A One on One with Nick Verreos, Fashion Guru and FIDM Spokesperson

One on one with Nick Verreos

It was an honor to interview the always ever busy Nick Verreos. Ever since I started blogging and being a social media aficionado I’ve been following Nick’s career. The first time I met Nick was at an event in Macy’s South Coast Plaza. I was blown away by how Nick connected with his audience and fans and especially my mom and my two kids. My mom instantly became a fan. Nick is one of those public figures I look up to, not only because of his passion, work ethics, and determination but for just being a fantastic human being – personable, down to earth and a mentor to a lot of aspiring kids. Prior to my interview, Nick gave us a tour of FIDM Museum for the Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition at FIDM in Los Angeles. It was very interesting to hear stories about movie costumes especially the five Academy Award nominees for costume design 2018: “Beauty and the Beast”, “Darkest Hour”, “Phantom Thread”, “The Shape of Water” and “Victoria and Abdul”. There were over 125 costumes from more than 25 films.

As we walked into the conference room, Nick made me feel comfortable by just asking casual questions and our conversation took off. We even talked about the recent Bananarama concert I attended. When you talk to Verreos, he sincerely wants to know more about you. He even complimented and talked about the yellow sequined dress I was wearing from Zara store.

During my interview at his second home, The LA FIDM, I learned a lot about success. One of my favorite quotes that Nick mentioned was “Success to me is I’m doing what I love to do and making a living out of it and happy for it. If that is how you define success then I feel I’m a success.” Making it big for Nick was not an easy road. He arrived there with a lot of patience, experience, drive and hard work. He continues to be an inspiration to me and younger generations. He mentioned that it’s never too late to build a career. When he was a student at LA FIDM he was competing with other 18-year-olds and he was 28 years old. And I so relate to that. When I went to UCLA extension to earn my certificate in Public Relations, I already graduated from college years back and I was competing with other interns who were 18 years young and I was about 28 at the time.

This interview covers his childhood growing in Venezuela, his loving and supportive parents, coming out of the closet, the beginning of his career, Project Runway, the business of fashion and his words of advice for aspiring artists.

I started my interview with how his childhood like in Venezuela.

 Guru Nick Verreos at the Art of Motion Picture Costume Design

Fashion guru Nick Verreos at the Art of Motion Picture Costume Design

Ruchel: When you were younger, did you have any inclination that you wanted to be a designer?
Nick: I think yes and no. I don’t think I really knew what being a fashion designer meant. All I knew is that I could draw. And unfortunately, what came out of my hands wasn’t like drawing trees or houses like normal 8-year-olds. It was women and fashion. The only reason I remember this is because my mom (God bless the moms…gotta love the moms) she’s kept everything. Ever since I was a little kid, the first thing I remember was always drawing women and their clothes and I really got into drawing like flight attendant uniforms because we traveled a lot. My dad was a diplomat. I didn’t correlate to “I wanna be a fashion designer.”

Ruchel: And what did your parents say about this?
Nick: They didn’t say much but I knew now that they were supportive. Everytime I would finish a sketch pad, they gave me another one. So it was my mom’s way of like ….. “keep going keep going” as opposed to taking it away from me. She was very supportive. She’d buy me the prisma color crayons. So she knew like “Ok that’s his hobby…. go for it.” And also because I grew up in Venezuela. Venezuela is or was a very beauty pageant country. A lot of Ms. Universes. As a little boy, you’re born with this love of pageant. All the women look like Barbies and look like Barbie dolls and so imagine as a little boy. Flight attendants and pageant girls ….. that’s all I knew in Venezuela.

