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How the ‘Dancing With the Stars’ Costume Designers Brought Each Week’s Theme to Life

“Dancing With the Stars” is one of the longest-running celebrity reality TV competitions, with 30 seasons under its belt.

While the ABC show is known for its elaborate dance routines and for casting a wide range of celebrities across film, TV, music and sports, this recent season — with its many themed weeks — has especially resonated with viewers for its memorable costumes.

“We’re definitely taking it a little bit out of the ballroom world and into certain music genres depending on the theme,” said Daniela Gschwendtner, who designs the contestants’ costumes alongside Steven Lee. “We definitely have a different vibe now in the show with the costumes by having these themes, so it’s a bit different than what we used to do in the past with more traditional ballroom looks.”

This season, which is hosted by Tyra Banks, has incorporated a range of themes, including Disney, Britney Spears, “Grease,” Queen, horror night and Janet Jackson, among others, and has cast stars such as YouTube star JoJo Siwa, Olympic gymnast Suni Lee, former NBA player Iman Shumpert, “Spice Girls” member Melanie C, TV host Amanda Kloots, influencer Olivia Jade Giannulli, Peloton instructor Cody Rigsby and others.

Gschwendtner and Lee start each week’s costume design process by collaborating with the show’s producers and dancers to look over the themes and come up with ideas. Certain themes, like Queen or Janet Jackson, are more straightforward, while themes like horror night allowed for more creativity.

The designers stated they usually work on the costumes about a week in advance of each week’s show, which can prove to be challenging given each look is custom-made. The designers also stated that the pandemic is impacting their resources, which sometimes forces them to look to other fabrics or materials when quickly putting together costumes.

Olivia Jade Giannulli and Val Chmerkovskiy on Britney Spears night.

“The challenges are making sure everything has stretch and is danceable,” Lee said. “We have to build everything custom-made because we can’t shop anywhere. Even for the men, we can’t buy the suits for them because they can’t dance in them. We build [the suits] specifically so it’s danceable and has enough stretch.”

Gschwendtner and Lee stated that “Grease” week was their favorite in terms of costumes and the progression of the show.

“We haven’t done it before where it was a full musical where they started from the beginning song to the end song,” Lee said. “It was almost like you were watching the whole show as a musical.”

Banks, who is hosting “Dancing With the Stars” for her second season, has also made an impression on viewers with her outfits, many of which have gone viral for their over-the-top nature.

The supermodel started off the season in a burgundy mini dress that was accented with two oversize fans coming from her waist. The look went viral on social media: “Some fans love it, some fans don’t, but we’re unapologetic. Tyra is unapologetic,” said Eric Archibald, Banks’ stylist on the show. “She’s a supermodel and she loves what she loves. We love things that are just bold and beautiful. We’re not doing simple black dresses here, it’s ‘Dancing With the Stars.’”

Archibald explained his and Banks’ strategy each week is to go bold with her looks and create memorable fashion moments that “really push the envelope, but still are very controlled.” Banks has been referencing each week’s themes alongside the contestants, wearing looks like a schoolgirl outfit for Britney Spears week as a nod to the singer’s “Baby One More Time” music video and a biker chick look inspired by Olivia Newton-John’s character for “Grease” night.

Like Gschwendtner and Lee, Archibald usually works on a one-week timeframe for Banks’ costumes, collaborating with ateliers in the Los Angeles area and working with his sketch artist to create designs.

Archibald’s favorite look this season was Banks’ opening night look: a crystal-embellished gown inspired by the coveted “Dancing With the Stars” Mirrorball trophy.

“We don’t go in every week thinking we’re going to go viral, but what we’ve been doing has been great for the audience and just for culture,” he continued. “Being a former top model and having walked every show, why not? Let’s go bold and beautiful.”

With the 30th season of “Dancing With the Stars” set to end on Monday night — the competition is down to Kloots, Siwa, Rigsby and Shumpert and their respective dance partners — the show is expected to conclude with a few more standout fashion moments.


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