31 January 2006

totes an interview: nick verreos

If you don't recognize Nick Verreos by now, you're clearly not reading this blog enough. As one of six remaining designers on this season of Project Runway, Nick has brought unique style and sass to a show that has more than its fair share of memorable characters. Coming to the show from L.A., he and his partner David Paul run the fashion line Nikolaki, which specializes in the same elegant, sleek design we've come to expect from Nick each week on Project Runway. It's also worth noting that Nick may be the most gracious celebrity on earth-- in nearly every interview, and even on his blog, he's sure to thank his fans for "their kind words and emails of support." And all you have to do is hop over to Blogging Project Runway or anywhere else to see he's got plenty of them. I asked Nick a few questions about his beginnings in fashion, the boys of 35D, and most importantly, exactly how you spell "whickety-whack."

Katey: You had starlets wearing your dresses and mentions in major magazines well before Project Runway. What made you decide to drop everything and do the show?

I established my line over four years ago, and I have been a struggling designer ever since. You can't do anything without LOTS of money and backing, so it's very difficult. But I have been lucky to have actresses and singers such as Ali Landry, Patricia Arquette, Eva Longoria and Nikka Costa wear my dresses in the past, which makes for a nice "press package," but doesn't add cash into my business account. My participation in Project Runway was done as a result of a dare from friends. I took their dare and to my surprise, I became one of the 16 finalists. I thought that it would be a great way to showcase an LA designer and to try to trampoline my career to another level--and to show in NY!

Katey: Did you watch season one of Project Runway? Did you feel any pressure to be like one of the previous contestants, or were you expecting someone to be a “new Kara Saun” or “new Jay”?

Nick: I did watch the first season. I didn't feel any pressure to be a "character." I just went in thinking I would be myself, not realizing how, at times, I would be the "go to guy" for one liners! In the beginning , we did sort of wonder if Marla, for example was "the Wendy" and Zulema was "the Kara Saun"; but how wrong were we!

Katey: How were your expectations for the show met, and how were you surprised by how it went?

Nick: First, I am surprised that we actually had to sew everything ourselves. Honestly I was under the impression that there was a secret behind-the-scenes room of seamstresses that sewed for us. It just seemed so unreal that we could put together a full gown, for example, in such a short amount of time(without SOME help), I quickly realized this was not the case and just said to myself "Oh well, I can do this!" Don't get me wrong, I sew and am quite good (one of the classes I teach deals with 3 hours of sewing!), but working designers do not sew. Not because they can't or think it is below them, but mainly just because it is impossible to do both and run a business. Believe me, I'm sure Michael Kors hasn't sat down at a sewing machine in years!

My expectations of the show were, first and foremost, that it was a show based on talent: "Can you create a dress in a short amount of time? If you can't, then you're OUT!" The best is judged and consequently the worst is out, in other words. However, what I did not expect, I think out of naivete, was that crucial "reality show" ingredient.

Katey: Your designs seem to be based around simpler concepts, like use of fabric and styles of draping, unlike a costume design background or a more high-fashion focus. Do you think this helped you in the challenges, with adapting your style to each challenge’s individual demands?

Nick: Exactly. I could not have said it better. My design sensibility is simple , elegant yet sexy; while exemplifying my knowledge of draping. I tried, with each challenge to add my "Nick sensibility" so the audience and the judges would know that it was one of my designs right away. Established designers take years to cultivate their own "stamp" which makes the person know that the garment is a "Narciso Rodriguez" or a "Balenciaga" for example, so I am still trying to cultivate my "Nick Verreos" stamp.

But simplicity cannot be confused with easy. It is much, much harder to drape a beautiful column dress, than masquerade an easily constructed garment with some whickety whack trim. And sometimes the latter can initially be viewed as complicated and more advanced than the former.

Katey: With you in fashion design and your sister Miss Venezuela, were your parents at all involved in fashion or modeling? What has been their influence been on your career?

Nick: My parents were not involved with fashion or modeling. My dad was a career foreign service officer . My mother was a housewife as well as worked in Hotel Management for Hilton Hotels. However they always supported us in whatever endeavor my sister and I wanted to pursue. In fact, my dad became rather emotional(in a good way) when I told him that I wanted to go to Fashion Design School after graduating from UCLA. He told me that he wished he would have had the opportunity to attend Art School when it was time for him to go to College, but that was not an option at that time for the son of a Greek immigrant.

Katey: You said in your audition tape that your sister is your muse. What else inspires you in your design?

Music, Roman and Greek sculptures, art, such as those fabulous Goya and John Singer Sargeant paintings of elegant women in imposing gowns inspire me. I am also influenced by what people wear in Metropolitan cities such as Paris, London, New York and Tokyo. Finally, I love all those gaudy Bollywood movies for their amazing use of color!

