Portlandia and Fred Armisen’s “Nina” Go to Nordstrom


L-R: “Lance’s mom” (Gretchen Corbett), “Lance’s mom’s boyfriend” (Justin Long), “Lance” (Carrie Brownstein) and “Nina” (Fred Armisen); image courtesy Portlandia from “The Fiancée” episode 

As a business which started in the #upperleft corner of these United States, we at Nordstrom have a special appreciation for IFC’s Portlandia. That would be the sketch comedy TV show where stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein basically teach a master class in how to mock life in Portland, OR. It’s all there: the passive-aggressiveness, the self-righteous savior complex, the questionable style choices. And yet the show, currently in its fifth season, is a love letter.

“The Fiancée” episode aired Thursday, Jan. 15, and was partially filmed at the Lloyd Center Nordstrom. (That location is now closed, with every employee who wished to be relocated given a new home at a nearby Nordstrom.) Key scenes in the episode occur at Nordstrom and feature Armisen’s character Nina, with makeup done by Jessica Needham and overall style created by her sister, two-time Emmy winner Amanda Needham.

We spoke with the sisters while the two native Portlanders sat in their car in deadlocked traffic. Topics discussed: Nina, Portlandia and good versus bad style.

Nina’s look

Amanda: Nina’s look is a little bit more of an old-school Portlander, with a rockabilly thing mixed in. So there’s a lot of leopard print, red colors and leather–and a lot of accessories. In sketch comedy, you have to be creative in the moment. For that particular “Fiancée” episode, there was a shoe scene and luckily Nordstrom had sizes which fit Fred who’s an 11 in women’s.

Jessica: As far as the make-up goes for Nina, she’s pretty specific: it’s always the blue frosty eyeshadow and the darker red lips. We had Nordstrom stylists helping us out, amplifying her already-crazy look.

Freedom to create

Amanda: Fred and Carrie and [director] John [Krisel] give us a lot of leeway with building these characters visually. Oftentimes we’ll do the read-through and bounce ideas off each other. We might do a fitting, we might not do a fitting. If we worked for a bigger network or if Fred and Carrie didn’t trust us, it wouldn’t be that way.

Jessica: We’ve learned from working on bigger programs on bigger networks there’s a lot of steps to jump through to get approval on things.

Amanda: I don’t think our show would be award-winning if we weren’t granted the freedom to be creative. Most of what we have been recognized for are moments that happened on the fly. Our first Emmy was for the chicken episode [“The Farm”] and we literally threw so many of those pieces together, including casting ourselves as sister wives for our TV debut. The second Emmy was for the episode called “The Blackout,” which is when Kyle MacLachlan is the Mayor and the whole city shuts down.

Portland style

Amanda: I think the show does a really good job of illustrating a handful of the people who live here. You have Peter and Nance, who, in my mind are a little more Eugene [Oregon] to me. The feminist bookstore ladies speak to a portion of Portland, for sure. Spyke and Iris have that key staple for Portland: ear gauges.

Jessica: I don’t think there’s one style that Portland carries. We’re all quirky and different and weird.

Pre-Portlandia

Amanda: Fred and Carrie have been friends for a long time, and before there was Portlandia there was Thunderant. Fred met Janet Weiss first at a concert [ed.: drummer in Brownstein’s band Sleater-Kinney] and met Carrie through her. I think Fred loves Portland more than I love Portland. He loves this place. It’s really refreshing actually.

Jessica: He’s so involved in this community. He goes to shows and he’s out all the time.

Bad style/good style

Amanda: I think it’s hilarious to see socks with sandals on runways today. When we started the show five years ago, it was like the grossest thing. And Peter and Nance wear a lot batik, and I feel like batik was really big last year on the runway. It’s the amazing thing about fashion: it’s so versatile. The things that you laugh at are suddenly new and cool. And before you know it you’re wearing it.

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