Sonja Henie 1936 ©STAFF/AFP/Getty Images
Costumes play a bigger role in figure skating than in any other Olympic sport. A costume can influence the perception of a program. In the early years of competitive figure skating, skaters didn’t wear costumes. Looking at old pictures, you see women in long skirts and men in suits performing figures on the ice. But this rapidly changed. One of the first revolutions was driven by the legendary Sonja Henie, who decided to shorten her skirt to facilitate jumping. Henie's short skirt summed it up: Costumes should look good and be practical at the same time. The outfits became less formal and more athletic in the 70s and 80s and more and more elaborate in the 90s. Over the years, it became increasingly important that the costume reflects the character of the music and the program. There were costumes that caused big debates, even outcries.
Katarina Witt (GER) 1988 ©David Madison/Getty Images
Costumes are subject to rules of the International Skating Union and fashion trends evolution over the years. There is a deduction for a “costume violation”. It applies for example when a skater loses part of the costume or uses a prop, like a hat, or when a costume is deemed inappropriate. The ISU rules allow Ladies to wear pants in competition since 2005, and one of the first ones to take advantage of the new rule was Irina Slutskaya of Russia. However, female Ice Dancers still need to wear a skirt, unless exceptions for certain seasons depending on the themes. In the past, it was the case for the Hip Hop Short Dance. The ISU now also allowed tights for men at the recent congress in Seville.
Irina Slutskaya (RUS) 2005 ©PACO SERINELLI/AFP/Getty Images
When the skaters are out there, performing, their costume is a vital part of their performance. Fans, judges, fellow competitors discuss the costumes but not everyone is aware of how much effort goes into the design. Costume designers, seamstresses, coaches, family members and skaters themselves are involved in the process of creating a costume.
“The costumes are important. They should not conceal the image and they should relate to the spirit of the program. They should contribute something, you have to feel beautiful in them and feel the personality,” Ice Dance World Champion Guillaume Cizeron said. The Frenchman develops many ideas for the costumes for him and partner Gabriella Papadakis and he draws beautiful sketches.
“I have often ideas for costumes, but then we all decide together what the costumes should be. It’s not me who decides everything. I like searching for ideas and we communicate well with our seamstress, she does what we want and we exchange ideas with her. We often take something that exists, copy it and adapt it to our needs. I enjoy taking part in this creative process,“ Guillaume continued.
Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) 2018
Olympic Pairs Champion Aljona Savchenko of Germany is another skater that actively takes part in the design of the costumes for her and partner Bruno Massot. The light purple and blue costumes for their spectacular free program “La Terre vue du Ciel” were Aljona’s idea. “Everyone thinks that these costumes were copied from Torvill and Dean (who wore purple costumes for their legendary ‘Bolero’ free dance), but they were not,” Aljona said. “When you watch a video with our free skating music, you see some pictures and when I was listening to it, there was a beautiful picture of a flower, a passion flower. Seeing this I said, I want to have a costume like that. I want this color, I want to look like a flower and Bruno should look more like the sky, so you can see that difference. That’s how I picked the color. The idea for the design I got elsewhere. On a fashion website, I saw such a dress, but without sleeves and in green. I thought, I wanted a green costume, because it suits the theme of earth. But I wasn’t sure if the green would look good on the ice and how it looks on me. I sent my ideas to the costume designer and then she made these costumes. It wasn’t on purpose similar to Torvill and Dean’s costumes, but eventually, it really looked similar,” she explained.
Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot (GER) 2018
The price range for costumes is wide and depends mostly on the material used. “The short dance costume cost three times more than the free dance costume,” Gabriella Papadakis revealed regarding their outfits for the past season. “In general the costumes for the boys cost less than for the girls, at least in our case. If I don’t put rhinestones, the costume costs less than 1000 Euros, in between 600 and 900 Euros. There are also modifications that cost extra and in the end I even don’t know how much I’m paying in total. However, we are at a level now where we can afford it. It is not mandatory to pay as much to be successful,” she shared.
Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) 2018
High-level skaters are usually working with professional costume designers. One of them is Canadian Josiane Lamond. Lamond, chief designer at Elite Xpression in Montreal, has designed costumes for Kaetlyn Osmond, Javier Fernandez and Wenjing Sui/Cong Han among others in the past season. “I am specialized in figure skating clothing. Our design is inspired by the current fashion trends and influenced by our daily work. Costumes from Elite Xpression are refined, have simple lines and most of all put forward the skater. In my mind, figure skating costumes should be inspired by haute couture and this is a challenge that I have committed to since starting Elite Xpression. I love combining the textures, the colors and the brilliance of current, modern looks. This is the key of our success,” she said.
Javier Fernandez (ESP) 2017
Her costume design depends on the level and age of the skater. “Depending on the creation, the source of inspiration is different. You can be inspired by a color, by an image, by clothing, by music and so on, always keeping in mind the person who is going to wear the costume. This applies especially to costumes for men that should respect the male gender. Designing is the next step, followed by cutting, sewing, the decoration, fitting and the last final touches,” Lamond explained.
The designer describes the current trends in costumes as modern and minimalistic. “The body lines and to emphasize them are the priority. Several skaters are wearing costumes with very selective decorative elements. The tendency to overdo the costume has passed,” Lamond explained. “The majority of skaters places emphasis on a reasonable quantity of decoration, but always with good taste and very well exploited.”
Larkyn Austman, Gabrielle Daleman, Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) 2018 ©Ben Nelms/Getty Images
Lamond agrees with the skaters about the importance of the right costumes. “In my opinion, the costume is part of the “full package”. For a skater to excel in his sport, he needs to train well and to have an exceptional choreography, but nevertheless, in order to have the full package, he also should wear the perfect costume, and this is our goal. Figure skating is an artistic sport that is more and more accentuated by the beauty of the skaters' costumes.”