Katey: Reading all the commentary and discussion about the show, have you
developed a thick skin about criticism? How do you deal with people like me, with absolutely no background in fashion, who pass judgment on your designs?

Nick: You have to develop a thick skin for the criticism. I have said before that I am very passionate and emotional about what I design so I cannot lie and say that it does not affect me, but I have developed a thick skin for criticisms. Also I've stopped reading those blogs that are out there. I know there are some creative and good ones, but I decided enough was enough. Plus, I don't have any time right now. Designers such as Valentino , Karl Lagerfeld, and so on get criticized all the time, and they just go on creating. Clothing design is such a personal and individual thing, some people are going to love your designs and other people will hate the same designs. Criticism comes with the territory.

Katey: When you said “this ain’t my first time at the rodeo,” I just about fell out of my chair. Where do all these pop culture references come from? Did you try to play up your personality for the cameras or is this the everyday Nick? And most importantly, how do you spell “whiggidy-whack”? No one seems to know.

Nick: Just ask any of my friends and they will tell you: "The Nick you see on TV is the Nick we have known for years!" I am a sponge to pop culture, 80's TV shows , movies and sayings that people use. And obviously all this affects me when I want to talk about something or someone. Frankly, I really don't know how I come up with some of those crazy sayings!

In regard to "whickety whack"--that's what I think is the correct spelling. It's something I came up with to describe something that is both tacky and "whack"(slang for 'crazy'). For example: Tacky trim is "whickety whack", or those over-the-top Quinciniera (Sweet Fifteen) dresses some girls wear are definitely "whickety whack".

Katey: You mentioned in another interview that you and Kara were close, but we see so little of that on the show. What else aren’t we seeing?

Nick: I really bonded with Kara instantly. The fact that I have had an international background always draws me to people who are not from the U.S. And Kara is from South Africa as you know. Her accent and the way she spoke just slayed me sometimes because she seemed to be cast out of a Jane Austen movie, she's very "Period" in her speech. In addition, early on , she would constantly be asking me for my opinion on her designs/creations. Therefore I was humbled that she respected my opinion even though she barely knew me.

Katey: Do you watch any other reality TV?

Nick: I do, but not many. I loved the early seasons of "Real World," but then it got old and now I cannot stand watching these inane kids get drunk, have sex, complain about why one cast member won't have sex with them and so on and so on. I can feel my brain cells slowly departing my head! I do love "America's Next Top Model" and "Amazing Race."

Katey: How has it been watching this season? Do you watch the show every week? What do your friends and family think of how you appear on the show?

Nick: It is really weird. Along with the rest of America, I am also watching the episodes for the very first time. I remember what occurred but I have no idea how it will all be edited. I sort of just sit back with my very close friends every week and watch , with one hand half-covering my face, as in "Oh Lord, what are they going to show next?" My friends and family , as I stated above, love the show and see no difference between the Nick on the show and the Nick they know. It is especially cute to know my nephew and niece watch the show as well. My sister will call me to describe how emotional and involved they get. When I won the Barbie challenge, for example, and actually mentioned my 5 year old niece on TV, well, that just catapulted me into "Favorite Uncle Forever" status. Finally my students also think it is rather exciting (and cool) to see their Instructor on TV.

Katey: Do you think that we get a fair idea of who you really are from watching the show? Were there things edited out that you were disappointed not to see on the show?

Nick: I feel the editing has been fair, at least to me. The show portrays me as I am, although for the sake of TV drama, they take an emotion and exploit it to a whole other level. The most unusual people stop me on the street, at airports, restaurants--people who you would not expect to be watching the show--accountants, housewives, musicians--and they all say the same thing to me: how emotional they feel for me, how they love my designs, and so on. The viewing audience is intelligent and I think they can tell I am "real"and somehow I bring out this uncensored emotional feeling in people when they see me.

Katey: Which was your favorite challenge so far? Other than the Barbie dress, which garment are you most proud of?

Nick: I am really proud of the first challenge outfit I created: Bias-pleated muslin jacket and backless gown. The Nicky Hilton Aqua-blue silk dress I made I am also particularly proud of. These two, along with the Barbie one, really reflect who I am as a designer.

Katey: So, Sasha Cohen? I’ve never seen anyone so excited about figure skating. Did you have to keep it a secret that you’d met her before the show aired? How did she react to you being such a fan?

