Jamie Olsen keeps dresses in his work room and everyday clothes in his bedroom. He spends long hours in the work room, crafting sparkly costumes for himself and other performers using his seven sewing machines, mannequins and fabrics.
The gray-and-white walls of Olsen’s Downtown West apartment are his canvases, and he’s made them art. Olsen has turned junk into beautiful décor — repainting sticks, repurposing trashed mannequins and turning lights into lamps, creating a palace fit for a drag queen.
Olsen, or Nina DiAngelo when performing, knows how to work a stage. The full-time female impersonator has been in the business since he moved from his native Buffalo, N.Y., to Minneapolis, where he ultimately directed his own show and impersonated divas such as Barbra Streisand, Cher and Dolly Parton.
"Like most people, it started on Halloween,” says Jamie Olsen, 45, of his introduction to drag.
But when Olsen was recruited to perform at Hamburger Mary’s St. Louis, a place he describes as “high-class burgers with a drag show,” he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Nearly two years ago, Olsen made the big move to St. Louis with just a month to pack, sell his place and choose a new one.
He picked the Downtown West loft apartment because it was advertised as a “live-work space.” The building, located in St. Louis’ old garment district, has a history of housing artists and artisans.
Olsen practices his routines in his head, but he’d have space in the loft to make a runway if he wanted. The 2,100-square-foot home is open-concept with the foyer, dining room, living room and kitchen all blending into one monochromatic space.
Olsen moved in on a budget. He wasn’t sure whether he’d stay in St. Louis, so he wanted to spend as little as possible on décor.
He frequented junkyards, Home Depot and discount furniture stores such as Carol House and Ikea. He converted five amber globes he found in a junkyard into chandeliers and artfully arranged them over a white dining table. They illuminate the little bar area he added to the dining room.
The dining room segues nicely into the living room, which is dominated by a white eight-piece, modular couch that Olsen can break up and rearrange on a whim.
He scored a sweet deal on the 32-foot couch. Olsen found it on the front lawn of an event planning business that was closing and purchased the couch, worth $5,000, for just $300. He tossed gray and white shag pillows on it and a matching gray rug on the floor to complete the modern look.
The room’s walls showcase Olsen’s creativity. He cut wooden sticks from Home Depot into dozens of pieces, painted them white and fixed them to a wall column. “I wanted something funky,” he said.
Next to the sticks, Olsen hung little glass cups. He sometimes inserts tiny candles into the cups to give the space a pretty glow.
Olsen’s apartment is nearly spotless, and the only dots on the floor are intentional. Olsen spruced up his kitchen by painting white circles on two grayish-blue walls and continued the pattern on a small section of the concrete floor.
Much of the loft’s color is confined to two rooms: the foyer and the work room.
The apartment opens to reveal a wall bursting with color. It’s a collage of a few of Olsen’s favorite things: several multicolored bulldog paintings, pictures of his inspirations such as Whitney Houston and Wonder Woman, and renderings of Olsen in costume.
Most of the canvases and posters, along with the foyer’s primary-colored couch and ottoman, were gifts from friends.
Olsen’s work room, tucked in a corner next to the bedroom, is filled with the clothes he wears and makes. His 30 crowns reign atop a shelf, emblems of his big wins including National Entertainer of the Year, F.I. in 2003 and Miss Gay Midwest America in 2018.
Though Olsen stays busy sewing costumes and performing , he’s still working on his home. Olsen wants to hang a collage of his grandmother’s handwritten recipes as well as huge prints of influential drag performers, surrounding himself with the artwork and icons that make the space so unmistakably his.
Home • Downtown West
Age • 46
Occupation • Olsen is a full-time female impersonatorat Hamburger Mary’s.
Family • He lives with his English bulldog Lucy, 9.