Ruchel: Moving to the US, high school and college, tell us about that.
Nick: Come high school time, like a junior or senior, I have to start deciding where am I going for college and I didn’t know what to do. All I could do is sketch so I thought maybe I will be a fashion illustrator. Didn’t think about a fashion designer. I think because I was too afraid of what people would think. And that people would judge me or say something about me. I wasn’t comfortable with my own skin in saying that. And you know high school times are so bad. And so I want to say maybe Fashion Illustrator, you know, sounds a little better. The senior year, you have to decide where to go. I remember meeting with my counselor…. I was like “Oh my God, what am I gonna say?” He asked “What do you wanna do?” I said “Fashion Illustrator” and he said, “There are no jobs in that.” I was like “Oh ok.” That sort of shut me down. Again, I wasn’t still comfortable with coming out and say “You know what? I wanna be a fashion designer.” It wasn’t because of my parents, it wasn’t because of anything. You know a lot of parents are “You have to be a doctor” or “You have to be an engineer.” They never ever ever put any pressure. I put a pressure on myself. And so then, because of that I said, “Oh what am I gonna do? I have to go to college somehow.” I didn’t think going to a fashion school was going to a real college, and again… my own trip. But all my other friends were like …”Oh, I’m going to UCLA”….”I’m going to Berkeley” I’m like “I’m going to fashion school?”. Even though that is BS but at that time at that age, I just wanted to like fall with the crowd. Anyhow, so I ended up applying to UCLA and Berkley. I ended up going to UCLA. I thought well what’s the next thing? I love traveling, I love languages, I love international stuff. My dad is a former diplomat. Maybe I’ll be a diplomat, you know. I got the pedigree, right? And so, I got accepted to UCLA and studied Political Science International Relations. I thought maybe I’ll be a fashionable diplomat (chuckles). Of course, the entire time I was in UCLA ….. yes I attended all my classes and yes I got my bachelors degree but I sketched and I sketched fashion. And my dorm, you would just laugh. It was all Linda Evangelista, Versace, and Kate Moss. I remember my roommate, a computer engineer major. I feel so bad for him that he got stuck with me. He couldn’t wait the minute he got the chance to get the hell away from me. It was just like oil and water. Imagine this computer engineer walking into the dorm and seeing half of the room with Linda Evangelista and Kate Moss and fashion. He was never there and I get it. I just felt bad. The minute he got the chance to get the hell out, he got out. Anyhow, throughout my time in UCLA I finally grew up. And that was college is about. In college it’s about growing up. And for me it was great that I left the bay area and went to UCLA. I love growing up in San Francisco but I still have my own stigma. I was my own bully. Isn’t that weird? And in the bay area where it’s so gay …. pro gay, so open, I was still in the closet. I was still shaming myself. But I needed to leave to come out of the closet and be comfortable with who I am and grow up. And that’s when I grew up. Right after I graduated from UCLA, I had that epiphany of what do I really want to do. I said …. I gotta follow my passion which is fashion and follow my love. I just want to shut up all my friends from UCLA, everybody was like “What are you doing here?” “You need to be making dresses.” “Why are you here?” And so I’ve had enough of it, “OK, I’m done. I’m doing it. I’m coming out of the closet. I’m gonna be a fashion designer!” It took me over 20 years to figure it out. But better late than never. And I remember that I wanted to know from the professionals if I really was good. I knew that I could draw. And I could draw well better than a lot of my friends but I wanted to know from the professionals so I applied to all the top designer schools including FIDM, Parsons School of Design, and FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology). They all accepted me. And that’s when I was like “Oh ok, I guess I am good.”

Nick Verreos at the FIDM Museum

Ruchel: Did you ever think of studying fashion abroad?
Nick: I thought about it but I grew so comfortable here in Los Angeles, and that drew my decision to stay here and attend FIDM. But as a funny thing, while attending FIDM I entered several contests… international contest. And one of them I got the chance to go to Switzerland and study abroad. And it was like a contest of Ms. Universe of fashion design. All these different countries and I represented the United States. And so, that was a blast, we got to go to Switzerland and sort of got apprenticeship so I got my wish studying abroad. I was so glad that my family was so supportive, the minute I told them after UCLA, now I wanted to go to FIDM, my parents were so happy because, they basically told me they’ve been waiting like 20 years. (laughs)….. finally. But my dad said something really beautiful to me at the time, he noticed my hesitation, that possibly attending UCLA was a waste of time and my dad gave me some beautiful advice. He said, “Learning is never a waste.” He realized that I was thinking about like “I should’ve could’ve would’ve” And he said “No should’ve could’ve would’ve now ….. you’re doing it! And don’t worry, what you learned in UCLA, you grew up. It was about growing up.” But after graduating from FIDM, all I wanna do when I get home was to see BBC, World News, I want to know what’s going on internationally, in politics, diplomatic…because all I do is fashion, I made dresses everyday, I need a break. I wanna go home, the last thing I wanna do is open a Vogue. I wanna know what’s on in the world so it’s all balance. But again, I say it’s so wonderful now being spokesperson of FIDM and meeting these young kids. I meet now the little Nicks at 16 and 17. They’re at the age I was when I met that counselor and they’re so like this is what I wanna do. And I almost wanna cry because I almost wish that was like me and I always tell them , it’s so great that you know and you have a family that is supportive. Because at the time I didn’t have any guidance. So for you to be 16 and to be like this is what I want to do and focus…that’s great and sometimes it takes time because I also meet 30-year-olds are like “I just decided”. It’s nice to hear and to see that. I could’ve made a better decision like I said my dad was very happy and proud that I went to school and I do what I went to school.. all the money was not wasted and I’m successful and I don’t have to call them for money anymore.

