Designer Vera Wang reviews skating outfits from Olympics past

Friday, February 12, 2010

NEW YORK -- Designer Vera Wang knows the ins and outs of competitive figure skating outfits because at one time, she wore them.

As a child, Wang had visions of Olympic gold when she did all those early morning workouts at the rink and traveled to countless competitions, including the annual national championships in 1968. But she didn't make the U.S. team, traded her blades for high heels and hasn't looked back, building an all-encompassing lifestyle brand that includes fashion, accessories, tabletop housewares and stationery.

Still, skating clearly has a place in her heart and she keeps a hand in it by designing costumes for some top contenders, including Evan Lysacek, a favorite to medal in men's figure skating in Vancouver, as well as previous Olympians Nancy Kerrigan and Michelle Kwan.

U.S. Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan performs during the opening of "Nancy Kerrigan and Friends" at Northeastern University's Matthews Arena in Boston in this 1994 file photo. Kerrigan's skating dress was designed by Vera Wang. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa,File)

Wang got back on the ice for the first time in years this past fall with Lysacek and enjoyed it.

But the session wasn't about her, it was about him -- understanding how his body moves and his particular balance of artistry and athleticism.

"You wouldn't want someone to lose Olympic gold because their sleeve ripped off," Wang said.

Other considerations: The outfit has to sparkle like evening wear but function like workout gear; it has to stand up to the considerable wind generated by skaters' speed; and it must be show-stopping from every angle, unlike a Hollywood-starlet gown that is usually photographed straight from the front or back.

"This is more pressure than an Oscar dress in a strange way," she said.

The costume also has to complement the music. "I have to have the music for a skating costume," she said, "and that's not the way I normally work."

Wang, who has a spot in the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame thanks to her costumes, shares some thoughts on some outfits from Olympics past -- only Kerrigan's is her own design:

At the 1994 games in Lillehammer, Norway, Nancy Kerrigan wore a white outfit with black illusion sleeves, a trick Wang also uses on the red carpet to create a sexy, suggestive silhouette without baring much skin.

The clean lines and geometric vibe also were purposeful. "I thought it made her look tougher," Wang said.

Michelle Kwan made a "gutsy" move in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, by wearing a periwinkle stretch-velvet dress, Wang said. It was a look reminiscent of Dorothy Hamill. (While she often collaborated with Kwan, this was by another designer.)

"It's a bit retro to go that simple," Wang said. "It was a statement of confidence."

Irina Slutskaya of Russia might have been trying to channel Dorothy Hamill in her glittery, red dress in Turin, Italy, but Wang says only the dark, short hair captured the former gold medalist's spirit. Slutskaya's jewels are more traditional for a later generation than Hamill, who flavored outfits that were sleeker and understated.

Back in 1976 at Innsbruck, Austria, Dorothy Hamill let her moves, not her sparse pink outfit, make the statement, Wang said.

The lower neckline, however, did show off her hair, which Wang describes as "the wedge haircut that inspired the country."

American Sasha Cohen is a chameleon when it comes to her costumes. "You never know what Sasha is up to. ... One minute she's 'Carmen,' the next minute she's Gisele."

At the Salt Lake City games in 2002, the Carmen look was a red number with a sunburst-yellow hemline. "That dress was very beautiful," Wang said.

Ukrainian skater Oksana Baiul liked "a lot of everything" on her dresses, and a frilly pink outfit from 1994 was no exception, Wang said. The fringe, the fur trim, the beads were all very much part of a trend of the Eastern Europeans of that time.

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