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Peek behind the scenes: The Eurovision costume room

09 May 2024 at 13:00 CEST
The artists of the Second Semi-Final preparing backstage at Malmö Arena ahead of rehearsals for the 68th Eurovision Song Contest Alma Bengtsson / EBU
Underneath the glam and the glitter, the Eurovision Song Contest's Head of Costume is working hard behind the scenes of the 2024 show in Malmö. And what she does is about so much more than clothing.

When Karolina Nilsson gets an emergency costume call out, she grabs the pins, and she runs. On this occasion, one of the Eurovision 2024 artists wants their clothing tightened up, and the countdown to the live shows has got them feeling nervous.

Karolina has seen their performance, she knows exactly how they’ll move in the outfit. She gets them to replicate the moves as she pins, making sure she leaves enough room in the material for their choreography.

By the time Karolina leaves that dressing room, everyone is calm once again.

Karolina Nilsson sewing a costume in her workroom in Malmö arena

“What I’m doing here, is I calm down everyone,” Karolina says. She shows us that her black top is dusted with glitter, after she's given a hug to someone who was covered with it. “Sometimes they're nervous for everything. And then they put all their feelings in the clothes. And that's very common.”

This is Karolina’s first year working at the Eurovision Song Contest as the Head of Costume Department for delegations, although she’s been doing similar work for 25 years. Most recently she’s been working with Zara Larsson. 

“I'm here to make the artists, stylists and dancers feel that they're safe and secure, so that they can concentrate on the day, not on their costumes,” she says.

SABA rehearsing SAND for Denmark at the First Rehearsal of the Second Semi-Final at Malmö Arena Sarah Louise Bennett / EBU

When she arrives in the morning, she gets her schedule, and then it’s go, go, go. She has requests for steaming — of clothing and flags — and fields countless questions. When everyone’s gone home for the day, she has more time to get on with detailed sewing work.

Her workroom is full of clothing rails heaving with Eurovision costumes, sewing machines set up with both black and white thread, and an ironing board ready to go. She produces a bag filled with different types of glue, saying: “When it’s busy, you glue.”

Karolina wants to make people look as good as possible, and she does that by making adjustments. Over recent days she’s been altering jackets for the Turquoise Carpet, making silver belt packs and creating a microphone cover for Mustii. In her big book of jobs, there are handwritten notes about what needs hemming, what needs washing and which jobs are next.

Hera Björk performing Scared of Heights for Iceland at the First Semi-Final at Malmö Arena Alma Bengtsson / EBU

One of those tasks has been sewing some of the tiny glass beads (there are 5 million altogether) back onto Hera Björk’s dress when they fall off. The 6.5 kilogram outfit is so heavy that Karolina can’t put it on a hanger. This has been one of her favourite outfits to work on.

“It looks so simple, but it’s the tailoring,” she says. 

She always admires simplicity but also enjoys the fun that comes with Eurovision.

A Eurovision 2024 costume in Karolina Nilsson's workroom

The artists all have stylists who design and make the looks. In Malmö, Karolina has worked out where to find everything, be it rhinestones, sequins or tape. She has scouted out everything that could possibly be needed — over the two weeks of rehearsals and shows, Karolina becomes the stylists’ best friend.

She explains that for some countries, their arrival in Malmö is the first time they’ve all been together. That means the costumes don't always fit the dancers.

Lots of things get discovered in rehearsals. Aiko’s dancers needed the wire replacing in the bodices of their outfits, so that they could move more comfortably, and holes added for cables to the microphone packs. When Karolina shows us around her costume room, the catsuits are hanging up on a rail. Another dancer had a plain t-shirt, but seeing the clothing on stage Karolina remade it with a chunkier material so that the top moved in a better way. She gets the new material out the bag and lets it sway, to demonstrate the difference in movement.

Aiko rehearsing Pedestal for Czechia at the First Rehearsal of the Second Semi-Final at Malmö Arena Corinne Cumming / EBU

When one delegation finally had the chance to meet up in Malmö, the dancers’ costumes didn’t quite fit properly. Karolina had some ideas for new designs, and she made them from scratch.

“The thing that’s always surprised me is about the dancers. It's a working situation, and they are so flexible in their bodies,” she says, explaining that most of the energy in design goes towards the main artists. 

The dancers are often the ones who are moving more, and once everything has been seen with the lighting, adjustments are commonplace.

Marina Satti rehearsing ZARI for Greece at the Second Rehearsal of the Second Semi-Final at Malmö Arena Alma Bengtsson / EBU

Even though she works alone, Karolina is quick to point out that everything is down to teamwork. She works closely with all the delegations and they support each other.

“They can’t help me with the sewing but they can bring me a good cup of coffee,” she says.

As one of the rehearsals comes on screen in the delegation bubble, Karolina runs out to watch. She is looking to make sure that the costumes look good from every angle, because the cameras can see everything.

The artists of the First Semi-Final preparing backstage at Malmö Arena ahead of rehearsals for the 68th Eurovision Song Contest Alma Bengtsson / EBU

“That’s why I’m here, my eyes are for the viewer,” she says. “If the audience sees a mistake in the dress, you lose them.”

When she’s watching the screen, she’s looking at the choreography to see how the performers move. She’s always thinking 10 steps ahead, so that when someone comes to her with a problem, she already has the solution.

Nutsa Buzaladze rehearsing Firefighter for Georgia at the Second Rehearsal of the Second Semi-Final at Malmö Arena Sarah Louise Bennett / EBU

During the live shows, Karolina is working just as hard. She’s primed and ready by the side of the stage in case anything needs fixing. She even sews Nutsa Buzaladze from Georgia into her dress for every performance.

With the Grand Final only days away, Karolina is ready for anything.

“When we go to the final days, I need to have the show in my body so nothing can surprise me.”

You can listen to all 37 songs of Eurovision 2024 via your favourite streaming service or watch the music videos on our YouTube channel.

The Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Malmö, Sweden on Tuesday 7 May (First Semi-Final), Thursday 9 May (Second Semi-Final) and Saturday 11 May (Grand Final) 2024.

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