Ruchel: How did you start professionally?
Nick: When I was here at FIDM I did everything. I was older than a lot of students because I’ve already gone to another college. I was kinda competing with 18-year-olds and I was like 28. I had to play catch up so I was an over achiever. So not only I had all my classes but I went to the career center because I wanted to do internships and work and do everything. I didn’t wanna wait until I was finished with school and so I remember I always would ask …. are there fashion shows? Do they need dressers? Do they need this?

Ruchel: You were so motivated.
Nick: Yes because I wanted to catch up with all the time that I thought I wasted in UCLA. I was like …. wait I need four years to catch up. So I need to get into the fashion world of LA at least as soon as possible. So I remember just doing everything and it was great. So they would send us to dress fashion shows, do this and do that and so I remember doing that. After graduating, I applied to a bunch of jobs. As a starting designer, you just have basic assistant jobs. And I remember they offered $400 a week which was great for me. I was like ….. oh my God, I don’t have to ask from mom and dad for money. So for a couple years that I was an assistant designer, what I did ….. I redrew with these companies, they would ripped pages from Vogue or Elle and they would hand it to me. Then I redrew the clothing and do it like as a flat sketch to make it like they didn’t steal it. So we did a lot of knocking off. Because LA was just the beginning of fast fashion like Forever 21 so I worked with a lot of those companies. A lot of young women clothes, fast women clothing and so the designers took the high and then wanted to bring it down because we were only charging $24 a top and so it was my job to bring it down. So I did that for awhile. I remember that I was bored, I drew but I wanted to create. I wanted to make. Make something. So what I did was I went home. I got myself a pattern table. I wold go home after work and start making stuff on my own so I started making a bunch of stuff. And so before I knew it, I had a collection. I would just bought fabric from Joanne’s Fabric store and in downtown. I just wanted to make a collection. Every now and then I would hear somebody wanted a designer for a fashion show like in the valley…they need young designers and there I was was because I had a bunch of dresses that I made. Even thought I still had to go Monday-Friday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm to sit on a desk and sketch. After that, I remember there was a friend of mine who was a pattern maker and he reached out to me and he knew that I did this at home at night…making dresses. So I started making my own patterns and he said “Listen Nick…I’m leaving my job as a patternmaker. You should apply.” Because he knew I was frustrated just sitting on a desk drawing. And I was like “I don’t wanna be a pattern maker, that’s technical. That doesn’t do with fashion, that doesn’t to do with creativity.” He said, “Nick don’t worry. Isn’t that what you do when you go home? You make patterns for the gowns that you’re making? Well that’s what would you do. Just try it. Just go and apply.” And I said, “Ahh ok.” But I don’t wanna be a pattern maker. I remember even at FIDM I hated my pattern classes. The funny thing is I ended up being a teacher for pattern making. So then I went, and the designer gave me a photo of a jacket. And she said, “Make a pattern”.  