Yes, it’s a Song Contest. Yes, I know it’s about the music, but as every ESC Insight reader knows, it’s actually about a whole lot more than that. Naming no names, but there are certain countries that we all look out for to see if they’ve managed to find a stylist or whether they ran out of budget and ended up rooting round the high-street basement bins for ‘something that will do’.
For those of you who’ve not heard of the Barbara Dex Award. It’s a fun community award given to the artist who has been voted as the worst dressed performer. It is named in honour of Dex who represented Belgium in 1993 wearing a beige chiffon dress; which she designed and made it herself, apparently. Malta’s Debbie Scerri was the first recipient of the awards in 1997 in Dublin, and the latest inductee into ‘the Dex Hall of Infamy’ was Croatia’s Nina Kraljić, who was, she told me, dressed like a lighthouse – I’ll let you decide…!
I Don’t Know Much About Art, But I Know What I Like
How do you avoid ending up in the worst dressed list? Just like a contest song, it’s all about being memorable without becoming memorable for the wrong reasons. Clothing and fashion are part of the stagecraft and artistry that goes into a Eurovision performance, but in the same way that Tracey Emin was challenging and thought provoking when she displayed her messy bedroom as a work of art, it certainly wasn’t a Salvador Dali, Claude Monet or Gustav Klimt in terms of beauty.
Taking those artists as an example, we find three very different, very popular artists who aren’t liked by everyone. All of them are ‘crowd dividers’, but even though I may not be a massive fan of Monet’s style, I can still appreciate his art and what he’s trying to convey in his pieces. You may not like the shiny golds and challenging angles of Klimt’s work, but his art really speaks to me in ways that no other art that I’ve seen has.
Through the art we connect with the artist in a way that is ‘other worldly’ and hard to explain. Transfer this to Eurovision and the art of the performance, which is so clearly demonstrated in what the artist is wearing and you see how important the right styling is – it’s about so much more than a sparkly frock or a nice tailored suit.
So where to begin? We have to start with the artist. It’s very easy for an outside observer to tell pieces of clothing that aren’t favoured by the artist. In fact, many of them have gone on to win the Barbara Dex, simply because the clothing wore them, instead of the other way around.
Take Stockholm 2016 as an example. There were probably only two contenders for the dreaded Dex award last year, Germany and Croatia (though truth be told I want to burn that jacket Nicky Byrne had on too) and there were a few who, whilst not quite down in the Dex basement certainly had me asking questions; Joe & Jake from the UK looked like they’re were dressed in whatever was found last minute on the sale rail at Primark. Sandhja from Finland had a body suit made of reindeer hide, which was not cut to flatter her figure and therefore she looked quite awkward on stage. Ira Losco from Malta also looked like her outfit was a last minute fix, when her baby-bump quite obviously grew significantly in the few weeks of the Song Contest.
That’s not to say you can’t be bold and daring, take Poli Genova from Bulgaria – outlandish and a bit left field, however this worked with Poli because she was fully in control of her look, she wore that light-up outfit so naturally that it didn’t come across as ‘gimmicky’.
So what are the classic mistakes made in styling your artist for the stage? Here are a few comparisons in recent years of who got it right and who got it wrong (including some former Barbara Dex winners).
The Princess Dress
It’s a classic and if you’ve got a big power ballad, then it’s the natural outfit to match the song. There have been countless ball gown type affairs at Eurovision, my advice, keep it classy, keep it simple, work with the body who is going to be wearing it and don’t add unnecessary accessories.
Austria 2014, Russia 2015,
Croatia 2016, Spain 2015, Petra Mede (virtually every dress!) 2013
The Mini Dress
Does your artist have a fine pair of pins that Europe needs to be dazzled by? Great – get them out. While you’re there talk to your make up artist about a good fake tan and a tiny little bit of highlight on the muscles!
Sweden 2014, Australia 2016, Germany 2010
Standing On A Box
Is your artist on the short side? No problem, pop them on a box and create a huge dress that makes a real statement, just don’t wrap them up like a Cadbury’s chocolate bar.
Latvia 2015, Moldova 2013
Not A Size 4
Not every artist is a size 4 Amazonian woman, and hallelujah for that, because I personally like my ladies with boobs and hips. However, as someone who is a size 18 myself I have seen the errors made by stylists who just don’t understand how to glam up a larger lady (or chap for that matter). But get it right and you will have every plus-sized lady singing your praises.
Note to delegations, if you need me, call me!
Serbia 2015, UK 2013
Israel 2013, Ireland 2010
Some songs and artists require an altogether different look, getting a rock look right can be a challenge and getting it wrong can end up with a Barbara Dex. It’s tempting to throw lots of accessories at this type of look, but don’t – Coco Chanel famously said “when accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on”, let that be your mantra.
UK 2013, Cyprus 2016
Not A Dress
Of course trousers, pant-suits and jumpsuits can make a great alternative to a dress, especially if you are going to be flying over the crowd, no one wants to look up and see a pair of spanx looking back at them! If you’re going to move, dance, jump around, this can provide a simple practical solution to the clothing issue, just please check out the fit and shaping of the outfit.
Conchita as host 2015, Sweden 2012, Macedonia 2012
Couldn’t Be Bothered
Slightly unfairly titled, but you get my point. You can actually look very ‘cool’ in an understated, casual outfit and indeed there are some songs for which this is absolutely the right move. Remember, it has to look like that was the intention, not that you simply forgot to pick an outfit until the last minute.
Netherlands 2015, France 2015, UK 2016, Russia 2008
Put The Boy In A Suit
The male equivalent of the big dress. It’s the classic thing to do, but suits are certainly not a one-for-all type affair. They can be military, fitted, casual, brocaded, patterned, plain, colourful and a myriad of other things. Work with the artist to get it right, heaven knows I’m fed up seeing chaps on stages and red carpets, the world over, in ill-fitting suits.
UK 2011, Norway 2009, Russia 2016
Estonia 2016, Netherlands 2016
Ok, so you’ve got an artist, who is actually an artist – they have their own unique style and self-expression. I am not knocking that at all, it’s what I love at Eurovision. My advice is not to style them out of it or over style it, just embrace their own vision and work with them (not against them).
Iceland 2016, Georgia 2015
Ireland 2015, United Kingdom 2014
Costumes can work really well, when it’s all part of the act and the performers own natural style then costuming over couture could be the way to go. You should know that I was somewhat reluctant to put Germany on the miss-list for this one, because I actually really liked Jamie-Lee’s manga-styling, however it was not right for the song at all and therefore finds its way to the miss-list.
Finland 2006, Ireland 2011, Ireland 2012, Ukraine 2007, Poland 2014
Germany 2016*, Serbia 2013, Finland 2013
Yes, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but when done well it can look great on stage and on TV, when the artist is clearly not comfortable with it, however, it falls flat as a pancake!
UK 2015 (You were very lucky not to end up with the Dex in 2015!)
As we barrel ahead towards this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, I am very interested to see what some of our acts are wearing.
I’ve chatted to a few of the performers about what they’re wearing, not only for the stage but for the other Eurovision events that are all part of the story. We sometimes get visual clues about the way things are going for show performances in the pre-release videos, but not always.
Naturally I’ll be looking at everyone but if I’m being honest with you I’m especially keen to see Slavko from Macedonia, Lucie from the United Kingdom, Triana Park from Latvia, and Dihaj from Azerbaijan. Once we hit the ground in Kyiv, I’ll be back with a full fashion run down as well as following the artists through their entire Eurovision wardrobe and creative visual process.
I’ll also take a look at hair and makeup as well as actually doing some hair and make up in Ukraine too – watch this space fashion and style followers!