On Tuesday, Beth and I had the delight of talking with Nick Verreos, co-designer of Nikolaki Design and Project Runway star. Nick spent the latter part of his childhood in the Bay Area and graduated from Mills High School. The three of us chatted about fashion, San Francisco Bay Area style, Project Runway, Nick's blog, wearable trends for winter and spring as well as fashion tips for moms (for the SVMoms crowd).
The conversation began with Nick apologizing for running late as he had a call from Bravo, although Beth and I were glad for a few minutes of extra time to get our act together. We began talking briefly about how he began blogging and he mentioned that he writes for Frontier magazine. That's when I began typing. Beth continued with most of the questions that we had prepared...
Nick Verreos: "Frontier is affectionally called a Gay rag and I write fashion articles for the 'style-challenged gay guy'. There are more out there than you might think!"
Beth Blecherman: "What is your primary inspiration behind your Nikolaki line?"
NV: "I started it in 2001. It was only because I had gone into a 'cattle call' that Henri Bendel had looking for West Coast talent. It was the first time ever. I'd been making dresses for a while, but not selling them. This was the perfect opportunity because it was really difficult to get into a lot of stores. It's difficult without having the rep, so I thought 'let me take this chance' and I've been doing it since. This spring, I did a Grecian thing - I wanted to concentrate on the draping. I'm half Greek so I'm very influenced by the Meditteranean and the Grecian goddess thing. The goddess gown has become a trend, so I wanted to highlight that and show what I can do. So my dream was Cleopatra 2008. She's going out looking for Mark Anthony - what would she pack in her Louis Vuitton trunk? And if she couldn't find a Mark Anthony, she sure would find a lot of fine looking Roman men!"
BB: (after we're all done laughing) "I was drooling over the Smashbox collection."
NV: "Now I just call that part of the archives, but people are still pulling from that in articles. At that time, I was dealing with assymmetrical and fishtail hems because I was so influenced by that design I did in 2003. I'm very proud of the fact that Smashbox was part of LA Fashion week. The Factor brothers who created it invited me to show there, so it was nice."
BB: "Are they available in the Bay Area?"
NV: "We are interviewing showroom reps when I get back to LA to have a wider audience. Before [Project Runway], I was here at Nordstrom and did a little trunk show and we did well in the Savvy department... Hopefully soon I will be back. I'd like to be in more boutiques, so we're looking for reps who have a personal relationship with boutiques that are a little more exclusive. We scaled back [after Nordstrom]. For smaller companies, it's not really feasible."
BB: "How would you define San Francisco Bay Area style?"
NV: "It's such a stylish city - I've always thought of it like a mini-New York or mini-Los Angeles... I sort-of grew up in the Peninsula, near where Burlingame is, and I've always said it's a very European city and the women who lived here have a great sense of style. I always looked up to the socialite divas. As a young boy, I'd always look at the photos from the opening of the ballet and the symphony. I definitely think that San Francisco has a history in terms of its women being very stylish, and I venture say that even more than Los Angeles."
BB: "We're big into layering."
NV: "That's really crucial in terms of style, and that's why you see a lot more individual statements of style. I think the weather has a lot to do with that. I think in LA, you can just throw some jeans and a shirt on and call it a day."
BB: "When you were on Project Runway, did you feel you were adequately able to express your unique vision in the designs you created, or did you feel stunted by the constraints they placed upon you and the others?"
NV: "I've never been asked that before! It depended on the challenge. It was about how I could put my own stamp on it. If it was a dress of flowers, I wanted to know how I could make it look like my work. You sort-of go into auto-pilot. For example, when I did the Niki Hilton challenge, I already had the dress in my mind because I'd already made one like it. This season, Rami, who won the first challenge, that dress he made, he had that same dress in his recent collection. Of course you do that. I think the only constraints were within the definition of the challenge. You want to put your own individual style in. The crazy, whacked-out designers will do the whacked-out styles."
BB: "What made you decide to put up a blog?"
NV: "I decided to do that because I started getting tons and tons of email and letters and messages in my regular web site. It was a need from the fans to want more - something other than a web site - wanting to know what you're doing on a daily basis. It was a mixture of that and a sort of diary. With my partner, David, we started realizing, wouldn't it be nice to have a sort of diary? When we look back and see all of the craziness that we did at that time... when I'm old in my house in Palm Springs with my pool boy, it was a place for the fans to go...."
"I setup the web site as a place for the fans to go and [Bravo] wanted the designers to have that. It's great - on a weekly basis, I put things that I've done, where I've gone. For example, this trip to San Francisco will be up there... I'm surprised again that the steam hasn't let out of it, and I'm very humbled by it. Believe me, when the show first started, people told me 'your fifteen minutes are ticking'. It gave me an impetus to get the ball going and see what other avenues this wonderful opportunity could give for me. I'm not like a 22 year-old spring chicken, so this was a fantastic thing to have happen at what others might call a later stage in life. I took what they said as 'what can I do here?' and I had really good people around me deciding what to do. Just recently, somebody asked me to do a show sort-of real world with favorite personalities from reality shows and have us stay in fabulous shows in Miami Beach - it's not about me, so I respectfully declined. I make sure it's always about fashion. You will never see me do celebrity mud wresting."
Sarah Granger: "I've been a figure skater for many years and loved the Sasha Cohen episode. Have you seen any of the Grand Prix events so far this season, and if so, what you've thought about the costumes?"
NV: "Two days ago, I just watched Trophee Eric Bompard."
SG: "I haven't seen that yet. I'm behind on TiVo. I saw Cup of China though."