I sweated and sweated. I remember I spent three hours. All the seamstress were staring at me. I was so nervous. It was almost like a finals class. And they were all talking about me in Spanish. They didn’t know I spoke Spanish. They thought I was Persian. It was the funniest story. I later got them. So I did the test for pattern making and gave the pattern to the designer and she said “Ok we’ll call you tomorrow. We have to make it.” And I thought “OK Good luck.” Nothing’s gonna match because I was so nervous. And I was like I’ll never see you again? right? The next day she called me and she goes, “We made the jacket, it came out great.” She asked, “Is $1,200 a week ok?” And I said “WHAT?” From $400 a week to $1,200″ Now I love pattern making! So that was it, I never look back for 10 years. I was a pattern maker in LA. And I worked for all these different companies, making all these different clothes and it got so much. I have other 10 other clients aside from these 9-5 job. I was again a freelance pattern maker which was again ironic. So never say you hate something in school…there’s the lesson. I learned so much by doing it. I was charging $200 for a pair of jeans just for the pattern. I worked for many junior companies, high designer and I worked for this costume designer from “Friends” and made patterns for her boutique. All these different companies but again at the same time I was still making my dresses just to keep my love and passion. I still had a goal that maybe one day, I can go out on my own and have my own company and my own line. But I knew not to rush. I knew that I had to pay my dues. Something a lot of younger kids don’t want. I wanna say they wanna go from 0 to 60 like immediately. And my advice is don’t do it. I learned really early on. I remember the star of my FIDM class graduation class. He immediately started his own line after graduation. And we were all very jealous. A year later I had lunch with another friend of mine, and asked how is that person? He said, “Oh he closed shop”. And I was like that’s it. So I knew to just take it easy and pay my dues and learn. Another advice I got from a top designer “Make your mistakes on somebody else’s dime”. And that was a great advice. So I learned from all those years working with all those companies…mistakes they made and try not to make it myself when I start my own company. So I make sure to wait. When Henri Bendel came out to LA for the first time for a designer call, they were just selling clothing ….. Henri Bendel New York. So it was like Project Runway but for a store. They were looking for California fashion designers .. early 2000 when it was all about LA, Southern California style so they were trying to get in. And so I remember going to Standard Hotel in Hollywood on Sunset. There was a line. People went crazy. And I brought my dresses that I made for many years, and I said why not, who knows. So I went and they ordered my line. And they loved it. I was like Oh My God. I remember walking out calling my mom and dad like crying crazy and that was like the moment. I thought ….. I have to pick up the label. I don’t even have a label. I have to think of a name. And you know what? I gotta leave my job, this is now official. And so all of that within a period of several weeks happened. I remember that my dad told me, because he use to study law and he said, “My advice is don’t use your name. Come up with something different but don’t use Nick Verreos.” It ended up being smart because a lot of designers now have lost their companies because of the fact they sold the rights. And so my line ….. we decided on Nikolaki which means little Nick in Greek in which my dad used to call me when I was young. So that was the early beginnings of Nikolaki. It began as a contemporary line. We ended up selling to 100 stores including Nordstrom and countries like Panama, Japan and all over the country. It was crazy. And it was just David and I, my partner, working at our townhouse in Los Feliz, making all the patterns, driving to the cutter ….. it was madness. For the first three years we were like about to kill each other (chuckles). We found ourselves working so hard and then immediately got into the system of all these stores with charge backs to the nitty gritty. Store returned the stuff that they didn’t sell. Literally we found out we’re making like 2 cents. We were not happy. We decided to bring it down to the level of not be in 100 stores and do a lot of red carpet gowns. We started to dress up Heidi Klum, Katie Perry, Beyonce. That made us happier and not so stressed out.

Nick Verreos and Ruchel Freibrun

 

