Real Life

I’ve got the dancers sewn up!

Claire Palmer loves things that sparkle. Give her a piece of shimmering satin and a pile of rhinestones and she’s a happy woman. That’s just as well because her current job involves lots of sequins, silk and chiffon.

Claire is the costume designer/head of wardrobe for Dancing with the Stars and she’s in her element creating the outfits which attract almost as much attention as the dancers’ fancy footwork.

“It’s pretty high-pressure work, but I love it,” says the mum-of-one.

Claire works seven days a week on costumes for the show. While some outfits are hired from the company that clothed the cast of Australia’s Dancing with the Stars, about three-quarters are made from scratch in the week leading up to each show by Claire and her team of three.

Skimpy Latin costumes may take a couple of days to put together, but an elaborate ballroom dress can involve 30 to 40 hours of work. “We often work 10 to 12-hour days to get things done,” says Claire, who started making her own clothes when she was just seven years of age.

“There have been times when I have still been sewing at 6pm on Sunday night.”

Claire comes up with designs and sources fabric a week in advance and plans outfits for all the couples in the competition because she doesn’t know who will be eliminated.

“You can’t take a punt on who might go – it would be terrible if you were wrong.”

Because most of the contestants live outside Wellington, where the show is filmed, they don’t see their costumes until the dress rehearsal each Saturday.

“often they have no idea what they’ll be wearing,” says Claire. “I’ll run my ideas past them if I think something’s out of their comfort zone. They have enough to think about without worrying about their costume.

“Everyone has been great. When I put David [Wikaira-Paul] in a bright pink shirt, I wasn’t sure how it would go down, but he was fine about it.”

Claire says the celebrities now seem more comfortable wearing sometimes revealing and often showy attire than they did at the beginning.

“I think Angela [Bloomfield] was a bit scared of the costumes before the show aired, but she became more relaxed about it.”

oeasurements for contestants can change as they lose weight and tone up but, so far, there have been no disasters with costumes falling off or not fitting. Claire had never made ballroom outfits before Dancing with the Stars and she has picked up a lot of tricks of the trade.

“For the first series, we put the rhinestones on the dresses using tweezers. I now know the way to do it is with a toothpick and beeswax. It saves so much time!” Story by Donna Fleming Photograph by Neil ocKenzie

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