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A Philadelphia heiress decides to leave high society behind to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer in Hallmark Channel’s new Christmas movie A Holiday Spectacular. It stars Gina Claire Mason as Maggie, who puts her upcoming wedding on hold to sneak up to New York City to audition for the Radio City Rockettes. As the film’s costume designer, Keith Nielsen was charged with helping to bring the world of the 1950s to life on screen. He spoke to Showbiz Cheat Sheet about creating the film’s look, drawing inspiration from Lauren Bacall, and more.

Hallmark teams up with the Rockettes in ‘A Holiday Spectacular’ 

Nielsen has worked on Hallmark movies before. He designed costumes for 2021’s Next Stop Christmas and Sugar Plum Twist. But because A Holiday Spectacular is a period piece (it’s set in 1958), it presented a “really exciting” challenge. 

“It was fun with A Holiday Spectacular. I got to play with both contemporary Hallmark work and adapting that to a period aesthetic because they’ve never done a ‘50s movie before,” he shared.  

For Nielsen, his work began with research. 

We worked with [Madison Square Garden Entertainment] who owns the Rockettes. They were great and they provided me a ton of visual research,” he shared. He was also able to visit Radio City Music Hall, which helped him envision the world the characters inhabit. And because the movie takes place in the world of dance, he also familiarized himself with period dance and workout wear.

The real-life Rockettes perform in the movie, and they wear the same costumes they currently wear in their live shows.

“We chose specific ones that are pretty timeless,” Nielsen said. “And when you mix it with the surroundings you can sell it.”

Small details add a lot to the movie 

Smiling people in 1950s costumes in 'A Holiday Spectacular'
‘A Holiday Spectacular’ | ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Scott Holloway

The prep work led Nielsen to include seemingly small details that add an air of authenticity to the movie.  

“You’ll notice in the movie, some of the women’s knitwear has a little zipper in the back,” he shared. “The zipper was just helping to get their head in with their fabulous hair. And that was a big ‘little’ detail that we wanted to do. You can see it on the over-the-shoulder shots and it’s just something that I admire, because it was of the period.”

In some cases, little features can also convey something about a character. Maggie’s more conservative mother, for example, wears 1940s-style stockings. The idea was to “keep her a little old school through a little detail like a seamed stocking.”

Nielsen was inspired by ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ 

Woman wearing a coat with a large fur collar in the Hallmark Channel movie 'A Holiday Spectacular'
‘A Holiday Spectacular’ | ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Scott Holloway

Nielsen also drew on his own knowledge of mid-century fashion to craft different looks for the film’s characters. He pointed to the classic 1953 movie How to Marry a Millionaire as a source of inspiration.

“I love Lauren Bacall,” he said. “So there’s a couple of little Easter eggs in the movie where I just stole a little bit of the styling from here and there just because it’s something I admire and it’s also something I know that audiences admire.” 

Take the bright red coat Maggie is wearing over her travel suit when she arrives in New York City. It’s a vintage piece that Nielsen purchased (rather than renting from a costume house). Afterward, he found a photo of Bacall wearing a similar jacket. 

“It was just meant to be,” he said, “It became such a visual of the film because, I mean, it’s a holiday movie,” he added. “You need to have a red coat. Like, what’s a holiday movie without a red coat?”

Nielsen’s favorite look from ‘A Holiday Spectacular’ 

Gina Claire Mason wearing an ivory gown standing next to man in white jacket in 'A Holiday Spectacular'
‘A Holiday Spectacular’ | David Scott Holloway)

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One standout look from the movie, aside from the red coat? A dress Maggie wears at the end of the film. It’s actually a reconstructed 2019 Carolina Herrera gown that Nielsen modified to look vintage. 

“I recut it to look like a 1950s Dior gown,” he explained. “We redid the neckline. We brought it to tea length, we added layers. I put four petticoats under it. I added a tulle shawl.” The result is a “very Dior, Edith Head-inspired” look that’s perfect for the film. Nielsen said of all the costumes he worked on for the movie, that’s the one he loved the most. 

“My favorite from A Holiday Spectacular is her finale gown. To get to create a 1950s, fabulous gown … that’s my favorite. And also just to shoot that on the greatest stage in the world, it’s just a moment.” 

Nielsen said he can’t wait for audiences to get a look at the movie. 

I’m excited to see what audiences say about it because it has the love and warmth of a traditional Hallmark movie,” he said. “But it’s a little different.” 

A Holiday Spectacular airs Sunday, Nov. 27 at 8 p.m. ET on Hallmark Channel. 

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