to make a costume adjustment. The dancers may have to wear a robe to finish the dress rehearsal! We run the costume upstairs where our workroom sewers make the necessary adjustments/alterations on the spot. There have been times when I’ve advised the dancer/celebrity NOT to sit back on the sofa in the interview room, because the wet rhinestone glue could STICK to the sofa! It’s quite exciting, to say the least!

How long does it take to make each costume?

There is an incredible span and variety of designs and styles, but I think on average, beading and jeweling included, it takes around 30 to 40 hours easily for each costume.

How many people are on your staff to help you move from design to finished costume?

We have 8-10 costumers, assistant designers, etc. and 12-14 stitchers and cutter/fitters actually creating the costumes each week. It is not possible to do all that we do without such a large department.

Do the celebrities have any say as to what the costume looks like?  Do you work together with them, or do you create them on your own in consultation with the pro?

The celebrities contribute a great deal to the design process. I take a lot of direction from the professional dancers as well. They know their celebrity partners better than anyone. We always strive to assure that the costume enhances the positive elements of their dancing ability, while playing down any less perfect elements.

Where do you obtain your fabrics, trims, etc.? Do you shop at stores that sell retail or do you work primarily with wholesale vendors?

Because of the short timeline to shop for the entire show (in one day!), we search everywhere and anywhere that fabrics and trims are available. Very seldom do we purchase anything at a wholesale price, as we only purchase enough yardage for one costume. I have to say, the shops in downtown Los Angeles give us great deals on our repeat shopping each week! It is practically a scavenger hunt each week trying to locate a supplier for each desired fabric and trim. Our timeline is crazy, and we scout around everywhere possible.

How many people from your staff do the fabric shopping?

There are only THREE of us shopping downtown (2 Assistant Costume Designers and me). That’s right, T-H-R-E-E of us! And it ALL has to be shopped by 5:30 that very same day! Oh, and there has to be an angel watching over us–so, I guess that brings us up to four people.

Do you only have 1 week to prepare ALL of the costumes, or is there some advanced planning that the audience isn’t aware of?

I would practically kill for advanced planning time, but that is never the case. I’m lucky if the couples are given their music early Tuesday instead of late Tuesday afternoon. It is insane how quickly we have to work after the Results Show, trying to squeeze everyone in immediately after the show, and BEFORE they sneak away.

Do you ever repurpose your costumes, or are brand new costumes created for each show?

Brand new costumes are created for each Monday’s show. There are times when we can recycle or restyle costumes for the Tuesday’s Result Show. Everything for Monday’s show is created from scratch each week.

What happens to the costumes after the celebrities wear them?

When there is a national tour, which usually follows the culmination of the show, many of the costumes that we created go on the road with the tour. Some of the celebrities purchase their costumes, and the bulk of them end up back in Arizona, going on a rack available for sale. [Randall’s design studio is in Arizona.]

What is the worst costume mishap you have had while working on the show?

Thank goodness we have a dress rehearsal a few hours before show time. That is the time to fix mishaps. That said, sometimes things STILL happen when we are live. Sarah Evans had a flawless dress rehearsal (2006 season), but when she and her professional partner danced their Paso Doble (a Latin dance) live, Sarah’s heel caught in the lace fabric of her skirt as she danced. She was a champ though and was able to free her heel without skipping a beat. That was a scary moment…I envisioned the headlines: “Celebrity falls down, live on Dancing With the Stars!”

In your opinion what is the best costume you’ve ever created?  What makes it so special in your eyes?

Wow! That’s difficult to say, as there have been some fun things on the show. Anything that Edyta Sliwinska, one of the professionals, has worn has been a favorite, as with Karina Smirnoff, another pro. I loved Mel B.’s (former Spice Girl) Paso Doble dominatrix look (2007 season), as well as her white Rumba costume.

I confess that I am a “Dancing With the Stars” addict, and can’t begin to imagine the magnitude of Randall’s task. Not only are the costumes designed and stitched in record time, but think of the fitting techniques that must surely be called upon. The costumes have to fit really well in order to avoid a mishap during a dance. A costume that’s too tight or one that’s too loose could result in a conceivable disaster. Remember these folks aren’t sitting around a conference table, their bodies are twisting and turning, moving constantly as they dance. I have a hard time fitting and finishing one outfit in a timely fashion (allowing much more than one week). The costumes are always beautifully varied in style and color that reflects the mood of each respective dance. The embellishments and extra touches are sometimes sophisticated and elegant, often dazzling and glitzy, and occasionally extravant or full of fun. It’s hard to focus on the dancing when the costumes are so incredible to look at! I can’t wait for Monday’s show. I’ll have a whole new appreciation for every costume I see! 




