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SALT LAKE CITY 2002 / Dressing for Success / Hughes' moves on ice tailor-made, and so are her costumes

Colorado Springs, Colo. - From inside the hotel bedroom

came a blood-curdling shriek. "Ahhhh! It's gorgeous!"

Apparently, Robin Wagner liked at least one of the new skating costumes

that Long Island teenager Sarah Hughes will be wearing next week in the

Olympics figure-skating competition, one for the Feb. 19 short program and

another for the long program two nights later.

Hughes' eyes still were big minutes later, a sure sign of her own approval,

which is always more subdued that her coach/choreographer. The second dress

also received high marks from both skater and coach as California fashion

designer Jef Billings and his seamstress, Emily Assayag, huddled between

Hughes' training sessions in Wagner's room here for an unveiling and fitting.

Though Wagner has used Manhattan-based Tonia Bass to design most of Hughes'

skating dresses - a Bass creation, in fact, is worn by Hughes in her cover

photo of the current Time Magazine - Wagner decided to try "something a little

different" for Hughes' spotlight moment in the Salt Lake City Winter Games.

After getting several lukewarm comments from various corners of the skating

community about the dresses Hughes wore in last month's national

championships, Wagner made contact with Billings, who does work with Stars on

Ice and some of the sport's biggest names. It was a Billings dress, in fact,

that 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi wore in Friday night's Olympic

Opening Ceremonies.

But sewing up this deal - so to speak - has not been without its

complications. Barely three weeks ago, Wagner made the decision to change

Hughes' costumes. She called Billings about drawing some sketches and meanwhile

asked Bass if she minded making two more dresses. Wagner found a book on

butterflies from the Museum of Natural History "and there was this butterfly of

a really pretty color, a shade of blue."

Within days and talks with Bass, "the blue butterfly became a red

butterfly," Wagner said, with Bass producing one white and one red dress.

Still, Wagner said, "an Olympic dress should be 'Wow!' So she arranged for

Billings to bring two of his own creations here, where Hughes has come for six

days of training away from the Olympic chaos.

Billings and Assayag flew in from Los Angeles, arriving on Wagner's

doorstep shortly after noon. It was his feeling that Hughes' dress for her

short program, skating to the music "Ave Maria," should have an "ecclesiastical

feel." For the long program, he preferred a "crisp pastel," something to show

"the freedom" Wagner referred to in her original contact with Billings.

Having received Hughes' vital statistics by mail from Wagner, Assayag had a

special Hughes mannequin constructed and, from the materials selected and dyed

by Billings, Billings' sketches came to life. For an hour yesterday, while

Hughes modeled the costumes in the hotel room, all of them discussed the

"richness of chiffon," the length of the skirts, the colors and the specifics

of how low the "V" in the back should go.

Then, while Assayag stayed in the hotel room, tweaking the outfits with

needle and thread and tape measure, Billings accompanied Wagner and Hughes to

their 45-minute afternoon workout. Then, it was back to the room for another

fitting.

All parties agreed that specific colors of Billings' designs will be kept

under wraps for a dramatic debut when competition starts, but Billings did say,

"I think Sarah's probably better in bright colors, and if that doesn't fit the

music, then cool colors."

New York Sports