Costumes on Ice

Part I: Ice dance

August 18, 2012
By Reut Golinsky
Photos © Ksenia Nurtdinova, Janet Brazier, Natasha Ponarina
Special thanks to Laura Sciarrillo for the help with this article.

The English proverb "Never judge a book by its cover" and the Hebrew one "Don't look at the jar, but at what's inside it" have a Russian equivalent with a slightly different meaning: "You greet a person by his clothes, but see him off by his wit". Who you are is more important than how you look after all, yet your look is what people will notice first. Figure skating is above all the sport where technical elements and skating skills define the final result. Yet, the clothes make the man, especially in ice dancing, which we expect to be the most spectacular and theatrical of all skating disciplines.
A few ice dance costumes caught my eye last season. About them, the stories behind them and more in my talk with their owners - Anna Cappellini, Piper Gilles and Kaitlyn Weaver.

"The inspiration for the costumes came from the movie itself," reigning Italian champion Anna Cappellini says (their free dance was to the famous score from Fellini's "La Strada"). "My costume is the result of a pretty big debate: we knew we absolutely wanted to incorporate the striped shirt Gelsomina (the main character of the film - ed.) always wears in the movie, but she also had a long skirt, a hat and a cape, which were either illegal or not appropriate to the variety of movements one has to do. After thinking a lot about it, we came up with the idea of a really high waisted skirt, which went well with my body shape. We had to let go of the hat, but we still produced a cape for me to wear in practice and in the 6 min warm up, to give the audience and the judges the feeling of the character." The asymmetry of Luca Lanotte's vest was also made on purpose: "It was meant to be a little messy and out of the ordinary like the crazy people from the street circus; we wanted sleeves at the beginning but they turned out to be a bit uncomfortable".

The ideas come from the skaters and the fashion company helps with the implementation: "We are absolutely 100% involved in the choice of our costumes and we almost always rely on Mode Italy Aspesi, which mostly produces ballroom dancers' outfits, but also bridal dresses and of course skating ones". Many of the costumes we've seen over the years on Italian champions Federica Faiella/Massimo Scali were, by the way, also created by this company. "The clothing is the means by which a sensation passes from the spirit, the body and the fabric and, bound together in a single harmony, becomes substance", Mode Italy Aspesi explain on their website while defining as their mission "a perfect synthesis between the elegance of Made in Italy and the allure of the arts."

The fabrics and colors of Anna's and Luca's costumes don't match, but Anna doesn't see this as a "must" rule: "It's lovely to see a connection between the partners' costumes although it doesn't always have to be obvious (same shade), it can be in the details or they can simply be two costumes that fit very well together without any similarities".

Six-time Canadian Senior medalist, Kaitlyn Weaver agrees: "I think it depends on the program. There are never any rules. For example, my dress last season was red and Andrew's shirt and pants were gray. There was nothing similar about them, but the colors complimented each other."

In the case of Cappellini/Lanotte: what made the costumes match was the similar palette of grey-black-white with a red touch, and the theme of the film.

A different look but with a common idea was also behind the free dance costumes of Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. The Canadian national bronze medalists couldn't compete internationally this past season due to Gilles pending release by the U.S. Figure Skating, but their "Pure Imagination/Sweet Dreams" free dance crafted by Christopher Dean didn't pass unnoticed. "When Christopher Dean did the choreography he approached us with this music that really made him think of a circus theme", Piper recalls on the idea behind the dance and the costumes. "In the music it talks about dreaming and imagination and when you go to a circus it's all about turning your dreams into reality. In the circus there is a ringmaster that guides you into each act. So this is where we got the outfit idea for Paul, i.e. the Ringmaster. As for me, he wanted me to be kind of a tightrope walker/trapeze girl who does all the flying acts, lifts and spins".

The exact look of the dress - colors, texture, and fabric - was chosen by Piper and her mother: "When it came to figuring out what colors to use we wanted to chose the most bold and eye catching colors out there. My mom and I were in the fabric store and found the heart material and the dress really started its inspiration from that. For the skirt I wanted something really unique. Originally the skirt had wires in it so it looked like an umbrella, but I kept getting my foot stuck in the skirt, so we had to take out the wires and put tulle instead. And the bloomers were Chris' idea. He really wanted shorts but dancers aren't allowed to wear pants. That's also why we kept the skirt white so you could see the bloomers underneath."

Piper in always involved in the creation of her costumes, which also allows her to spend some quality time with her Mom: "I'm really hands on when it comes to my costumes. My mom and I design all of my costumes which makes for a fun little hobby for my mom and I to do together." Paul Poirier also took part when it came to designing his costume "which was nice because guys usually don't like to get involved."

"The costume is one of my favorite parts of ice dance!" exclaims Piper's teammate Kaitlyn Weaver, fourth at Worlds 2012 with her partner Andrew Poje. "I love to put on a different dress and become someone completely different". And she indeed had two completely different images this past season, wearing a catchy tiger-striped long-sleeved dress for the short dance, and a very simple, almost nightgown looking dress, for the free.

