I’m Nikki Cohen, pleased to meet you. I’ve been a costumer for almost twenty years now in various capacities. I started, as so many of us do, making costumes for myself, then for friends, then for sartorially adventurous strangers. I pursued a Master’s Degree in Costume Design for a year at the University of Massachusetts, and then one year at Carnegie Mellon University, before I realised that perhaps I didn’t want to be in professional theatre, and it might be a good idea to stop racking up the student loans in the meantime.
I’ve studied pattern drafting and flat-patterning, costume history, dye work, and milinery. I’ve written many articles on costuming, often for a semi-whenever magazine for Renaissance Faire workers and enthusiasts.
I’ve worked backstage in small productions and not-so-small, I’ve been a dresser, a wardrobe supervisor, and a stage manager. I’ve been there, done that, and gotten not a t-shirt, but a really kick-ass poet’s shirt in 100% Egyptian cotton with dropped sleeves and a band collar. I know what I’m doing, and if I don’t, I can think up a viable, effective, and aesthetically pleasing alternative. I’m a Taurus, vote Democrat, and take entirely too much sugar in my tea.
My first costumes were, what a surprise, for Renaissance Faires, back when I was a Ren Rat without the guts to actually get off my duff and audition. Once I’d actually screwed my courage to the sticking point and entered the wild, wacky, and anachronistically schizophrenic world that is the American Renaissance Faire Circuit, all bets were off. (I spent five years on circuit and managed to do so without having to camp, a major feat. But I digress.)
I’m also big into the Goth scene, another bastion of dramatic and expressive costuming, albeit with a slightly more limited palette. I developed a quick eye for what works and what doesn’t in popular costuming, and quickly saw that while people who could sew for themselves generally dressed beautifully, those who didn’t know one end of a needle from the other had few options for quality custom-made work. I also discovered that lots of people would ecstatically leap at the chance to have someone help them turn their grand ideas into velvet and cotton and brocade, and that some people would cheerfully say, “I haven’t a clue what I want-dress me!”
Both kinds of jobs— and all the pearl-grey areas in between— can be a lot of fun, and I’ve yet to encounter a client for whom I can do absolutely nothing. I welcome a challenge-is there something you saw in a movie somewhere you’re dying to wear? Did you see something in a dream once after a little too much pre-bedtime sushi? Let’s have at it!
My corsets came about from a somewhat more pragmatic goad: desperation. I’m a fairly curvy woman, and finding a good foundation for my period gowns was like the quest to find a good man at a faire: you’d think there’d be a lot of them out there, but on closer inspection, they just don’t hold up. The only option, of course, was to do the work myself, and thus came about my signature piece: the MayFaire Moon Corset Bodice.
Starting from an early Tudor design, I began to experiment with different fabrics, boning, and patterns. (I learned the hard way, for example, that some boning is definitely not washable, much less dyeable. It wasn’t pretty. I think I cried.) Early on, I came across the wonder that is a busk, and abandoned forever the evil contortions of having to tightly lace a side seam every morning, or every time I want to go clubbing.
I also discovered that some people — I’ll mention no names— tend to gain and lose weight as the season progresses, and the more lacings in a bodice the better. Eventually, I came to the five-lacing bodice I currently make, but, of course, evolution really has no end. Keep an eye on the gallery for the next developments.