Mission seamstress living her dream job

Anne Nicholishen concentrates as she cuts fabric for a costume she is creating Sunday at one of her two home studios.

Anne Nicholishen concentrates as she cuts fabric for a costume she is creating Sunday at one of her two home studios.

By Natalie North

Black Press

It took more than a few hands working behind the scenes to pull together at the Skate Canada Junior Nationals this week. But one pair of hands was busier than others.

Anne Nicholishen, official tournament seamstress, specializes in skate and dance costumes. She was set up near the change rooms to deal with any last-minute costume repairs.

Nicholishen has been a tournament seamstress several times, following her first gig at the World Figure Skating Championships in Vancouver.

“That was a little bit hairy,” she said of the 2001 event. “I had to replace a zipper in 15 minutes.”

Nicholishen had one skater hand her a costume and, through her translator, the athlete requested that the seam be mended in just five minutes.

But not all of her work is done under such pressure.

Dance pair Leonardo and Pilar Maekawa are sporting costumes they conceptualized with the designer, whom they’ve worked with for years.

“Pilar and Leo’s Paso outfits are one of my favourites that I’ve done for them so far,” she said, adding that Leonardo’s bolero jacket was inspired by that of a traditional matador’s.

“Bling, lots of bling,” said Leonardo, of the outfits the siblings used during their dance to the Paso Doble from Carmen on Monday.

“We started making [our outfits] in the summer and, every time we put it on, it would be changed,” Pilar said.

When Nicholishen worked as a fitness instructor in Mission, 30 years ago, she began sewing her own aerobics outfits to get a better fit. Soon she was selling her designs at the gym where she worked. Through word-of-mouth alone, Nicholishen’s company, Robans Designs, grew to accept costume contracts from skate clubs, dance studios and synchronized swimmers.

Last year, during a 100th anniversary parade for the Pacific National Exhibition, she designed 100 Elvis and 50 Beatles dance costumes. The PNE was a career highlight for the 55-year-old, who now splits her time between home studios in Mission and Victoria.

“It’s a terrible thing to say, but I haven’t had any formal training,” she said. “I just know what to do. People bring me a picture and I can just look at it and know how it goes together.”

Nicholishen continues to work intuitively, cutting out nearly every one of her designs alongside eight employees who assemble the costumes.

“I find it quite amazing what she can do with very little time and just a picture,” said Sonia Asquini, a full-time employee with Robans in Victoria.