This being the Olympics, Bass has the added pressure of knowing Hughes has been receiving unsolicited skating dresses. After closing her own better sportswear firm in the early Nineties, Bass opened a custom-made figure skating business. She charges her clients between $3,000 and $6,000 per outfit.
In addition to Hughes, Bass will be outfitting American ice dancers Beata Handra and Charles Sinek, and men’s skater Michael Weiss. A newcomer to her roster is French skater Laetitia Hubert, whose long-sleeve black dress edged in Austrian crystals that appear white was inspired by Julia Roberts’ gown at last year’s Oscars. For her short program, Hubert is expected to wear a see-through midriff number in navy and royal blue edged in rhinestones that looks like “dripping paint.”
If such frocks sound a tad showy, they are. After Yamaguchi sported “Bob Mackie-type” dresses, many skaters followed suit, and went a little crazy with all the glitz, Bass said. “There was a time when they were overdoing it. The fashion was looking very Las Vegas showgirl,” she said. “Then everything went simple and it got very boring. Now the fashion is coming back.”
Even young skaters are diving in.
Eleven-year-old Brittany Peltz, who’s father Nelson lists Snapple among his possessions, choppers into Manhattan with her mother Claudia and bodyguards from her Cape Cod training rink for fittings with Bass. She trains at the same rink as Hughes, who a few years ago saw the little girl in her Bass finery and asked for the designer’s name.
Bass says that each of her designs takes about three to four months to produce, with the beading alone requiring from 40 to 100 hours of hand-work. Although the process involves plenty of discussion, some variables are tough to work through. Some colors look fabulous in photos but not under television lights, and some outfits can fade into the corporate advertising that surround the rink. According to Bass, despite criticism for often looking older than her years, Hughes doesn’t want to look too precious. “She insists she wants to be athletic and isn’t into looking cute,” she said.
Cohen takes fashion into her own hands and has been known to sketch a dress in 25 minutes. “She is an ambitious young lady,” said her coach John Knicks. “I’ve sat next to her on an airplane and have watched her do a lot of costumes.”
With the sound of a Zamboni blasting in the background, Cohen said in a telephone conversation that she will go with a red dress that fades into yellow with a black border for her short program and a tie-dye white and blue dress with crystals for the long program. Both were sewn by Mare Talbot who works independently in Long Beach, Calif.
“I think about the music and what looks good on the ice. I wanted something to stand out for the judges and the audience,” Cohen said.
Her coach then noted her interest in fashion magazines. “Vogue was here with a lady photographer Liebowitz for a big spread in the April edition, I think,” Nicks said.
What all competitors must remember is that the Olympics have become more strict with dress code requirements, hoping to lessen the steam factor that has crept into figure skating, in the form of racy outfits and provocative dance routines. During a last-minute stop by the Bass studio Tuesday night, Handra recalled seeing the occasional exposed breast in competition. “You can’t really go for spaghetti straps and low-cut dresses in this sport,” she said.
Handra and Sinek stopped by Bass’s studio for their last fitting on Monday night, before leaving on Tuesday for Salt Lake City. In between trying on her flamenco dress and a diaphanous pink one, Handra stressed the importance of ice fashions.
“It definitely affects your subconscious,” she said. “The whole package has to be right — the costume, hair and makeup. Before we start to skate, people form an opinion. A great costume boosts confidence.”