Ruchel: What’s the most memorable part of your career
Nick: Applying for Project Runway. I remember somebody emailed me and it says “Project Runway is having a casting call for Season 2 and Nick you would be perfect. It’s a reality show about fashion designers.” I remember it was a little questionable for me because when you thought of reality shows you thought of Real World and drunk kids in a hot tub and I was like this better not be that. And it wasn’t! It was fashion! They were showing the pattern and the draping. I was like …. I don’t know. I’m an instructor at FIDM, I’m a designer, like I don’t have enough things on my plate. Again one of those moments ‘no should’ve could’ve would’ve’. I said I just gotta do it. I had some dresses I made. And so they only wanted us to bring four garments on hangers. I showed up at the Standard Hotel and there was a line of 200 people. It was 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday. And I was afraid I was gonna run to some of my students from FIDM and they are going to ask “Professor Nick, what are you doing here?”. I was going to be embarrased. I remember I brought my model, she was 6 feet tall. She was just in Paris modeling for Saint Laurent. Of course she stood up like a sore thumb. Nobody else had brought models. Because I said, if I wanna show up, “I better SHOW UP” This is another lesson for all aspiring artists, designers out there. Don’t do anything 90%, you gotta do 200%. I would say “Get the coffee” like go above and beyond. Here we are in line, somebody stops her, pulls her and said “Are you the designer?” And she said “No no no he is” and then the next thing I knew … this girl pulled a microphone…”We have Nick Verreos, one of the top designers…we’re bringing him right now to the judges.” All of a sudden I looked and it was a former student of mine. And I looked at her and I said “What are you doing here?” and she said “I worked for a PR company.” And so I bypassed the line, went straight up and we were in a little room and my model was wearing a day cocktail dress. She made a decision and turned to me “You only have one time, one chance. There’s no second chances,” and she goes, “Give me the gown. Why are you wasting on a cocktail dress?” And I was like “What are you doing?” I remember we went in a holding room. Went to see Tim Gunn. People were crying and they were like “they’re so mean…they said I’m not good.” My model and I we were so nervous. It’s like American Idol. I remember walking in with my model. There was Tim Gunn. This was 2005. I told them my story. I’m a designer, pattern maker, A FIDM instructor. The next thing I heard Tim told me, “You’re in!” And I made my model turn. And I was like “WHAT?” And he goes “We love you.” I was like I was so excited and they asked me something like “What do you wanna do?” I was like “I wanna have a drink.” And then I turned around there were about 20 producers and now I’m thinking about “OMG, now people think I have a drinking problem.” That was the first thing out of my mouth and they all laughed. Of course they think “He is TV gold, right?” That was the biggest moment of my life and it changed me because a month later I was in New York filming the show. I quit my job. It was in the middle of the quarter. I had four classes and I literally had to say goodbye. Even today saying it, churns my stomach. That worried me to tears. Going back to the show, I didn’t win. I came in fifth but the opportunities that came being on the show … Oh My God. I remember, there was a challenge in the show about figure skating. We had to make a costume for Sasha Cohen, I was the only one among all the designers who knew she was. And I kinda went crazy. As a result of that, Bravo called and said NBC wanted to take me to Torino, Italy to cover the Olympics and talk about costumes in the Olympics. I was like “Are you kidding me?” That was my first ever fashion correspondent experience. After that, everything came in to place. It was amazing. And I took every opportunity. From that I started doing other jobs like doing the red carpet and from that, Heidi Klum contacted me, “I want to wear one of your dresses.”

Nick giving a tour of FIDM exhibit

Ruchel: What’s left on your bucket list?
Nick: I think maybe going back to my instructor part of myself. One goal I wanna do is to do a little more of those type of books that can be used for fashion schools. Doing more videos for my fashion YouTube channel. In terms of dressing somebody, Jennifer Lopez, Lupita Nyongo but nowadays they are so up there. Like I said, 10 years ago was easier, nowadays they just want Dior, Channel because they get contracts. Unfortunately, I don’t have a perfume contract. I just have very pretty dresses. I’m very thankful when an actress whether a young or up and coming actress, if they choose one of my gowns because it make them look good. Contracts …. a lot of actresses now are doing that. They don’t choose a no name designer because they don’t have anything to offer but I think it should be more about the dress as opposed to “If I wear the Dior dress, maybe they’ll give me a Dior contract.” That world…the red carpet has become a real business. Especially at the Oscars, you only see the big names…the usual suspects. That’s not by accident. It’s very thought-out and cultivated and it’s a business transaction between the stylist and the actor. Because it benefits the stylist as well. The stylist puts the actor on Dior, Dior gives the actress a contract, the stylist gets a cut.