"My costumes came from two very different places," Kaitlyn explains. "[For the short dance] I wanted something different than the typical neon-strappy Latin dress that most of the girls would be wearing. I drew inspiration from Julianne Hough from the TV show, 'Dancing with the Stars' when she wore a tiger cat suit. Ever since I saw that episode a few years ago, I've been waiting for the chance to have my very own! I also wanted it to be high-necked and long-sleeved because the ISU had made a rule stating that ice dancers must not be showing more than fifty percent skin. I figure if I was completely covered, I would be safe from the rule, but also be sexy at the same time. The tiger was to represent the more Brazilian character of our music. The rumba had a tribal beat, and the samba originated in South America.
As for the free dance, this dress was not the original plan. The original idea was to have a blue ombre dress of the same style, but after that idea failed miserably, I received a suggestion from Pasquale (Camerlengo) to have a bordeaux color, something more passionate. The dress was indeed meant to look like a nightgown. We wanted the costume to be simple and most of all, real and relatable. I didn't need to wear anything over the top for that program. The music and the story didn't call for fancy decorations and big costumes; it was focused around the chemistry and passion of the story. And that's what we wanted to show the most. Another one of our teachers, Kathy Johnson, suggested that the strap be falling off so to portray a sensual, real, and sometimes scattered character".

That strap was an interesting and some say distracting detail, but it didn't disturb the skaters. "The strap was a focal point for many people regarding the free dance," Kaitlyn recalls. "Andrew and I always said 'if the strap is the only thing people can complain about, then we are doing a good job!' The strap didn't bother me at all. My dressmaker made the costume fit so perfectly that the strap was never in the way. It was also stretchy so when I moved my arm, it would never inhibit the movement. After I put the dress on, I forgot about the strap completely!"

Feedback might influence the 2010 Four Continents champions' decision, but only to some extent: "The most important feedback on our costumes comes from our coaches. We also have to know that we are feeling confident and looking good. The feedback of everyone else doesn't matter as much to us. For example, at the beginning of the season I got many complaints about the strap being distracting. But by the end, the same people were telling me how much they loved it. Or [with the short dance dress] I knew that a tiger print would stand out in a sea of neon colors, but there was a slight doubt if it was going to be too 'out-there' for people's liking. But in the end, I loved it, and that's what mattered the most. If we feel good in the costume, we will skate better; if we believe in ourselves and our costumes, it will make the biggest difference. There was never any hesitation to make something 'more normal'. We love to push the envelope with our skating. If that means doing something more unusual, then that's okay!"

Piper Gilles, whose choice of costume was also rather risky, agrees: "Yes, the costume is really unusual. But there wasn't any doubt in our minds that people would like it. We just thought that the music was so different that the costumes needed to match. Surprisingly we didn't have anything but compliments on the dress, which was really nice." The costume is made for her first of all, and then for the coaches, she states. Yet the details on them should be seen from afar, meaning the public noticing them is important too.

Kaitlyn adds the public and the judges into equation. When asked who a skating costume is made for, her answer is: "Me, my coaches, my partner, and the public. After all, the judges are just additional members of the audience!" The hard part about making a costume, in her opinion, is that it has to look great from all angles, close and afar alike: "There are some details that only I can see, but also others that are visible to the audience from afar. If it's an important detail, we will make it visible."

As an example of how big details and small ones can fit together and complement each other, Anna Cappellini brings up her lindy hop dress from the 2008/09 season: "The rhinestones on my costume were visible from miles away, but it still had tiny ribbons underneath the skirt that weren't visible every time. But I knew they were there and when they peeked out people would always notice and compliment it!!" She also names that dress as her absolute favorite costume: "Covered in thousands of stones and with such a funny feel to it, I always loved putting it on and it helped me get into my character so quickly!"

Kaitlyn Weaver chooses as her "dream dress" a costume worn by someone else: "One that sticks out in my brain is from Elena Grushina (Ukrainian ice dancer and 2006 Olympic bronze medalist with partner Ruslan Goncharov - ed.), she was my idol growing up. One season, I think 2004, she had a dress for her free dance that looked like a dove. I thought it was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen and always wanted one like it. It still remains one of my favorites of all time!"

How long does it usually take to make a skating costume? "The time to make a costume greatly depends on the costume itself," answers Kaitlyn. "Sometimes it can take a few days. At other times, including several fittings, it can take a few months. We start to think about costumes, sometimes, before we even choose the music. When we visualize skating to a certain piece of music, we have to imagine some sort of 'look' for ourselves. If we have an idea of what we would look like, we have a better idea of what the program would be about. So even if we have three choices of music, we would have slight ideas for what each look would be."

Deep into the summer preparations, most of the skaters probably already know what look they would like to try next season. Will there be any surprises and interesting choices? With such a thorough approach, attention to details and enthusiastic involvement in the creation of their costumes as Anna, Piper and Kaitlyn have, I'm sure they won't disappoint us.

Part II: Ladies.


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