'The man for the Christmas season'
New York — Louis Nichole has been termed ''the man for the Christmas season.'' Perhaps it is because all his designs for dolls, furnishings, and accessories are so opulent in detail, so fanciful, festive, and beguilingly decorative. He, of course, designs year round, but Louis Nichole and Christmas have left their indelible mark on each other.
Ever since Mr. Nichole was invited by President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter to design the holiday decorations and place settings for the White House in 1980, his Christmas designs have taken on heroic proportions, and he has been catapulted into unexpected fame.
Louis Nichole had, sometime before, fallen in love with 18th- and 19 th-century Italian and French designs. He adored the outrageously ornamental style, the ribbons and bows and furbelows of a period long past. He found that he liked working with silk, velvet, exquisite lace, damask, and moire, and he enjoyed experimenting to see how these sumptuous fabrics could be gathered, shirred, ruffled, frilled, and flounced.
From the beginning of his career, Mr. Nichole had declared himself an out-and-out ''romantic'' (an endangered species today, he says). He decided his handmade designs for the home, sold at first only through his own small shop in Hartford, Conn., would ''conjure up visions of a gentler time - a time of poetry , music, drama, and elegance.''
Did he become a modern-day anachronism? The enthusiastic response to his designs indicates not.
His vision of the decorative richness of a bygone European era has drawn forth not only appreciation, but an actual yearning on the part of many for this kind of whimsical fussiness.
Since his White House success, the designer has garnered many design awards, and his creations have gone into the private collections of such notables as Queen Elizabeth II, Jacqueline Onassis, and Sophia Loren.
Many museums - including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Children's Museum in Boston - now display his unusual and imaginative decorations. And after manufacturers saw photographs of his White House displays, they sought him out to design similar decorations that could be mass produced and sold at affordable prices.
''It took us two years,'' Mr. Nichole says, ''to develop the craftsmanship and technology to produce the products. I had a lot to learn about mechanized ways of doing things, but I also had a lot to share about how to do things in innovative new ways.'' He says the original bit of lace that his grandmother crocheted was finally reduced by computers and machines into a mass-produced reproduction that could sell for $6 a yard!
Today, 20 American companies are involved in making the Louis Nichole Heirloom Collection of decorative accessories and home furnishings. The collection is completely coordinated and sold through dozens of department and specialty stores across the country.
The collection includes limited-edition, handcrafted dolls by the World Doll Company; meticulously crafted furniture by Vanguard; bed and table linens by Croscill; and wallcoverings by Millbrook, a division of Imperial. Soon, a similar European combination of companies will present his designs on the Continent.
Mr. Nichole says he has been an entrepreneur since he was a small boy growing up in Waterbury, Conn. In his teens he had already become known for his unique floral bouquets for weddings. And a book, written while he was still in high school, was later published by Butterick under the title ''Design Accessories to Make for Your Home.''
Mr. Nichole trained as a kindergarten teacher at Southern Connecticut State College, then went on to Florence, Italy, to study the Montessori method of teaching.
While in Florence, he supported himself by working with Florentine master carvers, gilders, and restorers. There, he not only learned about gilded and antiqued finishes, but how to put together his own ''fantasy'' interpretations of elegant early Italian furniture.
To this day, he says he never tries to reproduce a period look, but rather ''borrows feelings and evokes moods'' in all his products.
The designer has decorated numerous homes for the Christmas holidays, but he thinks that with a little thought, most people could do quite a presentable job for themselves.
He is a great believer in the abundant use of silk flowers, mixed with greenery, and real and fake fruits and vegetables.
A main consideration in holiday decoration, the designer says, is to think in terms of attractrive ''still lifes.'' This can be done with such homey items as baskets, crockery bowls, assorted candlesticks, oddments of old silver, glass jars, trivets, copper teakettles, and bundles of dried flowers, plus lots of greenery.
He also likes the idea of using pretty table runners and decorative hatboxes to hold gifts, and tying gifts with lace and tapestry ribbons.