Wednesday 18 January 2017

Strictly sequins: the story behind those racy dancing frocks

Bryony Gordon visits the masterminds who create the dancing stars' attire

Published 14/11/2010 | 05:00

Here's an interesting fact about Mitcham, in London: it has the highest number of sequins per member of the population in Britain, possibly even the world.

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Now, nobody has actually sat down and counted but I'm convinced this must be true, because this is where they create the costumes for Strictly Come Dancing, a show that makes Priscilla Queen of the Desert look like EastEnders.

So, how best to describe the offices of the dancewear company Chrisanne, the design masterminds behind the Strictly frocks? The frocks here are so bright, so sparkly, that they would blind even the most determined of magpies. How many sequins do you get on the average dress? Joanna Irvine, the head of design, gets out her calculator, and holds the answer up for me: 10,080, or thereabouts.

This is where the true stars of Strictly are created -- the frocks that hold in all manner of body parts as the dancers wearing them are flung across a BBC set week after week, in front of millions of viewers. You want to be noticed in the ballroom -- but not for a stray nipple or a flailing bingo wing.

"When the series begins, the contestants are all quite nervous about the costumes. They want to be covered up. But as the show progresses, they get more self-confident, lose weight, and everything gets smaller," says Joanna. Even Ann Widdecombe, not usually one to flash the flesh, has become more daring. Previously she had been nervous about showing off her "old lady elbows", but last weekend she was coerced into wearing short sleeves while doing the Charleston. Should she make it to the final, we can no doubt expect to see her in the kind of skimpy frocks usually favoured by ex-EastEnders star, and one of this year's favourites, Kara Tointon.

Chrisanne's showroom is full of costumes and I am here to try some of them on. This is slightly daunting, given that each frock looks as if it was made for a pneumatic 18-year-old.

But Joanna is insistent that it will be fine. "It all stretches," she says cheerily.

She looks me up and down to work out which of the contestants I am most similar to. It is an excruciating 30 seconds. As lovely as Ms Widdecombe is, I don't think my ego could deal with being put in one of her costumes ("actually", says Joanna, "she's got tiny little legs and is very small -- she's just a bit of a barrel around the central area").

In the end, Joanna decides I am more of a Pamela Stephenson, but surveying the teeny-tiny costume she did the jive in, I am not so sure.

The last time I wore something like this was in gymnastics, aged 10. Twenty years on, the idea of wearing an outfit like this seems laughable.

The leotard has a multitude of flesh-coloured straps to ensure everything is kept in place. I should feel as if I am in a straitjacket. Instead, I feel like She-Ra, Princess of Power, cartoon twin sister of He-Man. I can see why contestants end up romantically involved with their dance partners -- the proximity, combined with the fact that you feel sexy as hell, must be quite an aphrodisiac.

My only concern is that I might knock off one of the thousands of Swarovski stones but Joanna says that the costumes are pretty much bulletproof before explaining that all the dresses are created with luxury stretch fabrics that have exotic (and erotic) names, such as Angelskin, Satin Gloss and Dance crepe.

A frock can cost up to €2,471. Given the expense, they are made as late as possible (the BBC doesn't want to fork out on a costume should a contestant be voted out). It takes about two-and-a-half weeks to "construct" a dress.

Given the cost of the dresses and interest in the show, Chrisanne is like Fort Knox. "We have to be quite tight-lipped about designs," says Joanna.The costumes are taken over to the BBC the day before the show. On the Saturday, "we do a lot of ego-stroking, making (the contestants) feel comfortable about their outfits."

Any divas? "Not this year."

Other years, then? "Ha. You get the odd request to change the colour the day before, and you have to say quite strongly, 'sorry, but we can't do that'."

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