What with Season 6 of Project Runway basing itself in L.A., and the constant stream of "How come we don't see more PR designers on the red carpet?" questions that we get, we figured now would be a good time to sit down with Season 2 favorite Nick Verreos, whose glamorous and dramatic NIKOLAKI dresses have found their way on to the red carpet more than once. Bitch has been there and done that and we figured there was no one better to get the inside scoop on red carpet fashion.
Most people don’t understand how difficult it is to have one of their gowns worn on the red carpet.
A lot people just don’t know. I was sort of naive about that up until maybe, I would say, five years ago. I started catching on right before I did Project Runway. I was enlightened very quickly in terms of the dressing Hollywood game, the whole industry and business of it.
Well, now you have a lot of experience with that. You even had one of your gowns worn by Marlee Matlin to the 2008 Academy Awards, which is a major achievement for any designer, period.
Thank you. When people ask me about that, I feel like I’ve died and gone to Heaven because I really, I know it might sound schmaltzy, I really did feel that I would go through my life without having that happen. It was a wonderful accomplishment and something that both David and I felt very happy about. We realize how amazingly difficult it is, especially more so now. It’s become such an industry, so competitive, and you’re dealing with multimillion conglomerates. It’s a lottery; it really is like a lottery. The red carpet for the Oscars is the largest catwalk of the world.
OK, let’s go through the whole process. You design your gowns, there’s an event coming up, who do you contact? PR agencies? Stylists? How do you get your dress out on the red carpet?
In general terms, there are PR agencies that represent the designers and there’s also show rooms that mainly act as sales reps between stores and the designers, but these show rooms have their own in-house PR divisions too. The designers hire a PR agency to represent them, then publicists, managers or stylists for the celebrities go to these PR agencies, that’s one way of doing it. They have a list of these PR agencies, so they’ll go to these agencies and in these agencies there will be maybe twenty designers being represented.
They walk in and there are racks and racks of clothes. A lot of times, also, the celebrities have their own stylists, so the stylists act as their own show room. For example, you’ve seen the Rachel Zoe show, and how she has hundreds of gowns in her office. Stylists like her will go to the PR agencies and pull the gowns they want, have them in her office and have the celebrities go to their office to take a look at them.
Now for me, it’s different, I’ve been very lucky in that I haven’t really used a PR agency to represent me. I’ve been just out there. I go to a lot of events and I've done my red carpet events throughout these years and also because I get recognized for being on Project Runway that has really benefited me. The PR agencies get in touch with me, even though that’s not the norm, because of all my contacts, they reach out to me directly. Sometimes doing red carpet events, actresses will ask for my card and mention that they would love to wear my dresses, they would love to see what I have in my own show room. Without realizing it, I sort of bypassed that PR agency aspect of it.
Sometimes we see amazing dresses from less known designers and we wish some fabulous actress would wear them, but we tend to see the same designers over and over again on the red carpet. Do those PR agencies and stylists tend to favor certain designers?
A lot of times they do, but a lot of times it also has to do with the actress. Especially when it comes to high-profile events, such as the Oscars, then, it’s all about Armani, Dior, Elie Saab, et cetera, et cetera. The same old designers are being brought up. The PR agencies representing these designers make a huge push, especially the European designers and companies. They set up suites during award seasons at the Park Plaza or the Four Seasons. They make appointments with all the publicists and stylists of all these celebrities and they get them to come by the show room and take a look at what they have.
Yes, it is the usual suspects when it comes to the Oscars, the Emmys…it would be nice to see other names out there, but it’s very difficult because you’re competing with these top designers.
I’ll give you an example, for the last Oscars, a fabulous stylist that we worked with before came to us and her client was nominated for best documentary film maker and wanted to work with us because she liked our gowns, and again, it’s the relationship that I build with these stylists. She said she wanted to come over and pull some gowns because she thought her client would look great in some of our gowns.
She came and pulled some gowns, and of course, before we knew it, she decided she didn’t want to wear NIKOLAKI. She went behind the stylist’s back and was able to get Marc Jacobs, Alberta Ferretti...all these top designers. So how can Nick and David can even compete? And this is somebody who wasn’t even going to get photographed on the red carpet, but that’s who you’re competing with.
And that leads us to our next question. Sometimes you see a celebrity wearing something that’s so not for her, but she’s wearing it anyway because of the label.
Oh, yeah, that can happen. Once we were in a fitting with a top actress for an event. She tried on several of our gowns and she looked fabulous in them and just happens to be that her manager was sitting there with his blackberry and mentioned “Well, you know, so and so will be wearing Armani.”
Well, that got immediately into her head and she felt she had to wear Armani too. A lot of the actresses feel that there's some cache in wearing these top names and it makes it very hard for up and coming, young designers to have any chance at all, but that’s when I feel even more honored when actresses don’t go that route.
Another thing is that a lot of these gowns have already been seen. Many times when I’m doing my TV Guide fashion wrap, one of the stylists that I’m with who actually styles Angelina Jolie always says, “Oh, I saw that dress when we were shopping for Angelina;” some other actress chose it. A lot of these gowns make the rounds.
Not to mention that a lot of the actresses are thinking about a possible endorsement deal, that’s another thing put into the mix. I heard that a lot of actresses want to wear the Diors, the Givenchys, the Armanis, the bigger names because of the possibility of them getting associated with such a huge brand name and maybe in six months they will get a deal for the Armani sunglasses or perfume campaign.