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  1. GorgeousThings | | #1

    What a great interview April, thank you! I have made ballroom and latin dance dresses. They took MUCH longer than Randall's to make and they were some of the most challenging garments I've ever made. Reading his input is fascinating!

  2. User avater
    Merilyn | | #2

    great story, never knew how long it took to make a costume, wish I could see just one costume in the making from beginning to end. That would be something worth seeing on threads.

  3. misshelenes | | #3

    I always wondered how they made this work. Randall and his staff are amazing. I'd love to hear how it went this season, when the celebrities dressed their dancer. Edyta's outfit that week was especially gorgeous.

  4. SCsewer | | #4

    Thank you, April, for a quick peek into how those gorgeous costumes are made. I confess that I never really see the dancing because I am always looking at the costumes, wondering what fabric is that, how did they get that effect, and where did they get that fantastic trim!I agree with Merilyn - it would be great to see one costume from beginning to end.

  5. MCN | | #5

    My husband and I love this show and Randall's costumes, and I'm always thrilled when they give any screen time to his work as they did in the "celebrity designed these" segment.

    And boy, do we remember that Paso Doble number for Mel B! I also recall a similarly cut costume on Cheryl Burke once, that was equally stunning. We also loved her Cowgirl get-up with Drew for the freestyle number that secured his win in Season Two. But truly, I'm impressed by almost all the outfits on this show. Randall deserves every award he gets, and then some.

    Thanks so much for the great interview, and for sharing this with us!

    P.S. GorgeousThings, nice to see you here too! I read your comments often on TLo, and I enjoy seeing Sir Tim with you in your avatar.

  6. Kostumer | | #6

    I'm a costumer on a much smaller scale - Unbelievable! All that work in less than a week! Amazing, amazing - and they look so incredible and work so well for the dancers. That's a feat in itself, how the costume must perform for the dancers as well as looking good. Randall and his team are definitely stars of the show, too. Thanks for such a great interview. Threads really does get into all the aspects of sewing.

  7. User avater
    lovimoment | | #7

    Fascinating! Thank you!

  8. amm | | #8

    Thanks for all of your comments. I must admit writing this blog article was one of the most exciting projects I've been involved with at Threads because I truly am a "Dancing With the Stars" addict! My husband and I hardly ever watch TV, except maybe the evening news, but I don't miss "DWTS"! He leaves the room. I just love watching the growth of the celebrities as dancers, especially those who start out with no dancing experience. When the show nears the last week, the celebrities really look as good as the pros.

    But I have to say, as much as I love to watch the dancing, last night (Monday) I couldn't stop "examining" the costumes in a new way. I wished we had a big-screen TV. I'm still totally mind boggled. Prior to working with Randall Christensen, in my wildest dreams I never would have guessed the costumes were all made from scratch each week. Their sewing room must be organized like a well-oiled machine in order to pull it off!

    By the way, just in case you wondered, Christensen does NOT create the garments for Samantha Harris, Tom Bergeron, or the judges. He strictly concentrates on the dancers' costumes. I guess that's more than enough to work on!

    Thanks again for your comments.

    April Mohr, Threads Editorial Assistant

  9. Diamondchick | | #9

    Hi there. I am blogging from Canada. I, too, along with my husband are crazy about DWTS. We have watched every season since its beginning. I am a sewer, and have recently purchased several new pieces of sewing machinery as gifts to myself for my 55th!! My question goes out to you and all the other bloggers. I travel down to the USA as often as I can, and it is really difficult to find fabric stores. It is as if they have fallen off the planet since I learnt to sew 46 years ago. Can anyone tell me where to shop for fine fabrics in the following cities: Las Vegas, in the downtown area of Los Angeles (Randall did not give names of any of the fabric suppliers) as well as in Seattle and Portland, Oregon.
    I would really appreciate some worthwhile tips.

    I really want to help boost the US economy and that means getting out to SHOP and SPEND money in the USA. Thank you in advance ever so much to those that can help me out.

  10. Skymom | | #10

    April, I loved this interview! I learned so much from it--it must have been great to talk with Randall. Now wouldn't it be fun to go visit the studio and see it all happen?

  11. User avater
    desujaalbert | | #11

    I loved this interview!

  12. User avater
    desujaalbert | | #12

    I loved this interview!

  13. Lucasmartin | | #13

    great story.

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