Dancing with the Stars is about to begin, and BuddyTV tracked down the most important man, perhaps, behind the scenes of the ABC hit show. His name is Randall Christensen, and he is the costume designer for the show, the one man responsible for everything the celebrities and professionals wear on stage every week.
It’s really quite amazing what he does every week. He and the rest of his team in the costume department make every costume that is worn by the celebrity and professional dancers every week, every week. And each week, they only have four days to come up with the concept, shop the materials, and get everything sewn, fitted and bedazzled. We had such a great time chatting with this magician of a man. Read on to see what he had to dish about Dancing with the Stars.
This is Debbie at BuddyTV, and today, I’m talking to Randall Christensen, the sole costume designer of ABC’s smash hit, Dancing with the Stars. Hi, Randall. I know that you’re so busy because – are you really the only costume designer for the show?
Yes. I have two phenomenal, phenomenal assistant costume designers, but the buck stops with me.
How long does it take to make each costume?
Well, you know, regardless, by Monday at 3 o’clock, they go on whether it’s finished or not. So, honest, we only have four days to make the dresses, regardless. We design it on Tuesday nights after the results show. I only get about 15 minutes with each couple because they have just gotten their music and their dance assignment after the results show is over. And they all make a mad dash up to see me because they all just want to go home and sleep before they start a new dance the next day. So, we pretty much just jump on the Internet, check out all the different sites, YouTube and Googling everything to try and get visuals, nail a general concept, and I send them on their way, and we shop it on Wednesday. It’s sewn on Thursday, they have a fitting on Friday, and it’s beaded on Saturday. I’m exhausted already, talking about it.
Oh my goodness. I thought I had a busy job.
But when we shop it on Wednesday, if the fabric’s not available in downtown Los Angeles, we have to make substitutions and I have to call them and let them know that they’re getting a color or something. Luckily, they’re all such troopers. They really trust me and my department, so I think it comes out pretty good each week.
I think so. I think they look fabulous. You said that after the results show, they come up to you and tell you what they want. How much input do they actually give, and how much do you take?
I think it’s really, profoundly important to listen to the professional dancer of the partnership because I consider each professional dancer to be like a miniature director, directing their one scene in the show. They know their celebrities’ strong points and weaker points, as far as body-wise, as far as dance abilities, if their knees and hips and ankles are working properly, if their back is not moving like it should be, how we can camouflage that. And, they are choreographing and setting the mood based on the music. Everything is so dependent on the style of music they get. So I really need to take a lot of direction from the professional of the two. And after we speak in dance language for about 10 minutes, then I turn to the celebrity, and I translate in English what that means because he or she has to feel comfortable wearing what we’re discussing. Because, if they can’t sell it, I have no time to talk them into it. So they’ve got to feel good initially, when they see the concept on paper. I do a quick pencil sketch, and they leave somewhat confused and very excited about something that’s going to look fantastic on their body.
Which professional dancer do you enjoy working with the most?
Well, I have to say, my muse is Edyta [Sliwinska].
I was just going to ask if it was her because I think she always looks fabulous and her costumes always fit her so well.
Oh, thank you. And that quarter of a yard looks fantastic.
I know. It must be easy to make a little handkerchief for her.
But you know, with Edyta, she comes very well-prepared. She does research. She brings me visuals, tears sheets out of magazines or things that she’s seen on the Internet as far as a general concept. She just says, “This is generally what I’m looking for. Something very ethereal. Something Spanish. Something very gypsy.” Then, she leaves me alone. And I think because of that, my creativity can just soar and she gets the best-looking costume. She comes in with an open mind for her fittings. Our fittings last maybe 10 minutes instead of an hour. She’s like, “Oh, well, that’s a little different than I thought, but I really like that. How about if we kind of ruche it over here?” It’s just a phenomenal process and so enjoyable every single week. And I get to take credit for that. It’s wonderful.
Well, congratulations. I really liked her – the season she was on with Cameron Mathison – the Superman outfit. I thought that was so great.
Thank you. That was pretty fun. And that was her idea. She’s very, very creative in that respect. But one thing that’s wonderful is that she respects also our team and leaves us alone when she gives us an idea and lets us run crazy with it, which is terrific.
How has it been working with Lil’ Kim? Because I know that she’s really notorious for some of her crazy dresses.
Well, you know, every time I start to meet a celebrity, I’ve stopped doing too much research on them except, maybe, just pictures because you get pre-conceived notions of their personalities. She completely blew me away. She was giggling and laughing and hopping up and down and jumping on every single dress we tried on her for the initial photo shoot, which are not custom-made – they’re all borrowed, rented or from past seasons. And everything she put on, first of all, she looked phenomenal in every piece, but she couldn’t stand still. She was just jumping up and down, giggling and laughing the entire time. It’s been a blast.
Awesome. I can’t wait to see what she wears. Can you—
—It’s going to be blinding, flashy, I can’t even tell the color, but it’s a metallic color, and it looks phenomenal on her. Her eyes just pop with the color we’re using for her. And I don’t know that you’re going to be able to even see her when she comes down that stairway, she’s going to be sparkling and swishing so much. We’re just encrusting her in stones. Rhinestones all over. She’s petite. She’s under five feet, so we really have to be careful about the proportions, but she’s got this phenomenal, curvy figure, and curves are so much fun to dress.
