12-Points Jacket: Jiri Kalfar x Benny Cristo at Eurovision ’21

I am so thrilled about this story I wrote two intros and I refuse to choose:

1) “Designer Jiri Kalfar creates the stage costume for Benny Cristo, the official Eurovision 2021 entry from the Czech Republic.” I got so excited I nearly broke the Internet. Y’all know I stan Jiri (six reviews in) and I’ve missed only one Eurovision broadcast (with good reason). Once I calmed down a bit, I called Jiri up to talk about this a lot.

2) Forget “six degrees of separation”! Social media worn that cute concept out even before covid-19 rudely reminded us that we are one. As in, just one of the species on this planet. The stakes are such that getting real radical about our lifestyle is the most pragmatic, cold-blooded thing to do. Is it possible to make that paradigm shift fun?! Designer Jiri Kalfar and singer Benny Cristo take their message of sustainable transformation to Eurovision 2021 as the Czech entry. I stalked asked Jiri about making Eurovision magic and history.

That jacket! With crystals and flowers and symbols and… it’s an o-mah-gah jacket!

I knew I wanted to do a crystalized number, because a) it’s Eurovision and b) it’s Preciosa, a Czech-made sustainable crystals producer. We used organic cotton to keep it lightweight. There are nine different colors on the jacket to create a kaleidoscope effect in shades of gold. It’s actually about 100,000 crystals, all done by hand! There is a panther on the back, plus a vegan logo, love and peace signs for unity. From what I’ve seen in rehearsals, I am very happy with how it looks.

How did this even happen?!

Benny and I knew of each other for quite some time. I respect him a lot. He is vegan and an animal rights fighter. In 2018, I did a caged protest against the fur industry. In 2020, Benny sat in the same cage to push the free-range-only policy for chickens. We both feel strongly about the world we want to see. When he was selected, I reached out with my “this is it”! We met in his flat. I brought some drawings and fabric samples and crystals. We quickly found common ground.

What is production like for a Eurovision-level stage costume?

The physical process of creating the look took 300 hours. All the specs had to be extremely precise, a millimeter here, a millimeter there. Not only to be impeccably tailored for Benny’s performance, but because all the crystals are hand-sewn in a strict pattern. Originally, we wanted to have radio-activated LED lights in the jacket. However, that proved impossible during such a massive live broadcast. Not a bright idea!

Still, it’s Benny & Jiri’s time to shine!

It’s proper haute couture streetwear. Yes, the message is “on the sleeve” but Benny lives it every day. This not a PR trick. It’s very personal. For example, there are peonies on the front. I originally suggested roses, but Benny mentioned his Mom loves peonies. Guess what, I featured peonies in my collections too, so this was a perfect flower to go with.

The competition broadcast is a great platform for messaging but do you like Eurovision?!

How dare you even ask me!? [Laughs] Yes.

Then who are some of your favorite entries through the years?

Loreen’s Euphoria in 2012. I also liked Ukrainian winners: Jamala in 2016 and Ruslana in 2004. Also, Apricot Stone from Armenia in 2010. Oh, and Hera Björk’s Je Ne Sais Quoi… I imagine she sings it to me whenever I feel down. And of course, Fuego! Eleni Foureira’s performance is legendary! How is it that she did not win!?

I see some deep cuts there, nice. Fandom approved!

Can we talk for a minute about the greatest Eurovision robberies? Besides Fuego… First of all, Mahmood… Last year’s Eurovision should have been in Italy! But the biggest robbery was in 2010. Kristina Pelakova represented Slovakia and I was so shocked when she didn’t qualify for the final. Go watch Horehronie. Even now, it looks and sounds final-ready.  

How do you feel about Czech chances this year?

We are getting better and better. In 2018, people did not take Mikolas Josef that seriously, but he showed up and delivered a great performance against all odds to finish sixth. It is still the most streamed Czech song! Bloody brilliant. A vote for Benny Cristo this year is a vote for Reason. It is great to support an animal rights fighter who brings sustainability and a great song to Europe’s brightest stage.

Post-Paris wishes Omaga good luck, but our 12 points go to Jiri Kalfar!

P.S. Meanwhile, over in Rotterdam, Benny Cristo is rocking the Eurovision fashion scene with his activist styling choices. The mask is an anti-racist statement reclaiming his Angolan heritage and fighting blackface/bullying. Learn more about Benny from his Wiwibloggs profile.

Cover image (c) ESC Kompakt from its coverage of the rehearsals.

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