NV: "I'm very happy that Johnny Weir won the men's [at Cup of China]. I'm still a big fan. There's a couple - Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent, the American couple who made 4th in France - they contacted me a year ago and wanted me to design their costumes. I just never got around to it, and I wish I would've, but they contacted me and they loved what I did for Project Runway and then things got crazy - I was living out of a suitcase from event to event or speaking engagement while designing my line. I wish I would've taken advantage of it, but I still would love to do that..."
"Especially with designing figure skating costumes, I think you really have to be an expert on that. I think there was a little bit of insecurity in that. I'd want to bring in some experts. A lot of times, they hire designers to design for theatre, but yet we don't have the experience in regards to the complexities in what you really need. The fact that it has to be stretchy or ready for a quick change. A lot of times, designers have to think about that as opposed to imposing their design idea on them. I've been asked to maybe do a uniform for a hotel - you have to be careful though. Take Hotel Monaco for example - I love the hotel, but their uniforms are "uck" they're not very useful - 'we look like we should be at the maui hilton'. You can't really impose your style there.
BB: "Heidi Klum [of Project Runway] is a great inspiration for moms in terms of both style when pregnant and as a mom."
NV: "I just saw her at backstage for the fashion show... and just looking at her, she's back to a size 4/2 and it's like 'oh my gosh' - if I was a mother, it would be difficult - a lot of times, it's unrealistic - she looks amazing, but she's got a personal chef, she's got trainers... every mom doesn't have the luxuries."
BB: "How does the average mom bring out her Grecian goddess?"
NV: "Simple jersey dress, wrap dresses are flattering on every type, or a black wrap dress with draping detail. It doesn't have to be overly Grecian or costumy. A lot of it is for the runway and editorial, looking for a top that's draped in a different way that suggests Grecian theme like a sculpture. Put a couple of gold bracelets or a necklace with some strappy heels, that's a way that a mom can bring out their inner Grecian goddess diva."
SG: "How about every day tips for moms?"
NV: "Get color. It's all about color. This fall, all the designers put out royal blues, turquoises and reds. Get a fabulous peacoat, but buy it in a turquoise blue then it's an item. I wish women would want to be noticed more - in a good way - I just get pissed off when we get people who just want to blend in. I love when women bring out emotion... and also get a patent leather belt. You can create a look that way in a cinch - even if you don't have an hourglass figure, you can create one - you can wrap it around a little shirt dress... like the rage for the summer. You can update it with a 2-3" black belt and it's ok. You look at some of the so-called 'plus-size girls' like Jennifer Hudson or Sara Ramirez from Grey's Anatomy and these are good items they can have for fall - it just sort-of updates your wardrobe."
BB: "What are your favorite fall/winter trends?"
NV: "Versace for fall was really colorful and I think that sort-of when a lot of designers, especially when it trickled down to Club Monaco and Banana Republic, it inspired them to add a little color to the fall and winter collections. I liked the trend that's a little more ladylike and more fitted, although I like some shapeless dresses, I like that it's going more into Grace Kelly Hitchcock movie aspects. A lot of designers go to vintage stores for inspiration."
SG: "How do you avoid being too 80's and frumpy with the spring lines coming out?"
NV: "Pick one item and take a good look in the mirror - 'does this work? Do I look stupid?' I do that all the time. And another thing is to dress age-appropriately. A lot of times, more covered-up can be more sexy than revealing everything. I think a lot of women want to dress like a junior but their body type isn't a junior any more. Not too long ago, I walked into an American Eagle store and all the sudden, I stopped and listened to the music and I'm like 'Nick, you've got to get the hell out of here.' I had an epiphany where I said, 'Nick, you're not going to go on Real World... you need to go to Barneys Men.' You can find what fits you better when you go to other stores that are cut for your size and the fact that you're 35 and not 18 - they use different fit models. A lot of time that empire waist seam ends up in the wrong place because it was made for a 16 year-old girl who has a shorter ratio from shoulder-to-bust. Go to Arden B. They'll have the same sort of style but it's cut for a women who's developed."
BB: "Any more suggestions for stores where moms can shop?"
"Arden B is more contemporary and you can find great stuff. I love Zara - it's more of a European cut and those are the great stores. Just make sure you take a good look in the mirror and that things fit right. It's so important to fit right. Get a tailor. Not everything that's made will fit you. If it does, you're lucky they used the same fit model as that particular company, but that's not always [the case]. All these shows have 'what not to wear' but I still walk on the streets and see this horrendous, atrocious style."
BB: "I know - too many people are still wearing 'mom jeans'."
NV: "Don't wear them, they're mom jeans! They're just too bubbled... Now that I've been traveling more, I've seen that not everyone is this wannabe style icon of LA or NY or SF - there's a whole range of people that they somehow missed that show about not wearing mom jeans! Explain, as my mom would say."
BB: "What do you think is next in terms of eco fashion?"
NV: "I just wrote a little thing on [my blog] for Bravo. I think a lot of manufacturers are coming out with lines, such as Levi's with their organic cotton jeans. You start small with natural cotton, hemp, there are so many lines that do that. Barneys and Macy's have special sections. The more and more people that ask for it, they will see that there are choices, starting with jeans and t-shirts made without chemicals and with vegetable dyes. There are not a lot of gowns yet. Linda Loudermilk is [helping], but I've yet to see something that actually looks wearable. I think things will improve as the years go by and as people get more knowledgeable about that they can do that. Linda Loudermilk is going there, but for now I think it's more in the sportswear and activewear... a little granola-crunch."
After that, we said our thanks - that was all of our questions. Stay tuned for the next post about the party Nick graciously hosted for Kamalaspa.
(Photos: Nick Verreos, top left; David Paul, model, Nick Verreos, middle right; Sarah Granger, Nick Verreos, Beth Blecherman, bottom left. Questions: written by Sarah Granger, with help from Beth Blecherman and Sarah Dreyer.)