Last Saturday, fashion designer, Project Runway alum, and red carpet commentator Nick Verreos was at Macy's at the Houston Galleria presenting Fashion Rocks--inspirational fall looks based on the kind of strong, confident women that inform Verreos's own design aesthetic.
"I like that people are using celebrity muses. People can argue that it's good or bad, but my thing is strong women, and rock stars like J. Lo, Katy Perry, they are strong women," said Verreos before the show. "Strong women have always been a theme of mine; I design for strong women who don't mind using fashion as an armor of strength--just because my woman is fashionable, doesn't mean she is frou-frou."
Fans will recognize Verreos from his red carpet appearances, and his involvement in the Project Runway franchise (Season 2 contestant, and frequent casting and guest judge on subsequent seasons). His wide smile, easy manner, and enthusiasm radiates from the television screen, and they are equally engaging in real life. When asked about his own personal style muse, Verreos responds immediately, "My parents!" Nick and his family lived in Caracas, Venezuela while he was growing up, and that glamour made its mark. "My father was in the foreign service, and he was such a fabulous bachelor!" recalled Verreos.
"Of my mom, I like to say she was 'J. Lo before J. Lo.' I remember her getting ready for the country club in Caracas. Big caftan, big bouffant, big hoop earrings!" These were the Dean Martin days, with tuxedoes and cigarettes and martinis, and that perfectly-groomed look informs Verreos' personal style today.
"I like that gentlemanly look, which is certainly a style muse for me" he said, indicating his sharp suit accented with apple-green tie and jaunty pocket square.
Verreos' love for strong women was certainly clear on the runway during the Macy's fashion show. He styled the models using street, performance, and red carpet looks by J. Lo, Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry, and Beyoncé as inspiration, as well as a couple of Adam Levine and Jay Z-inspired looks. The key to style is about taking cues, rather than copying outright, says Verreos.
"It's not about replicating the look on the mannequin, ladies," announced Verreos from the stage at the end of his presentation. "Find that inspiration, but make it yours, put your stamp on it!" he urged, before inviting fans to the runway to take photos for a meet-and-greet.
This echoed a sentiment Nick expressed before the show, on the importance of individuality, but also confidence. "What excites me is women, not just dressing up, but owning their look and empowering themselves with fashion," said Nick. "I say this a lot: I think every woman should have a red carpet moment." He paused, and then clarified, "Actually, I think women need more mental red carpet moments in their lives. Single moms, going to pick up their kids at school--this could be your red carpet moment! Put on your cute skinny jeans, and some heels, and you're ready to run into that hot single dad. You don't need a red carpet to have a red carpet moment."
Self-confidence is, according to Verreos, the single most important accessory a woman can own--and he wants you (and me, and all of us) to own it. "When someone is wearing a blouse or jacket that makes me stop dead in my tracks to [compliment it], that's exciting to me--it's like, thank you! I find inspiration in that."
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One of the most interesting aspects of Verreos' career is the gravitas he brings to any discussion of fashion. Pattern-making and sewing are important, but there needs to be a foundation--an education--for designers to draw upon.
"As a fashion instructor, I tell students that the history is so important--know your history," advised Verreos, who attended UCLA for undergrad, and FIDM (where he is an instructor and spokesperson). "A student of architecture has to know who built that house in 1924, and I feel it's the same way in fashion. If I throw out a Balenciaga reference, or "the" Christian Dior versus "Ross-Simons Christian Dior" I expect them to understand."
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Students needn't rely on their design classes for that history, either--Verreos certainly did not. "I didn't feel like I had enough of [the history] so I went out and bought all those darn books, honey! Even if you are self-taught, it doesn't take much to get that history." Not only is it important to understand the foundations of design, but a solid history of fashion will help a designer in the business aspect of their work as well. "Look at Charles James," said Verreos, citing the famous coutourier who counted the Menils among his famous clients. "He died broke, and it's a lesson to young designers about what to do, and what not to do. Fashion is a difficult business."
And while fashion might be a difficult business for those in the business, it should be pretty simple for rest of us, said Verreos. When asked about the state of American dress on display at the airport, for example, Nick exclaimed, "You are preaching to the choir, honey!" Simple trades--sweats for stretchy skinny jeans, and flip-flops for ballet flats or sandals--make a big difference, and Nick dares you to say you're less comfortable than you were before.
"To me, it's effortless to 'dress up'. You never know who you might run into--that mental red carpet moment we were talking about could be at the airport," said Nick. "And you know what else, when you dress up it makes the flight attendants smile at you. I may be in black jeans and a T-shirt, but I throw on a bright yellow trench and I get a smile, or a compliment, or--no promises--a little extra vodka; it makes a difference!" said Verreos, with a wide grin.
Style isn't in the clothes, but in the effect the clothes have on you, and on the people around you. "If I'm walking through the airport and an 18 year old smiles, and wants to take my picture--I don't want to disappoint her! I can go home and look like a schlub after that," said Verreos, before adding with yet another wide grin, "Okay, probably not!"