Master of disguises

  • Brooke Fisher<br>Enterprise editor
  • Friday, February 29, 2008 7:55am

In a store bursting with bright flapper dresses, an Uncle Sam suit and about 400 more hand-made costumes, perhaps the owner of Andre’s Bodacious Babe Costumes has the best disguise of all.

Jean Christensen, 55, is an unassuming seamstress — until she begins talking about her past. Then it becomes clear why many of her costumes are designed to cater to people of size.

Christensen, of Lynnwood, was once married to the wrestler Andre Roussimoff, known more commonly as Andre the Giant. The two married in Canada, but never registered their marriage license in the U.S., she said.

For several years, Christensen traveled throughout the country making wrestling gear, like robes, tights, trunks and gimmicks such as break-aways.

“I would design images for people,” Christensen said. “It takes a real twisted imagination.”

Christensen herself wrestled in high school. After graduation, she worked in the music industry as a stage manager.

“I made sure the show ran on schedule and smoothly,” Christensen said. “I was a big, strapping gal.”

She occasionally doubled as a seamstress, mending performers’ clothes. Christensen remembers one time when Rod Stewart was performing, he split his pants doing flips. She took his pants home to mend and forgot to return them.

Following injuries received in a car accident, Christensen decided to return to the wrestling business as a seamstress and photographer. That was when she met her husband, the French-born Roussimoff.

She made clothes for Roussimoff, who was 7 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed 500 pounds. He suffered from the disease known as Giantism and passed away 12 years ago.

“He was a huge man, I was making his clothes,” Christensen said. “It was the only time he looked good.”

When she learned she was pregnant, Christensen decided she needed to learn how to sew properly, since there was a good chance her daughter might be tall as well. She went back to school and earned degrees in manufacturing techniques as well as fashion design and marketing.

Christensen and Roussimoff eventually divorced shortly after their daughter was born and Christensen had no contact with the wrestling business for about 20 years. Three years ago, her daughter, Robin Christensen-Roussimoff, wanted to see WrestleMania in Seattle. She told her daughter they could easily get tickets, and they ended up sitting 10 rows in front of Hugh Hefner.

“When WrestleMania was in town, I ran with the big dogs again,” Christensen said. “It was like I was back in the 1970s.”

Her daughter, 25, is 6 feet tall. She remembers her mother making her elaborate costumes as well as everyday clothes. One prom dress in particular, made with vinyl, sticks out in her mind. She said her mother never lied to her about her famous father, who she did not know very well.

“There were too many other people surrounding him,” Christensen-Roussimoff said. “It was a common law marriage, they were together forever until she had me.”

Jane Johnson, who met Christensen at wrestling matches 42 years ago, said her outspoken friend has always been passionate about designing costumes and introduced colorful gear to the wrestling industry.

“Most of the places made solid black gear,” Johnson said. “She was really close to the first that went in for anything colorful.”

Christensen has owned the shop in Shoreline, named after her late ex-husband and herself, for a little more than a year. Although this is her second Halloween in business, she said due to the reconfiguration of traffic flow on Ronald Place, customers often have difficulty accessing her shop.

Last year, she rented several costumes a day, and three even won awards at costume parties. This year, a week before Halloween, she had only rented one pair of cowboy boots.

“I am wondering about this year, it is the busiest time for costume shops.” Christensen said. “I would be doing landslide business if people had access.”

Christensen still sews for big-name entertainers, including Weird Al Yankovich and Dick Dale, known for 1950s surf music. She plans to stay at her current location as long as possible, however, she has had offers to work in Las Vegas with Cirque du Soleil and Fox movie studios, as well as the company that produces The Muppets Live.

Most of Christensen’s costumes are for rent and a few are for sale. There are a some items that she will likely never part with, however, such as her late ex-husband’s shoes — size 28E — that she still keeps.

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