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PLANO, Tex. — Nastia Liukin, the Olympic all-around gymnastics gold medalist, is seizing the moment.
Her smiling face will appear this fall in Cover Girl ads, and Vanilla Star Jeans aims to launch Nastia Liukin Gold jeans and tops for holiday. She has a stake in Beaconstreetgirls.com, a tween Web site that vends fashion and beauty items, home decor and books. Her image will be featured on a Wheaties box, there is a scheduled appearance on “Gossip Girl,” and the possibility of a line of activewear with GK.
This story first appeared in the September 3, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“You work so hard for this, and you’re getting so many opportunities, and now is the time to take those things because they don’t last forever,” Liukin said during an interview here in the gym run by her parents, gymnasts who competed in the Olympics for the former Soviet Union. “Winning the Olympics can change your life, and nothing can prepare you for that. You can go with the flow and enjoy the ride.”
Liukin, who was born in Moscow and immigrated to the U.S. when she was just two-and-a-half years old, grew up in Plano, near Dallas, and now lives with her parents in nearby Parker, Tex. The gymnast said she is eager to travel to New York for fashion week, where her agent, Evan Morgenstein of Premier Management Group, predicts more deals will be made.
“Maria Sharapova invited me,” Liukin said. “I’m going to Peter Som — front row — Isaac Mizrahi and Cole Haan.”
It’s been a whirlwind for the 18-year-old athlete since she returned from her triumph in Beijing with five Olympic medals (a gold, three silvers and a bronze). She’s fielded a dozen or so media interviews a day, was feted with a parade in Parker, and greeted by an estimated 6,000 fans Saturday at J.C. Penney at Collin Creek Mall in Plano, where Liukin signed posters and T-shirts while the store sold more than 2,000 Vanilla Star Ts and jeans, said Mark Levy, president of Vanilla Star.
“It was mass bedlam,” Levy said. “They are selling the posters on eBay today for $250.”
Reflecting on her new fame, Liukin, who was wearing a red Beijing ’08 T-shirt and denim shorts, said, “It’s weird. Now anywhere I go everyone notices me. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.”
Liukin has handled it all with remarkable poise, which she credits to her 15 years of gymnastics training. She is conscious that she is a role model, which is clear in the way little girls gaze at her as she walks through the gym.
“I always looked up to the older girls, and I feel like the kids look up to me, so I feel I have to set a good example for them,” she said. “I’ll do anything to inspire them and help them live their dreams.”
Her attitude is what attracted Vanilla Star, whose slogans are “Smart girls rock,” and “Live the dream.”
Liukin “is unaffected,” Levy said. “Nastia is a new example of a sports figure. The Olympics shelf life is usually a month, and I feel this girl could have a 20-year career. She earned such respect in everyone’s eyes because of the way she accepted what went on in China with her not getting the gold when she tied in the uneven bars. This is not a one-term wonder.”
The 5-foot, 3-inch gymnast, who was accepted at Southern Methodist University but has put off college at least until January, is not a fashion plate. However, she is opinionated about design. Liukin has already suggested a “Peace Love” graphic that Vanilla Star screened onto a T-shirt.
“I design my leotards with my mom, and GK makes them,” she noted. “They’ve approached me about doing a whole line for sale.”
The goal, Morgenstein said, is to build “a long-term career. That is not something that has been available to athletes until recently — that Olympic athletes can have equity in their own name. There are just a handful of female athletes like Amanda Beard, Maria Sharapova, who have been successful in making the transition to beauty and fashion, and that is the sweet spot.”
Liukin said she doesn’t yet know what she wants to do with her life, but she plans to study international business when she enrolls at Southern Methodist. First, she has a 37-city Gymnastics Superstars tour. And, she wants to keep competing.
“I feel I have more to do,” she said. “I have nine World Championship medals, and I’m tied with Shannon Miller, so I want to beat that. That’s the competitor in me. And I’d love to do some acting and modeling, but not as my career.”