Click here to see a slide show of Nicole's work
Patricia Field, the mastermind behind Carrie's couture, has said of her leading lady, “People ask me all the time, ‘How does Carrie afford her wardrobe? She’s a columnist for a newspaper.’ I say, ‘Don’t worry about it. She looks fabulous.'”
And that’s what happens when you have a costume budget of bizillions. But what if you have a budget of… a little less?
Nicole Harrison, one of Denver’s finest and most sought after costume designers, didn’t start out dreaming of the boards. She went to school in Los Angeles and received a degree in fashion design, hoping to one day rock the runways with her own lines. When life and family landed her in Colorado, however, her own couture dreams had to be tweaked a bit.
Designing for the stage and designing for the runway both present unique challenges. For one thing, Nicole’s designs aren’t just going to be worn once; they’re going to be abused over and over and over again. “This stuff has to look good, of course, but it also has to be durable,” says Nicole. “It has to be actor-proof. And actor-proofing is no small task.”
After fifteen years in the biz, though, Ms. Harrison has certainly mastered that skill by now. From The Fox to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival to the JCC and back around again, her work has graced stages all over the Denver-metro area. She spent six year at the Country Dinner Playhouse (God rest its soul) and is nearing her ten year anniversary at the Arvada Center, the mainstay in her costuming career. In fact, she won the Denver Drama Critics “Best Costume” Award for her very first Arvada gig: a children’s show entitled The Aunt Queen’s New Clothes.
"I love what I do. I feel so blessed to work at these great theatres with these great people. I just love it,” she says.
And she must. Building 140+ costumes from scratch, which is exactly what she and her team had to do for last year’s Blockbuster-Spectacular, La Cage aux Follies, is no small undertaking.
“Ah, La Cage,” Harrison chuckles to herself. “La Cage was huge. It was giant. It was scary. I’m not gonna lie. But it was a lot of fun, too. Nine of the twelve showgirls were men, so everything had to be built from scratch, pretty much. Even the few pieces we were able to find or pull had to be altered. We built it all. It was great. Very glam. Very Sex and the City. But with drag queens. You never get to do that kind of thing in Colorado.”
Considering I’ve been known to hold my pants up with binder clips because I have no idea how to replace a popped button, stories like that make my eyelid twitch. Nicole Harrison, however?
Well… she’s kind of a freak.
In a good way, though. Like Mozart was a freak. That kind of freak.
“I do well with giant musicals. Those and period pieces are my favorite shows to work on,” her brow furrows for a minute. “Well, most period pieces. I don’t really like military shows because there’s always some grumpy, old curmudgeon in the audience that says, ‘Nope. That’s not right. I was there and I didn’t wear that. You’re wrong.’ And then I have to say, ‘Yeah, ya’ did wear that. I have weeks and weeks worth of research that proves ya’ did, you crazy old fart.”
She glowers for a moment and then says, “You don’t have to put that last part in, Steve.”
Oh, but I do, Nicole.
1 – It’s hilarious.
2 - It’s exactly that passion and that attention to detail that make Nicole Harrison’s work so beautiful. And the critics have noticed, too. In addition to the Drama Critics award, Nicole has won an Ovation Award for Best Costumes and received a nod from the Denver Henry’s for her work on the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s As You Like It. Nicole was also nominated for Best Costume Design for Intimate Apparel, and that same year, won a nomination for “Theater Person of the Year” because of her work on twenty-three different shows. La Cage earned her another Ovation Award nomination and, if there is any justice, we will see her name on Henry’s ballot this year for the same work.
Films like The Devil Wears Prada and, certainly, the upcoming Sex and the City allow their costumes to become additional characters in the movies. The characters live their lives in clothes we all covet, designed and conceived by minds just like our very Nicole Harrison’s.
And as for her own, personal style?
“I’m a total clothes horse. It’s a problem with me because I live in an old home with small closets,” she lowers her voice a bit as if she’s about to confess to some scandalous, dark deed. “Steve, I have forty or fifty pairs of boots, alone. Just boots. Not even shoes, in general. Boots. But that’s not what I’m wearing to the premiere.”
Premiere? Is she referring to her, own, latest show?
Of course not! Who would dare open a show on May 30, 2008?
“Oh, I’m going,” Nicole says of Sex and the City’s much anticipated opening night. “I’m wearing this sassy, little red dress with adorable matching pumps. It’s hot.”
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We believe you, Nicole.
Eat your heart out, Patricia Field!
Catch a glimpse of Nicole’s latest work (and the “Boyz” that wear it oh, so well) this weekend at the Arvada Center. For last chance tickets to Altar Boyz, call 720-898-7200! You won’t be disappointed!
- Steven J. Burge