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Ishpeming native helps bring visions to stage, screen

March 5, 2011
By RENEE PRUSI Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - Academy Awards host James Franco donned a pink dress during Sunday's Oscar broadcast and it was one of the most talked-about moments of the show.

Ishpeming native Renee Nault helped make that Marilyn Monroe-esque gown and was stunned at the buzz it created.

Nault, whose union job description is cutter/fitter, is what laypeople would call a pattern maker at Muto-Little Costumes in Larchmont Valley, Calif. She has been involved in the entertainment industry for years.

Article Photos

Costume cutter/fitter Renee Nault, a 1975 graduate of Ishpeming High School, worked for four of the “Star Trek”?franchise television shows and one of the movies. She’s shown here with some aliens from “Star Trek: Deep Space 9.” (Photo courtesy of Renee Nault)

"It was just one of those things," she said of the Franco dress. "It freaked me out so many people knew about it so quickly. Stylists and designers come to us with projects to build all the time. It's not a big deal. It's one of the bazillion things we do around here. It's the nature of what we do, part of the service we provide."

The Franco project was special, Nault said, because the turnaround time was less than two days.

"I never saw (Franco). They handed me some measurements which were used to build a pattern. There was a photo of an old Marilyn Monroe costume and we went from there," she said.

What did she think when she saw the finished product on the Oscar-nominated actor during the live broadcast?

"Quite frankly, we didn't fit him in it because it was such a short time span," Nault said. "A person at the theater did some quick alterations. They said they took it in a little. In my opinion, they took it in too much."

When word got out on Facebook of her involvement, Nault heard from a number of friends from her youth.

"I was amused by the response," she said. "We are all still in touch even if we don't talk all the time. We all still have a connection."

Nault, who graduated from Ishpeming High School in 1975, attended the University of Michigan as a computer science major... at first. She quickly switched to theater arts. After working at Northern Michigan University for a year in the theater department, Nault attended Florida State University to work on her master of fine arts in costume technology.

From there, it was a stint of summer stock in Cleveland, a year in Birmingham, Ala., at a small theater and then the University of Houston.

"From there, I went to California and I have been here 25 years now," Nault said. "Time sure does go by fast."

At first she worked with a theater coalition that had plays in three major venues in Los Angeles.

"It was a very busy place and we'd often get movie and TV overflow," Nault said. "When they needed masses of stuff, they turned to us. It was a great place to meet designers."

One of these designers offered her a job working on a little franchise called "Star Trek."

"I ended up spending 15 seasons working on all four of the 'Star Trek' series and one of the feature films," she said. The film was the recent J.J. Abrams reboot of the franchise.

The company she presently works with has kept busy.

"We work on everything from TV to feature films. We have done a lot of rock'n'roll design lately," Nault said. "The industry here, between the actors strike and the writers strike and the recession has taken a hit. The music industry is a very small world costume-wise, but all the stylists since Lady Gaga stepped things up have been keeping us busy.

"We knew Lady Gaga before she was Lady Gaga. We did a lot of helping to set her look. I can't say we designed it because she's always had a definite vision of what she wanted to do," Nault said. "She's smart. She knows there are a lot of very talented people out there so she had to find something to gain her a lot of attention. And she certainly did."

Other musical stars with whom she has worked include country superstar Carrie Underwood and Rihanna, the R&B star who crosses over a number of genres.

"Rock'n'roll people aren't used to how (costumes) are built and everything with them tends to be last minute," Nault said. "I'm responsible for taking the vision and making it real."

In the course of her work Nault supervises the construction and fitting of the costumes.

"I usually work one on one with the stylist or designer," she said.

While she said she can't name a favorite star she's worked with, Nault does have a favorite designer.

"Robert Blackman. He's not like any other," she said. "He's brilliant."

Blackman was involved with recent productions like "The Cape" and "Pushing Daisies," but is most well known for his efforts with "Star Trek."

"With him, we're pushing the envelope of costume design," she said. "How can we defy gravity? How can we change the laws of physics? How can you stretch technology by the way you approach things?"

Her years working with the "Star Trek" franchise include some of her favorite memories.

"'Star Trek' is a part of the culture. It has invaded our language," Nault said. "Phrases like 'beam me up, Scotty' and such. 'Star Trek' gave us a vision of the future that we are now approaching.

"I met astronauts and gold medal winners, all who wanted to be on 'Star Trek'," she said. "It was something very special, very unique that gave me opportunities. I will always be grateful."

Nault lives in Glendale, Calif., with her husband, Michael Kaiping, and her stepchildren, Edward and Bettina. She tries to visit her family in Ishpeming at least once a year.

"So many people so often say to me what a great job I have," she said. "Like anything else, it has its bad moments but yeah, I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people through the years.

"Like any other job, it has its ups and its downs," Nault said. "But I believe your work has to be your passion. It's something you can't imagine not doing.

"And I can't think of anything I would rather do. It's my passion. It's who I am and what I do."

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is



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