Nick: OK, here we go: my partner , David, has been a rabid Figure Skating fan for over 15 years. Along with his group of friends, they go to all the Nationals, watch all the events on TV, etc. I have felt like the "Football Wife" when him and his friends come over and watch all the Figure Skating competitions. I would just sit back and mock them and belittle their "silly obsession." Cut to the challenge and I realize that we are to design a costume for one of the top Figure Skaters in the US and the World, Sasha Cohen. Well, as you saw, I just about died! All I kept thinking about was David and his friends and what they would say when they found out that this was one of my challenges. It's called Karma, I guess. I kept it a secret until the show aired and after it was over I handed them the autographs I had received for them from Sasha! They loved it. Sasha was classy and an ultimate professional, and responded kindly to my obvious excitement upon meeting her.

Katey: I keep seeing pictures of you and the other designers hanging out. Are you all still part of each others’ lives, professionally if nothing else? Who are you in close contact with?

Nick: Whenever I go back to NY, I hang out with Daniel Vosovic as well as Emmett McCarthy. Here in Los Angeles, I have kept in touch with Raymundo Baltazar and John Wade. When we go out together or individually , it's like a scene from "Mean Girls." We have a lot of fun. It only gets "hazy" because we will get recognized sometimes and then it can look like we were having a "Project Runway Reunion" or that we just want to go out together so people will recognize us, which is so NOT the idea. They are just great guys to hang out with: witty , funny and fashionable!

Katey: Tim Gunn-- we all love him over here. Can you give us any exclusive info?

Nick: I have to second that. First and foremost, as a fellow Instructor and contestant on the show, I truly respect and value his opinions and thoughts.

Exclusive info? He is hilarious!! Tim has a great sense of humor as you can see in the episodes where he catches Santino doing his impression of Tim. He loved it. He also, as you can imagine, has impeccable taste for the arts, collecting art, and so on.

Katey: The show makes it seem that you and the other residents of 35D are pretty close. Did competitive tension get in the way at all?

Nick: At first , we were like "Fraternity Brothers": in fact we dubbed ourselves "The Boys of 35D", we likened ourselves to an early 90's boy band(Santino was, of course, the lead singer!) As the challenges went on, the competitive tension became more apparent, but I think that, at least for me , I wanted us to remain in the show as long as possible, above any of the other designers.

Katey: What is going on with Nikolaki these days? What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Nick: Along with my design partner, David Paul, I am continuing with my line NIKOLAKI, which I have shown in Los Angeles Fashion Week for several seasons now, and we are busy getting orders out to several boutiques here in Los Angeles, such as "Dove" on Robertson and "Sirens & Sailors" in Silver Lake (which occured before the show even aired). I have also been busy designing gowns for several actresses for upcoming Red Carpet events. So expect to see a lot of Nick Verreos and Nikolaki. I would like to take a slow, yet steady path of growth for Nikolaki.

Katey: What’s the most important thing you’ve taken out of your participation on the show?

Nick: Hopefully, it has taken my name and my designs outside of the Southern California microscope of fashion to a wider U.S. audience. I am not just an "LA Designer," I want to be known as an "American Designer." Before, some clients were apt to question paying $1500 for a gown, for example, now I don't have to argue it. Besides this, the most important thing I took away from doing Project Runway is that I had a BLAST! I always used to joke to my friends that when God was giving out "Good Luck Tickets", I must have been in the bathroom or at the bar ordering a drink! When I got chosen to do this show, I finally felt that God gave me that "Good Luck Ticket"(and I am not even that religious!)

Katey: Finally, what are you into these days in terms of music, movies, etc.
Any recommendations?

Nick: I am really into the new Jamiroquai "Dynamite," as well as Natasha Bedingfield, Sia, Royksopp , and Bebel Gilberto and any of the Hed Kandi compilations from the UK. I have to have music when I drape and do my patterns. In terms of movies, I haven't had much time to see any new films, I recently rented "Cinderella Man," which I loved, and of course I did see "Brokeback Mountain," which I liked as well--Cowboy Boots, Western Shirts, and oversized Belt Buckles: I am so all over that!


In case that wasn't enough Nick for you, here are some links to keep you satisfied:

Bravo's Project Runway website

Nikolaki Design
Nick's blog
Queerty interview
PlanetOut interview
MyScene Barbie interview

Anything but whickety-whack,


Laura K said...

Great interview, Katey! I'm especially glad to confirm the spelling of whickety whack!

Justin said...

Thank YHWH he hangs out with my man Emmett! And I wonder: when he met Nicky Hilton, did he mentioned that his mom worked for her dad? Or would that have been awk?

Jan the Dan Fan said...

Brilliant designer and friend!

His friends must have been thrilled with the surprise autographs.

nsa said...

awesome interview!!

Summer said...

That interview really makes me like him. He seems down to earth and very talented. Great interview