The Inside Edge: Kuluva, Babilonia fashion up ice

Rippon, Nagasu pose for photo shoot on plastic ice; Castelli, Shnapir battle nature

An off-ice scene from the Tumbler & Tipsy photo shoot.
An off-ice scene from the Tumbler & Tipsy photo shoot. (courtesy of Tumbler & Tipsy)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(01/02/2013) - Happy New Year!

We were intrigued by news of a fashion shoot at the W Hotel rink in Westwood, Los Angeles, that featured several skaters we know. Michael Kuluva, founder and designer of the Tumbler & Tipsy label, was behind the glam event.

"The fashion shoot was for my 2013 fall collection that will be shown at New York Fashion Week and Los Angeles Fashion Week," he told us by phone. "It was sponsored by W Hotels and Inglot Cosmetics. I reached out to my skating friends and my celebrity clientele, and they were gracious enough to participate."

Skaters in the shoot included Tai Babilonia, Mirai Nagasu, Adam Rippon, Jennifer Don, Michael Modro and Brandon Larcom.

"I loved doing the shoot," Rippon emailed to us. "I loved working with someone as creative as Michael. Mirai and I worked on our 'looks' the day before the shoot to prepare."

"We got to meet Lil Debbie, who sings 'Gucci Gucci' with Kreayshawn," Nagasu texted. "I was really excited about that. And I love Michael Kuluva's clothes. They always have a little something that sets Tumbler & Tipsy apart from other brands."

Babilonia told us she has known Kuluva, who used to be a competitive skater, since he was 10 years old.

"We trained at the same rink," she said. "Randy and I were toward the end of our careers, and he was very young."

A few years ago, Babilonia realized that Kuluva had become a designer when she started seeing posts about Tumber & Tipsy on Facebook.

"I had no idea he was a designer!" she said. "I started checking it out, and we reconnected, and we've become great friends.

"I love the direction he takes. Very out of the box, very flamboyant; he's all about the sparkle, and I love the glitter and glitz."

Kuluva gave us a few hints about what he'll be showing in February.

"We're going to stay with our esthetic of being a fun, party brand, but we're also updating to a cocktail chic," he said. "We're mixing a vintage esthetic with our contemporary design."

"I have a T-shirt from Tumbler & Tipsy," Rippon said. "It's of Michael's dog, and I love it. I want to get the sweatpants too. They are crazy. I really like the line. I think it's classic design with extravagant detail."

"We were in chic vintage," Babilonia said. "I was thrilled that he thought of me to be part of it. I'm much older than these young skaters and I felt like the mother hen. I fell in love with Adam -- he was just cracking me up. Mirai is such a sweetheart. It was nice to see them having fun."

For the photo shoot, Kuluva dressed the skaters in vintage clothing, meant to evoke the era of compulsory figures. Nagasu and Rippon will have a special feature, and there will be a commercial coming out which includes the skaters.

"We skated on plastic ice for the shoot, which was a crazy experience," Rippon said. "I brought an old pair of skates so I didn't ruin the ones I'll skate in at nationals. For the first few minutes, I felt like Bambi. But I worked it regardless."

"It was super fun, and it was insanely hard," Nagasu said. "It was my first time skating on glice. It doesn't have the same gliding effect that you get on real ice, so we would all be trying to look photogenic while trying to skate at the same time."

Kuluva expects Sarah Hughes, Sasha Cohen and Tara Lipinski to attend his show in New York, and Nagasu and Rippon may also be there if their training schedules permit.

For the show in Los Angeles -- to be held March 15 at the Cathedral of St. Vibiana -- Kuluva is hoping to have some kind of ice runway.

"We're working out something," he said. "We might be able to have skaters coming down the ice, indoors. That would be the first time it's ever happened."

By the way, Rippon spent the end of the year in Europe, doing a lightning-fast tour and skating in shows in Germany and Italy.

"My flight got delayed, so I had to fly out the same day of the show," he wrote from Italy. "I got in in the morning and performed in the afternoon. I PASSED OUT when it was over. But I survived."

Stronger Ice

Babilonia has been involved in fashion herself, designing a line of skating clothes.

"I dabbled in fashion for adult women skaters," she told us. "Women would come up to me and tell me they love what I wear. It's a simple chiffon skirt, very ballet-inspired, in different colors. I've gone in a different direction right now, but I'd love to revisit it when I have more time."

Babilonia is working with a ghost writer, going through journals and photos as she finishes up a book proposal.

"I'm going deep with this one," she said. "This is not a Tai and Randy book; this is me alone. I'm ready to go deep on a lot of subjects that I just sort of touched on (in Forever Two As One, which she wrote with Randy Gardner). It's draining, it's scary, but I'm at that point in my life where I'm ready to do it.

"I've always been pretty honest with my family and friends. It's not that I owe it to anyone, but I feel comfortable with opening up. I'll talk about my alcohol recovery and touch on those subjects."

As part of her work on the book, Babilonia recently re-watched On Thin Ice, which originally aired on television in 1990. We asked if it was bizarre to watch a drama about yourself.

"It was so surreal," she said. "It was my life crammed into two hours, the movie of the week. Some parts were glamorized, some stuff was left out. All in all, they got it pretty much on."

Babilonia praised Jennifer Kirk, who has written with great candor about her eating disorder.

"I'm so proud of Jenny Kirk," Babilonia said. "I don't want people to bottle it up and not make it."

Babilonia says she separates the "Tai and Randy" part of her life from her personal life, which includes being a mother to her 17-year-old son, Scout.

"Right now, I'm Scout's mom," she said. "Tai the skater is a different person from Scout's mom."

Scout is a talented doubles tennis player.

"He has found his passion," Babilonia said. "He's been playing for nine or 10 years. You can't keep him off the court. For a child or a teen, any sport is so important. It teaches you life lessons."

Another photo shoot

The winter solstice drenched New England in an apocalypse of rain and wind on Dec. 21. In the midst of it, at a rink near Boston, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir did an interesting photo shoot. We're not allowed to reveal details yet, but you can read more about it in an upcoming issue of SKATING magazine.

Inside, out of the rain, the rink was bitterly cold. Coach Bobby Martin handed out hand warmers to all. Castelli huddled into a winter coat between shots and sipped at a big thermos of hot tea.

"It's so cold in here!" she said. "And, of course, I decided to wear a sleeveless dress. Isn't the rain crazy? It's the revenge of the Mayans."

Once the shot and lighting were set, Shnapir threw Castelli into one Salchow after another for the camera. She was a trooper.

Pack well for the U.S. championships!

Sarah and Drew
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