Another thing I was wondering is how different it is to make costumes for the male dancers versus the female dancers. Is it easier or harder?
You know, men’s costumes, period, are…as much as you think, they’ve got a straight body, there’s not a lot of curves going on, it’s simple clothing. But because of that, you really have to nail that fit perfectly. Otherwise, the shoulders could hunched. Baggy trousers could make him look bow-legged, or don’t show off the leg action when their moving, let alone the fact that you’ve got to take into consideration that these guys don’t want too flamboyant in their costumes. At least, the first couple of weeks, you know. Once they get that competitive drive in them kicks in, they go for a bit more razzle-dazzle, but you gotta respect that. We’ve got a bronco rider that wants to be very subdued, Ty [Murray], and we’ve got the football player that wants to be the ladies’ man, you know, and I totally respect that. It’s really fun to watch them change and evolve as the season progresses and that competitive edge kicks in.
I remember last season, Rocco DiSpirito had that one week where he had the bright pink ruffles on his sleeves. That was kind of fun.
Well, you know, they like to do a caricature, which was good. Karina Smirnoff is a seasoned veteran of the dance floor. She loves show dancing, even over competitive dancing. So Dancing with the Stars combines competitive and show dancing, which gives her a chance to come up with these fun costumes. Rocco was really, really game to try some fun things. He wanted that bright fuschia. He wanted those Ricky Ricardo ruffles on his shirt, which was terrific, you know, because it makes it fun. It’s a little out-there, and you kind of raise your eyebrows like “What’s going on?” but it’s certainly memorable.
For sure. Is there any behind-the-scenes drama that maybe you could dish about?
[laughs] Oh, the world is a happy place backstage…not! Honestly, I think the biggest drama is that these couples have to…the first time they get to rehearse in their costumes is on show day, two hours before we go live on the East Coast. That alone could be drama, especially when the women are trying on these gowns that have 30 yards of chiffon all over the place, and they step in their skirts or the bra cups aren’t quite secured and the bust isn’t as secured, or there’s piquing showing somewhere. We have to run down, give them a bathrobe, take their dress, run it upstairs to be altered while they’re finishing the dress rehearsal in a bathrobe. There are sometimes when I tell the ladies, “Don’t lean back on the sofa when you go into the ready room because you’ll stick because the glue’s not dry yet.” It’s pretty nerve-wracking for them. I have to say that they are troopers. I’m just amazed at how calm they can. I think that adrenaline kicks in.
Sara Evans, a few seasons ago, when she was doing her paso doble – dress rehearsal went wonderfully. Performance: she kicks and her heels gets caught in the lace in the skirt, and I was just in a panic. A pro can handle it and know how to get out, but I just didn’t want her to fall down and shatter her knee caps or something. But she was a trooper. She was able to swing her foot and get it loose. But that’s a pretty scary moment. We haven’t had any real, major wardrobe malfunctions.
The way you’re describing it every week, it sounds like it kind of makes Project Runway a walk in the park.
Honestly, when you figure what we do in the four days that we do it, and then these celebrities have to wear it. And sometimes, it’s like, “Oh wow, this is so flamboyant. Oh wow, this is skimpy. I didn’t know,” and we’re stretching sheer mesh to cover up something that they didn’t realize was going to be exposed. You know, you’re practically throwing it together spit and glue that last minute. But I have to compliment these celebrities. They really perform. And I think when the music comes on, the lights hit them, it becomes a bit of magic, regardless of what they’re wearing. It really starts to work magic on their composure, I think.
My final question is, I wanted to ask you what your predictions for this season are.
Well, you know, since I have seen no one dance, I have been so screwed up with my predictions. It’s like, “Oh, he’s going to go right to the top. Just look at him, he’s an athlete. There’s just no way you’re going to hold him down,” and he gets out and he has two left feet. And then you see some people that are just gorgeous and you think they’re just going to sail right through the top, and they just blow you away with just how less proficient they are. And then you get some people that you think, “Oh, first week,” and then they make it to the semi-final. So who am I to tell? I don’t even know. I don’t have a clue.
After the first week, I’ll have a better clue because I was a dancer too. I know most of these dancers. I’ve watched most of them grow up. Julianne [Hough] and Derek [Hough], I’ve known since they were seven and eight years old, dancing. Mark Ballas, I used to give his mother’s fittings he was in diapers. So I know these kids and they really trust me. Celebrity-wise, you really can’t know until that first week when they step on the dance floor. Warren [Sapp] blew me away last year. Warren, he was just amazing. Amazing. Light on his feet. You look at him and he might have some challenges just from trying to get onto the balls of his feet, doing the waltz, going up to his toes. Not that guy. He was twinkle toes. He was fantastic.
Well, I just want to compliment you again. The costumes are one of my favorite parts about the show, and I just think they are phenomenal every single week. I don’t know how you do it, but I’m glad you do.
Well, thank you. You know, I have a phenomenal team. Every single person’s come back, all 22 of them. I haven’t lost a soul in the last four seasons. They keep coming back for this ridiculous, crazy mayhem that happens every week too, so I feel very blessed to have them. And we’ve got to have an angel on the show. I just know, we have to.
-Interview conducted by Debbie Chang, BuddyTV Staff Writer