VT Edition: Costume Can Make Or Break A Skater
02/16/10 1:44PM By Sarah Ashworth  Download MP3
(Host) Take one look at the outfits figure skaters compete in during the Winter Olympics, and it's apparent that the pageantry of skating is very much a part of the sport. And even for younger skaters, not quite at the Olympic level, finding the perfect costume can make or break a program. VPR's Sarah Ashworth visited the Triple Loop shop in Essex Junction that specializes in making figure skating costumes.
(Ashworth) Brooke Barrett is seven years old, and when it came to helping design her latest figure skating costume, she had one thing in mind.
(Brooke Barrett) "Crystals."
(Ashworth) Brooke is undergoing her final fitting, under her mom, Wanda Barrett's watchful eye.
(Barrett) "That's one thing she kept saying, lots of crystals, lots of crystals, right mom? Brooke is definitely about the bling. (laugh) The more bling the better, so the shinier the better for Brooke."
(Ashworth) And there are lots of crystals covering Brooke's candy pink dress. The sleeves are dyed pink mesh, and fitted with finger loops. The back of the dress has a keyhole cut in the shape of a heart, and the bottom is a pink watercolor print skirt. Brooke tests out the fit as she hops around the shop, whipping through a double toe flip, and showing off her high leg lift.
(Brooke Barrett) "For it to be very flowy and stuff, because my music is very flowy."
(Ashworth) Triple Loop shop owner Laurie Browne listened to that "flowy" music when she designed this sparkly pink concoction. And she consulted with Brooke and her mother from the very beginning.
(Browne) "The skater, comes in with the program, with the music, and we all listen to that in the shop. And we take the ideas that are coming from the skater and the parent and the coach, along with my interpretation of the music, and we sort of combine all of our ideas together and come up with a final sketch and an idea of color, style and things like flowiness of the dress."
(Ashworth) Browne began sewing costumes in 1997. She was a newly single mother, who needed to provide for three young daughters. She found training through a state run micro-business development program, and got loans through Vermont JobStart. But, her sewing skills came directly from her grandmother.
(Browne) "In fact I was thinking of my grandmother while I was making Brooke's dress, because she taught me this one specific little hand stitch which you can sew...it's a hidden stitch which you can put two folded pieces of fabric together, you can't tell that they're stitched together, I learned fine things like that from my grandmother."
(Ashworth) Today, Browne employs one full-time assistant, Redzifa Pasic, whom she calls a sewing perfectionist. (sewing sounds) Browne and Pasic have collaborated on hundreds of custom costumes, but there's one Browne says she's particularly proud of.
(Browne) "I had taken a sketch that was done by a Russian coach, and I had never met the woman, but she sent the sketch through the skater, and it was a unitard, it was very Russian looking, it had all these elaborate little things on it, and just hundreds of crystals, and somehow we created this thing, and it fit perfectly and looked absolutely amazing. That, I was proud of, because it was a huge challenge."
(Ashworth) Browne's high-end costumes, like that unitard, can cost up to 900-dollars. But a typical child's custom dress runs about 150-dollars. Though, the racks in Browne's shop are also full of less expensive, ready to wear outfits.
It's the crystals that can really add to the overall cost, because they're by far the most time consuming element. Each one is individually applied.
(Browne) "Twelve years ago when we started, the dresses were just very basic, a long sleeve velvet dress, and maybe a tiny little appliqué on the front in the center at the neckline, and now we're just doing hours of crystalling. And, it seems, every year I feel like we're being challenged a little more, to come up with something a little more elaborate."
(Ashworth) Figure skating costumes are meant to allow for movement, not restrict it. And that means costumes must be skin tight and pretty skimpy, so Browne says part of her job is making sure all body types look and feel good on the ice.
And when she's designing a costume, Browne pays attention to even the smallest detail.
(Browne) "We found these little pink zippers..."
And she'll work to re-fit a costume several times, like she did with Brooke Barrett's dress.
(Browne) "And the neck, is that comfortable on you, Brooke? Arms feel comfy? And the finger loops aren't too tight? Maybe you want to try to skate in it and see how it goes?"
(Ashworth) Brooke dreams of making the Olympic team in 2018. And she may be well on her way. She practices six days a week, and she's already mastered double jumps. And she'll take her pink dress with her to several upcoming competitions.
(Browne) "The dress, is $145 and the crystals $75, don't forget the tights."
(Ashworth) For mom Wanda Barrett, the right dress is worth the price.
(Barrett) Well, I think it gives the child more confidence in their presentation, and it shows in the skating. When they feel good about what they're wearing, they just glow."
(Ashworth) And when skaters are proud of what they're wearing, they often skate better, too. And that's what Browne likes to see. She tries to make it to as many competitions as she can, to watch her dresses glide across the ice. She says it puts a smile on her face to see skaters perform well and love what they're wearing.
For VPR News, I'm Sarah Ashworth.
(Browne and Barrett) "Thank you very much...and we'll let you know how Brooke did."(Host) And we recently found out that Brooke Barrett finished first in her competition, The Winter Classic, wearing her custom pink costume