The Spark behind “Dancing with the Stars”

by moviestar couture on March 13, 2009

Part 2.

Last week I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Emmy Award winner, Randall Christensen on the eve of his now 7th season as costume designer of ABC’s, television show, “Dancing with The Stars”. If you missed part 1, go here.

MM – How did you get involved in designing?
RC – In 1976 I started dancing, and after a while I realized my body was not going to last, so I started concentrating more in designing, and I taught myself to sew and drape, when I was growing up that is what you do, you improvise. And you start listening to the fabric, and the fabric has a mind of it’s own, and it tells you what it needs to do, and I think because I didn’t know any rules I just made my own rules, that work for the criteria I have for the dance garment, and since then I supplemented but I just keep to my own rules that work for me. Is that crazy?

MM – Not at all, hey if it works, please don’t fix it obviously works. How big is your crew?
RC – I’d say 20 to 24 in a given week. 10-12 seamstresses, 2 cutter fitters, and 10 or so customers and shoppers. It’s a tight room.

MM – You must have a great team.
RC – Absolutely, my team totally gets me. I have a phenomenal costume supervisor, who anticipates all the needs, and manages the scheduling, which is a huge task. Trying to get all these people’s in scheduling, when they are rehearsing 6 to 8 hours a day dancing, and have their family, and have their show biz life, but yet he still finds time to get them schedule in for a half hour fitting with me. He has been here for the last 5 seasons.
My two assistants have been with me for the past 6 seasons, they are great, they anticipate everything that is needed.
It’s so easy when the season starts and we are doing 5 weeks of prep, there is almost no directing needing to be done because they all know what needs to be done, and they are such seasoned professionals.


MM –Did you have to train them, or was it their personality?
RC – A little of both, from the industry they came very experienced, but I was able to help them with the dance terminology, the cuts of the gowns, and why this is important and cut this way, or why it has to be structured that way.
They are like sponges, I’m giving them 25 years of experience, and every trick that is in the book, and then there is the novelty of the show, which is very intriguing to them.
I was very fortunate that they are so ready to do whatever needs to be done.

MM – You have a wonderful karma, it’s really fabulous that you can have that level of trust from your team, the dancers, and your producers.
RC - I really think that the planets lined up to make the perfect match it’s wonderful. I feel very blessed,

MM – How do you nourish all this creativity, and amazing energy? How do you charge your batteries and maintain your Zen?
RC – Quiet for me works. I hardly ever turn my radio on, and I commute a lot, so I have that quiet moment to let the peace wash over me.
We have music, images, and attitudes, and everything flying around and dancers, there is an edge to everything that is going on, so I really relish the quiet. This season, I go to my stock room and meditate. I just enjoy the solitude and quiet and let my thoughts wash over me, and un-wine, and I love to watch old movies. I’m always taking in, as a costume designer, I always analyze every garment I see. The old Hollywood movies are great, I have boxes of DVDs, so I just play them and, let the movie wash over me and energize me. I know it sounds like a cliché but it works.

MM – Hey, you have to have your entertainment too.
RC – Absolutely, and other than that I love to see the view of the harbor and the ocean from my place, and that is very relaxing. I’m on 16 and off, 10weeks, and my 10 weeks off, I take trips, to Europe, and cruises, and completely turn it off, that is the only way I can get through the next 16 weeks.

MM – Did you watch a lot of movies from the old days, and did you get inspiration from them?
RC – I was nothing but an old movie freak, I was always drawn to all the old movies, and even the black and white the way the light and shadow work with the costumes and the hair and make up.
I’m really literally a country boy from South Carolina that sits outs on the farm, and then there was always Carol Burnett and The Sonny and Cher Show, always every single week and I had to watch what was coming out, and I was totally just hypnotized, by what they were able to do each week. Never did I dream that I would do it. I didn’t know how to sew, I didn’t know any of that, but I had an eye to detail, and that helps a lot.

MM – I recently visited the FIDM fashion Show where the students had a Dancing with The Stars number on the runway, for their costume category.
RC – Really? I wish I had known I would have loved to see it.

MM – They were very good, had professional dancers performing in their costumes, and it was very exciting.
Do you have any suggestions and words of advise that you want to give to the new generation that is following your steps?
RC -I learned early on to ask questions that you will never, look uneducated or dumb, except when you don’t ask the questions.
Question asking is imperative. It’s the only way to make sure you get as many details as possible. Which of course as costume designers we all know that but when you first start you think you need to come in knowing everything. In this industry you need to really pick people’s brains, to really get to the point of what they want to do, so I’m not shy about asking questions all the time.
Secondly, my team, it’s absolutely imperative that you have the right team. If they are not working, I found early on don’t let them last the season, it’s not fair to you or the show, so replace that person and find the one that will be your right arm.
It’s so important to have the right people. To have the person that understands and gets me, and understands what’s important in the show.

MM – So is everything made in Dancing with the Stars, or you purchase some?
RC -Everything that is made for the dance world, you can’t buy, all of our shirts, all our vests, and suits, nothing is store bought, because of the dancers cut for raising their arms, to keep the sides clean and not sloppy. So I got used to making everything from scratch. So every week we shop everything: from the bolts of fabric on.

MM -What happens to all this costumes after the Show?
RC – The celebrities can buy their costumes if they want to, and we also have an agreement with ABC and BBC, to sell them on their behalf at my company (Randall designs) in Phoenix, AZ. We also take some to Clothes of Our Back, as well, we take a lot of the women gowns to Phoenix, because a lot of the dancers, love to buy some and use it for their competitive gowns. We also bring them to fashion shows, and do auctions of tickets for Dancing with the Stars, that the studio donates.

MM – It sounds to me like you are having a wonderful time
RC – We’re laughing all the time, and it’s absurd what we have to do sometimes, so we might as well just laugh.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

moviestar couture June 14, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Thank you for passing the word.

Katy April 5, 2009 at 12:31 pm

wow, this is a great interview. Who knew so much went into all of those designs.

Janet C. Wilson March 26, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Loved the article. Randall is an amazing designer!! I’m sending this article to a friend of mine in Perth, Western Australia for her to give to one of her nieces, a budding fashion designer. I’m sure some of Randall’s comments will be helpful to her as she establishes herself in the design world.

Patti Christensen March 24, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Randall is my brother in law. Great article. Loved it!

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