They feel that if the designers got such great publicity by them wearing those gowns, that might lead to something else. It has happened to several of them. For example, Charlize Theron started wearing Dior looking fabulous and all of a sudden they said “You know what? We’re going to make her our spokesperson.” Suddenly, she only wears Dior for huge events, it’s all in the contract. Beyonce with Armani; she started to wear Armani out of her choosing and her stylist’s choosing, then, she gets an Armani contract. I don’t have that incentive. I don’t have a perfume line yet. I just have my hopefully beautiful gowns.
We also see a lot of gorgeous gowns on the red carpet but they fit the celebrity so poorly. How can that happen with so many people involved taking care of her?
[Laughs] Oh, gosh. That is odd. Well, first of all, most of the samples are usually runway sizes. Two years ago, it used to be a size 4, now it’s a size 2, darling. So when you read those articles about models getting back to real sizes -- “real women are back,''-- no, it’s not happening. Fifteen-year-old Slovakian girls wearing a size 0 has become the norm.
Those gowns are the runway samples and those are the samples that are set up in the show room and go around from actress to actress and that’s why, in a way, they feel they’re forced to be that size because that’s the only way they can fit into the sample sizes. Many times they love the gown so much and they just want to wear them, and sometimes it is a girl who’s a four on top and six on the bottom, but honey, lord knows she is going to stuff herself into that four even if it kills her.
Most of the PR agencies have their local tailors to have everything adjusted and fixed, and of course, the stylists always have that on hand, to have it altered if necessary, whether or not they're a good tailor or a good seamstress, that’s another story. You’re never going to see a Valentino or an Elie Saab with fitting issues. They send seamstresses, especially during the Oscars and the Emmys…they set up maybe two, three weeks in advance. Once it’s confirmed that a particular actress will wear their gown, they’ll fly across the Atlantic a team of seamstresses to Los Angeles, set up a suite and have fittings. Sometimes you’ll see the Chanel or the Dior van driving around town in Beverly Hills. They’ll go from residence to residence doing the fittings.
Speaking of altering dresses, sometimes the gowns are altered beyond recognition or they totally ruin the original design. How do most designers feel about that? Do they put up with it just so they can have an actress wear their gowns on the red carpet?
It’s funny you ask that because I’ve noticed on the red carpet that it's becoming a little more common to see things customized. You see the runway sample and you notice that it doesn’t have sleeves, and then you seem them on the red carpet. Most designers do not offer that.
They’ll ask, but I think it depends on the actress too, if she’s so high-profile they might do it, but for the most part they do not like to have it altered or changed. You see a lot of hems shortened, but when you see an actress in a long gown and they’re six inches on the floor it’s because the designer said “No, you’re not hemming that.” I just laugh when I see comments like “The trend now is floor gowns. I go like, “Child, that ain’t no trend, the designers told them not to cut that dress.” [Laughs]
We had a couple of actresses asking us if we could add a strap, and to be honest, depending on the actress, of course we’ll accommodate her. David and I do make a decision depending upon the celebrity and whether or not it’s going to be a drastic change. We’ve been very lucky, for the most part, the gowns just need to be shortened. For example, Marlee Matlin for the Oscars, she’s not 5’ 11” like the model. It just needed to be shortened, it didn’t take away from the silhouette. It worked out just fine.
How are those gowns returned, mostly in one piece? Do they usually return them at all?
Yes, for the most part. It’s a business deal, I’ll lend you gown if you wear it and get photographed, that’s sort of the contract, and this goes across the board, they do get returned to the stylist or PR agency, usually the week after the event, and they’ll take the dresses back to the designers. It’s not even a question; there were a couple times when the actresses wanted to keep the dress, but that’s not the norm. It’s sort of understood that they have to return the gowns. Also, where are they going to wear them? They’ve been photographed once in them; they can’t really wear them again or else they’ll be slammed in the press. Sometimes they want to keep it for sentimental reasons or for their archive.
It’s must be an incredible rush to see a celebrity wearing your gown on the red carpet.
It really is, it’s one of those things you really can’t describe. It’s very close to how I felt when I got the phone call from Tim Gunn saying that I was on the show. I love when I get that feeling when I see someone in my dress on the red carpet, again, knowing that is such a lottery. These actresses have gone through hundreds of dresses and for yours to happen to be the one picked out is amazing.
They can change their minds at the last minute…
And they have. That’s why we never say or do anything until it happened, until you see the celebrity on the red carpet wearing your dress. In the past, I was very naive, I would get so excited, go through fittings, the celebrity would say yes, that she was going to wear it and I would start calling everyone from here to Panama, the cousins, ask everybody to turn their TVs on and then she wouldn’t wear the dress. Never again!
I mean, it could be that they literally woke up that day with a headache and said, "That color makes my headache worse, I’m not wearing it." [laughs] The only case that that usually doesn’t happen is when the dress is custom made for the celebrity, for example, if she’s not a sample size and has something done for her. We’re biting our fingernails until the last minute, but if she didn’t wear it, we don’t take it personally anymore, we’re lucky that our gown was even considered.
Thank you so much, doll.
Thank YOU, guys.
[Photos: Getty Images/WireImage]
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