The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew

Verreos on skating fashion; Bulanhagui on regionals

Nick Verreos and Rachael Flatt hold up sketches of figure skating outfits.
Nick Verreos and Rachael Flatt hold up sketches of figure skating outfits. (courtesy Nick Verreos)


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By Sarah S. Brannen & Drew Meekins, special to
(11/17/2010) - Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins talk to Project Runway's Nick Verreos about fashion, on and off the ice, and also catch up with Melissa Bulanhagui.

The dark side of fuchsia
As you may know, we are devoted fans of Project Runway -- the drama, the divas and the dresses, we love it all. One of our favorite moments in the whole show was when contestant Nick Verreos first caught sight of Sasha Cohen during a second season challenge and his inner fangirl for the skating star came out.

Recently we caught up with Verreos during a three-way phone call, and he told us the whole story. Well, eventually he did. He had checked out Sarah's off-ice "fashion" gallery on her web site, and he had to go on at length about Drew's teal Henley shirt first.

But back to the show: Verreos told us he had hidden his love for skating for years. It was his partner, David Paul, who was the figure skating fan in the house.

"He loved figure skating, forget it, it was like the Oscars," said Verreos. "Bring on the pizza and popcorn and watch four hours of figure skating. I was like the football wife, in the background, but somehow it just infected me. But I didn't tell him for a long time that I had gone to the dark side -- the dark side of fuchsia!"

But halfway through his stint on Project Runway, the producers gave the designers brightly colored spandex costumes to wear and sent them off to New Jersey in a van.

"We thought we were going to do ballroom dancing, and all of a sudden the van pulled up and it's a figure skating rink, and I literally started shaking. Fifteen years had come about and hit me in the face. I still didn't want to come to terms with it until Tim Gunn shows up and all of a sudden Sasha Cohen skates in. I was like in Cher/Elton John heaven.

"I was like, 'Oh my god it's Sasha Cohen,' and Santino [Rice] was looking at me like, 'Who?' I was acting like it was Lady Frickin' Gaga. Then I had to hold the secret for over six months that one of the challenges I had to do was design a costume for Sasha Cohen, and I was thinking of what David and his buddies were going to say."

Verreos said he was the only one of the designers who followed figure skating and understood what skating costumes look like.

"Santino just kept on putting on more and more stuff, and I was like, 'Santino, that literally looks like a turkey that got caught in an airplane engine.'"

After the TV show, Verreos has been very high-profile, doing lots of events, dressing celebrities for the red carpet, and blogging for TV Guide and Universal Sports.

"I've just finished my spring collections for 2011," he said. "At the same time I was travelling around the country as a spokesperson for Macy's. It was right before I had to finish and debut a 30-piece collection, but I'm an overachiever! Next Tuesday I leave for the Bahamas to host some fashion events. We just finished our look book to send out in advance of award season, pitching my gowns and hopefully getting them on the red carpet."

Verreos did some TV commentary during the world championships in 2009, and got mobbed by fans.

"I was walking out of the arena with a couple of friends, and all of a sudden fifty little girls ran up to me and asked for my autograph. And I'm like, 'I'm not the figure skater from Greece! I think you have me mistaken for Georgiou from Cyprus.'"

But as it happened, the fans were well aware of who Verreos was.

"It's the same fan base as Project Runway," he mused. "I did not realize it until, at that same worlds, all of a sudden a man came up to me, and it was Rachael Flatt's dad!"

Finally, we moved on to what we had wanted to talk about all along, current figure skating fashions. Verreos has been watching the Grand Prix events with close attention this season. He noticed that Flatt had worn a recycled costume from last year at the NHK Trophy (we reassured him that she would be bringing out a new dress for Skate America). Despite this, he spoke of Flatt's costumes with praise.

"I like how she brings in a little bit of the fashion forward," he said. "I love the reds, I love the lilacs. I like the deep violets I'm seeing in the guys, as opposed to the blacks. Especially that everything is so regimented now, I feel like, 'Let's add a little bit more!' I'm a fan of color and adding a little bit of drama, a sequin here and there. In U.S. figure skating I think the girls are going there. You see more and more asymmetry, which I'm a big fan of, and different tiers of skirts, more layers, to give more fluttery movement. I like seeing elements of fashion from the runway, which you can put into skating and make it work."

Verreos gave kudos to designers Vera Wang and Roberto Cavalli for designing skating fashions that athletes can move in.

"At the same time, you've got to wake me up with the costume. You're on stage, and I've got to look at you for four minutes. At least make it look purty!"

We asked whose costumes Verreos currently favors.

"I would definitely say Yu-Na Kim, Mao Asada also, I think her costumes are gorgeous, and look expensive. Definitely Rachael Flatt. I think it would be great to design something for Fumie Suguri. I see that she likes to try different things. Alissa Czisny -- I liked how different [her free-skating costume] was. I liked the movement, the cascading ruffles didn't get in the way. I loved the abstract watercolor look. She owned it, and she looked modern."

Verreos had a little advice for Jeremy Abbott.

"He's such a great skater, and he wants to be known for his athleticism. I acknowledge and respect the athleticism. I'm not one of those who don't see how hard you guys work. It could use a little more pop. It doesn't have to be a whole vest of sequins. There has to be an element of theatrics in the sport. I would get him out of the grays and give him something stronger, that has that athleticism feel to it."

Verreos had one more piece of advice for everyone.

"For future skaters, I say don't skimp, we can tell the Swarovski crystals from non, the silk from the cheap polyester." Verreos ended the interview by giving us all the gossip on the latest season of Project Runway, in exchange for all of our favorite figure skating stories. Let's just say, we love him!

Triple Axel
We talked to Melissa Bulanhagui by phone earlier this month, shortly before she left to compete at the Eastern sectional championships. She made us laugh after we posted a link to her South Atlantic regional programs, tweeting "Don't watch! DON'T WATCH!"

Bulanhagui changed her short program for the Eastern sectional championships, adding a triple flip -- double toe and a triple Lutz out of footwork. She's also working on a very big trick: a triple Axel. As well as practicing the jump on-ice, she's taking advantage of current technology to refine the jump.

"They have a new simulator thing [at the University of Delaware], at the sports science department, and I did [the triple Axel] under the cameras. I'm landing it really consistently, it's just a quarter-turn cheated, so it's not good enough to put in my program yet."

Bulanhagui started the season off at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany; it was her first senior international competition.

"It was the first time for me to be on the ice with skaters like Kiira Korpi," she said. "On my practice for the long, you could totally tell that it was a higher level, and you had to step up to the plate. It was really motivating for me."

She also enjoyed the rural mountain setting.

"The village was really nice -- it was nice to walk everywhere, and enjoy the outside for a little bit. Being at home, I just get in my car, go to school, go to the rink, go back to school, work out -- I never go outside, basically. It was nice to step away from my phone for a week! When I got back, it was like welcome back to reality."

Off the ice, Bulanhagui attends the University of Delaware part-time, where she is thinking of majoring in exercise science. "I have chemistry class with Kimmie [Meissner]," she told us. "We sit in the very back. It's so difficult for me. I feel like I always have to be studying and I'll never get it. We're both struggling together but I think we're going to make it through."

A special award
We're probably going to give the best costume award to the ladies in general this season; with a couple of notable exceptions who shall not be named, the ladies have rolled out a gorgeous display of looks.

A special wardrobe malfunction award goes to Kristine Musademba for courage under duress. When the neck fastener of her stunningly simple black and crystal dress came undone halfway through her short program at Cup of China, she just kept on skating, despite, no doubt, wondering if her dress was about to come off. Bravo!

Bye from Boston,
Sarah and Drew

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