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Magic Behind Custom-Made Costumes for 'Dancing'

Magic Behind Custom-Made Costumes for 'Dancing'

Seamstresses work on costumes for the show "Dancing with the Stars," backstage at the show's offices in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Associated Press/AP Online

March 22, 2011

Fourteen sewing machines and mannequins from size 0 to 16 are in the room, as are costumes in various stages of creation. (A tiny pewter beaded number sits on a plastic-covered dress form outfitted with “booty pads.”)

And the gowns aren’t just gorgeous on the outside; bra cups and body-shaping panels are hidden inside to provide a solid foundation and prevent wardrobe malfunctions.

Christensen also has to consider the show’s requisite spray tans when it comes to each costume’s color and fit: “They’re going to be mahogany by Monday, they just keep spraying and spraying,” he says. “We can’t use double-stick tape. It does not stick with the perspiration, the gyration and the tanning creams. So if it’s gaping somewhere, we have to take that dress off, rip the stones off, put a dart in, re-sew it and re-stone it.”


Details for costumes worn on the show "Dancing with the Stars" are organized in drawers backstage at the show's offices in Los Angeles.

The crew has just a few hours to correct any wardrobe issues between Monday afternoon’s dress rehearsal and that night’s live show.

Racks of gowns line another wall, including those ready for Monday’s premiere. Seamstresses sit at large tables at one end of the room, meticulously adding fringe, feathers and crystals to some of Monday’s outfits. Each is assigned a celebrity. If her dancer is eliminated, she assists another dressmaker. Since season two, these 10 women have worked together, creating couture gowns at a breakneck pace.

"We enjoy what we do, that’s the most important thing," says seamstress Karina Avakyan, adding that they like the creativity, glamor and reward of seeing their work during prime time.

“You see your job all the time on TV,” she says, “and you feel proud of yourself that you did such a beautiful job. It’s very exciting.”

More racks of costumes and boxes of bangles and other bling fill Christensen’s office down the hall, where framed photos of this season’s cast line the wall and images of some of his favorite outfits cover a bulletin board by his desk. While he considers all the show’s costumes his “babies,” he has a few favorites from his five years on the job. One is pro dancer Edyta Sliwinska draped in sheer white chiffon.

“She wears a quarter of a yard of fabric fantastically,” he says. “She always had been my muse.”

Another favorite: Jennifer Grey’s gold-and-silver feathery beaded dress from last season.

“We actually attached ostrich wisps to those individual strands of beads, one by one,” Christensen says. “Absurd.”

Other highlights: Mel B.‘s dominatrix paso doble outfit and Brandy’s dreamy peach rumba dress.


Yellow beaded bracelets used for costumes on "Dancing with the Stars."

Christensen’s Phoenix-based costume design company sells the “Dancing” dresses from past seasons. Prices range from about $1,500 to more than $3,000 per costume. Past champs Kristi Yamaguchi and Shawn Johnson each bought all their costumes, Christensen says. Other stars have picked up a few of their favorite pieces. Investors and professional dancers have also purchased the one-of-a-kind costumes.

The Emmy-winning costumer is also creating a collection of ready-to-wear gowns for La Femme inspired by his “Dancing” designs. The collection is available at boutiques and department stores.

Even though the show’s pace is unrelenting, and Christensen decided after his first season that he’d never do it again, he keeps coming back for more. It’s the variety, he says, and the magic that comes from creating such glamorous gowns.

“This is the biggest fantasy show there could be,” he says. “I say we do everything from Cinderella to drag queens – from that campiness all the way to a dream dress where all that’s missing is a tiara.”

ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.

Courtesy of ©2011 Yellowbrix, Inc.

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