Ruchel: Who do you look up to?
Nick: My parents. They have always been so supportive. They are the people that I look up to. In terms of the industry, ever since I was a little boy, it was always Yves Saint Laurent. He was such a master at what . He was the first to put women in pants. He was the first one to put did see-through. So he was escandaloso. The shocker of all shockers. I will never forget, I went to Paris and they had a big exhibition for him, and it was huge. I think he had just died and it was his exhibition. I remember walking in and there was a big room that highlighted his ball gowns. I was bawling. It was such a moment for me. That’s how much he influenced me.

Ruchel: What is your advice for up and coming designers?
Nick: My advice to young fashion designers is be ready for it. If you wan’t to be in stores, if you want to take orders, if you want to do all of that, you’ve got to be ready. I’m talking about you need 10 or more employees. You need to have at least $50,000 a month cash cause you need to make the clothing for those hundred stores before the store even pays you. They don’t front you the money so you have to spend $20,000 to make your line. And then the store will pay you two months later. You still have to continue it. I was very naive. One of the biggest mistakes I made was not knowing that. remember the loan I took out my dad and some friends ….. $25k that went in three weeks. And I know there are people who can do it. I’m not gonna name names but there are some several top designers that say in their bio “I started out of my dining room with just $100. Don’t believe it. It’s a PR lie. I’m here to tell you. I’ve been in this industry for 30 years. They forgot to tell you their dining room is in Park Avenue and that their husband was an investment banker millionaire. I don’t want to dissuade anybody from doing. It is not by accident that many wealthy or children of wealthy people get into this industry cause you do need the money now. Maybe 20 years ago you didn’t as much but nowadays, it’s so competitive. Just a loan to get your name out there PR wise, you need to pay a PR agent a bunch of money to just get your name out. It’s very competitive and difficult. I’m sure you can do it. It’s harder now. But that was a lesson for us. We weren’t structured. We weren’t ready and I said my recommendation “Just have a business plan.” Because in the end it’s always business. As fashion designers we barely think about that. We think creative not the business side. And schools teach you. FIDM taught me, but I probably fell asleep because I didn’t wanna hear it. It’s not sexy. It’s not stylish. But kids please please pay attention to the business aspect of fashion. In the end, it’s a fashion business and you need to make money. You need to sell clothing, if you’re not doing it for the money, then why are you doing it for. Really pay attention when you begin to start in this world. I love it with all the ups and down, all the craziness. They made me grow. I’m still learning lessons. Here we are 30 years later. We’re still learning lessons. You never stop. Have your business plan ready. Price your garment correctly, that’s another big advice. That was one big mistake I remember. The store wanted to know how much are your dresses and I said wholesale $195 or $200 which means they double it in stores. So I went home and I did the math, I priced everything down from the hanger to the packing, it came out to $495 wholesale. We lost a bunch of money. There’s a market for everything. Know your market, know who you’re selling to. Because fast fashion becomes very difficult. The reason why big companies like H&M and Zara why they can sell so cheaply because they are made abroad. I can’t make clothing in Los Angeles and sell for $24. I charged my seamstress over $100 per dress. I haven’t even paid myself yet. That’s just to make it. Because H&M and Zara are so huge they can literally make a garment for 4 cents. That is why you can buy your top for $4.99 And know even when stores have 70% off they are still making money. You think you’re getting a deal. No you’re not. But only because they are huge companies and made abroad.

Ruchel: What about your advice to young people in general?
Nick: If you’re transitioning not realizing what you want to do, where you want to go, career wise…follow your gut. Your gut is talking to you. For me that gut feeling is always fashion fashion fashion. Follow your passion, once you follow that passion, you bring it in to something that you wanna do. Once you start growing to a career, do everything. Show up on a Sunday…as much as you hate it… show up on a Sat. You don’t even know how many Christmas Eves … how many New Years I have to work. Show up with a smile. Be that one that says “yes”… don’t frown in front of them. Be the person to raise your hand. A lot of employers in the fashion industry, or other industry, they think that you’re not going to raise your hand. Prove them wrong and shock them. Go above and beyond. That’s what I did and I always got the job. To this day, I’m still raising my hand.

Follow Nick on Instagram. Visit his website nikolakidesign.com

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