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
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
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
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."