Creating Shortland Street’s style with costume designer Nicola Newman

Shortland Street Costume Designer Nicole Newman Interview

Actress Amelia Reid-Meredith as Bella Cooper in her wedding dress. Image courtesy of South Pacific Pictures.

It has been twenty-five years today since Shortland Street first graced our screens on May 25th 1992 and since then many things have changed on the show, especially the fashion. Shortland Street’s costume designer Nicola Newman has been responsible for the look of the characters since 2004 and the fast pace of the show means her role is an exceptionally busy one. We caught up with Nicola to find out how the style on Shortland Street has evolved, how she creates each character’s look and what her favourite wardrobe moments from the show are.

What are some of your favourite hero pieces or looks from the show over the years and why?
That’s a hard one to answer as there has been such a diverse range of characters that we have created pieces for. I’d have to say the most memorable would have to be Bella’s wedding dress as it really was a creative costume piece. It involved hundreds of hours of work putting it all together, and probably the same in the amount of fabric we use, it really was a Cinderella dress.

Has the look of the show changed costume wise since you’ve been working on it and are there many pieces that have been recycled over the years?
When I first became the costume designer it was 2004 so yes, absolutely there has been a huge change since. I have reworked the look of the uniform three times from dresses to tunics and now into more fashionable scrubs in a range of colours. We have a huge stock of clothing that we recycle and reuse as much as possible without if being too noticeable for our extras and guest cast.

Shortland Street Costume Designer Nicole Newman Interview

Shortland Street nurses in uniform in 2006. Image courtesy of South Pacific Pictures.

Have you got any most memorable wardrobe moments from your time on the show?
I would say some of the most interesting/memorable things we have to deal with would be hiding actor’s injuries that may have happened over the weekend and they are scheduled for filming on the Monday eg. Broken arms, black eyes, bruising. Also having to hide a pregnancy using tricks like holding a large handbag or coats to hide the tummy.

Twenty-five years is a long time to keep continuity of costumes etc, how do you manage the history of characters and the show when you’re creating or referencing other costumes? Do you have a detailed archive to work from?
We have a system where all garments, shoes, bags, jewellery etc. are named and numbered for that particular character, where a full description of the garment is documented into our Costume Bible books. All jewellery, shoes and bags are photographed as well.

How do you go about creating each character’s look and style, and how much influence do the actors have in the process?
A character’s style is developed from the character breakdowns which are created by the producer and writers. This gives me information like their age, career, interests, family, where they are from etc. I will always take into consideration if the actor has an idea for their character as it is important for them to feel appropriate for the character they are portraying.

Shortland Street Costume Designer Nicole Newman Interview

On set in 2011 with Shortland Street’s Luke Durville (played by Gerald Urquhart) and Zlata (played by Kate Elliott). Image courtesy of South Pacific Pictures.

Where do you source the wardrobe pieces from and how important is it to you that you’re using New Zealand brands on screen?
I usually have around 28 characters to dress so I need to source clothing from a variety of stores. For me it is hugely important to purchase New Zealand produced products as much as possible, and there is now such a great selection of New Zealand designers to choose from.

Do you get many emails/requests from the public about pieces they’ve seen on-screen and has there been anything worn that has been really popular?
The public response to fashion on the show is great. We are often getting fan mail from the public wanting to know where garments are from. One in particular was a red dress I bought for Harper which was from a store called Witchery, nearly every time it was on air we would get a request the following day.

Shortland Street Costume Designer Nicole Newman Interview

A fashionable moment on the Shortland Street set in 2013. Image courtesy of South Pacific Pictures.

What is your day like when the show is filming and how many people in your costume department work on the set each day dressing the actors and extras?
Every day is quite different but a typical day would be reading scripts for the following week’s filming. I would do a breakdown of each character’s day then from there I would know if they need any new garments eg. robe, sportswear or a fancy dress. I would then hit the shops and purchase what I need, this could take anywhere from two to five hours depending on where I need to go. Once I’m back from shopping it is a matter of sorting out the clothing, putting them into the actor’s rooms to try on and fit. While I’m out and about I have a team of seven back at the studios, consisting of three standbys who work on and off set maintaining continuity and prepping for the following day’s filming. I have a dressmaker who is constantly working on making new garments. A costume maintenance assistant who does all the laundry and maintaining of garments. A costume assistant who helps out where ever she is needed within our department and my costume designer assistant who I rely on hugely to keep things running smoothly and being my eyes when I can’t be there.

What is your favourite part of your job?
I think the most favourite part of my job is that it doesn’t feel like a JOB! It’s probably every girl’s dream to go shopping for a living. I’m very lucky to have a career in doing what I love to do and to be working with a group of super talented, creative and supportive people who inspire me to do the best job I can do.

Images supplied.

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