Fashion risks can pay off on the red carpet, but one place you don't expect to see them? The Olympics. That's about to change as figure skater Ashley Wagner gets ready to make her Olympic debut in the Sochi Winter Games. Her first event is today in the team figure skating event's ladies' short program, but it's her free program -- happening Feb. 19-20 -- that has everyone talking. Following a less-than-her-best finish at the 2014 nationals, the 22-year-old announced she was scrapping the Romeo and Juliet program she's skated to all season and instead will debut a revamped Samson and Delilah program in the ladies' final, which, among other victories, won her her second national title in 2013.
It's a risky move for sure, as making a big change like this so close to competition is unheard of. But as we learned during our chat, Wagner is no shrinking violet.
Wagner hasn't exactly followed the typical path to the Olympics: After just missing the 2010 Olympic team, she moved to California alone at age 19 and paid for her own training with a part-time job at a clothing store and money she'd saved for college. "I thought and still do think that for a really young person, she’s really inspiring," Jan Longmire, Wagner's costume designer, tells InStyle.com. "It’s (her) kind of thinking that’s like, ‘I don’t know if I can, but I’m not gonna just 'do my best,' I’m gonna do it.'"
That much is clear when Wagner talks to us about how she selects the colors for her costumes. "I love picking really bold colors, something your eyes will be glued to, because when you’re out on the ice with six other girls for your warm-up, I want all eyes to be on me," she says. "So I try to choose a color that people will be drawn to."
The less-delicate Samson and Delilah program seems to suit the fierce Wagner just fine. Along with the redone program, Wagner will be donning a new costume in bright yellow that pairs nicely with Delilah's intrepid persona, a choice that was very intentional. "Delilah (is) a very unsavory character, but very strong, and absolutely not your nice little girl next door," says Longmire. "(Ashley) and I together agreed, let’s do this in a very bold way. If you’re going to be Delilah, let’s not beat around the bush here."
Bold moves, indeed. Wagner's big gamble for the Sochi final is one to watch. Read more from Wagner about her personal fashion inspirations.
Tell us about the costume design process, and your personal style on as well as off the ice.
I might be more of a tomboy on the ice, but when it comes to fashion and things like that, I’m a total girlie-girl. I’m obsessed with it. My favorite part of the entire season is when you’re coming up with the look for a program. It’s really that first impression, when you first step out onto the ice, that’s when people go, “Ahh, she looks so fabulous!” or “Oh my gosh, she looks just like Juliet!” That’s really where you start making people believe that you’re the character that you’re trying to portray. I usually look at the type of character and figure out if I want to go really literal with the dress, or if I want to mess around with it a bit, modernize it a bit.
What bold color did you choose for the updated Samson and Delilah free program?
I am going with this really rich yellow-gold, kind of like a goldenrod type of a color -- something really strong and powerful on the ice.
Is there anything else you get inspiration from when making your costume choices?
I love Pinterest! Pinterest is absolutely phenomenal when you’re trying to come up with a costume design. I go online and I look at all the designer gowns and look at the necklines and the various skirt cuts and beading designs. And I love love love love Elie Saab. I think that the stuff that he creates is phenomenally gorgeous. So usually I’ll pick a couple of his dress designs, take it to my costume designer, and say, "Okay, this is what I want. How can we do this with spandex and some mesh?”
Do you have any favorite costumes that former skaters have worn that you’ve loved?
I always loved Michelle Kwan’s outfits. Most of them were designed by Vera Wang, and they’re just so simple, but the fabric that they used and the way that it was sewn together look so elegant and rich. You could tell that time had been put into it. It wasn’t just another spandex, stucco-covered costume.
Have you ever had any costume-related problems during performances?
I was skating to Spartacus, which is a ballet, and I ended up wearing this awful, awful, awful, just drab costume where the colors were really muddled and kind of brown and muddy with some reds mixed in. I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted it to be, and I had something that looked like a dirty tissue paper on my shoulder!
Well, you always look gorgeous on TV. How do you coordinate your makeup with your skating outfits?
For the yellow dress, I need something more like berry lips to complement the colors. I also want to make that Middle Eastern smoky cat-eye -- a very seductive look!
You totally sound like an InStyle girl the way you talk about your fashion and makeup.
I grew up on InStyle! It’d be, like, five in the morning and I’d be eating my oatmeal and flipping through InStyle, so I know what I’m talking about!
Switching to more personal style, what is your favorite go-to outfit for when you’re not skating?
I’m 5’3”, so I love to pump myself up, get some height in there. I’m all about a nice, comfy heel and boots. I just saved up and got Rag & Bone boots, and I am totally in love. But beyond that, I’m really like a jeans-and-a-white-tee-with-hot-boots type of a girl. It’s more the relaxed chic bohemian, I guess you could say.
Are there any celebrities whose style you admire, whether on the red carpet or just in general?
Emma Watson. I think her style is phenomenal because she just takes risks. It’s kind of like, "I’m going to wear pants and a red backless dress on the red carpet, and you guys are gonna love it." And I did!
Catch Wagner's debut Olympic performance Saturday, Feb. 8 in the team figure skating events on NBC at 8 p.m. EST, and during the ladies' individual short and free programs, which take place February 19 and 20.
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