Nick Verreos is becoming one of the hottest fashion personalities in Hollywood. His “Nikolaki” brand is well established and celebrities are wearing his gowns at Hollywood premieres, Awards and other red carpet events. He has been on Project Runway, and recently started being a “style expert” on many TV shows. His father is a Greek-American and his family comes from Peloponese. His brand is named nikolaki after his name which in Greek is Nikos. Nick is very proud of his Greek heritage as he tells us in this exclusive interview.
Where are you from?
I was born in St. Louis Missouri (my dad was also born there so he wanted his first born to be born in his hometown), but I was raised in South America—Caracas, Venezuela to be exact. My mother is originally from Panama (confused enough?)
What is your Greek background? What part of Greece does your family come from?
My father is Greek-American—My Yiayia and Papou (his parents) came from the Village of Zatouna near Dimitsana—my family name is actually Verreopoulos but it was shortened when they arrived in the US in the early 1900’s.
Do you visit Greece often? Speak Greek?
Not as much as I would like. The last time I was in Greece was about ten years ago—when I went with my family on a trip throughout all of Europe and we ended in Greece. Five before that, my sister, Rita got married in Greece so I was there for her wedding.
I just got back from Europe where I was for a speaking engagement I did in Paris and Florence—but there wasn’t enough time for me to get some “downtime” in Greece unfortunately.
Since I was raised (since I was about 3 months old), in Caracas Venezuela—until I was about 12, my first language was Spanish and then we moved to the States and then I had to learn English so I never learned formal Greek. I just picked up phrases and greetings (and bad words) here and there whenever we visited my dad’s side of the family.
How did you become a designer? Was this your first career?
I always drew well (or so my mom and dad would tell me) and for some reason, I always sketched women/models in fashion so I became quite good at it. I continued to have this “secret” hobby of mine throughout high school and my time at UCLA, where I majored in Political Science/International Relations (my dad was a Diplomat and I wanted to “make him proud” and follow in his footsteps).
After UCLA, I decided to pursue my love and study Fashion Design—much to my parent’s delight—and I attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising/FIDM in LA, where I graduated suma cum laude, so I guess this is what I was meant to do.
Did you do any other jobs before?
Before becoming a designer and beginning my line NIKOLAKI, in 2001, yes I had many jobs. While at UCLA, I worked in sales/retail at Macy’s and other department stores (typical college job) and I was an Assistant at a Commodities Futures Trading Commission of the US Government, if you can believe it. I did that for three years!
Then of course, everything changed after I attended fashion school and for approximately 10 years, I worked as an assistant designer, patternmaker, design assistant, everything and anything, before I began my own company.
Talk to us about the «Barbie» project.
Well, as you may (or may not know), while I was on Season 2 of Project Runway, I won the “Barbie Challenge” with the prize being that my Barbie was sold at Toys ‘R Us across the US and it became an instant “classic” (I hear you can find it on EBay for $5,000!). Cut to four years later, I am one of the Head Instructors at FIDM (my alma mater) and I was approached by Mattel to see if FIDM would be interested to have their top students design a Barbie outfit for her 50th Anniversary celebrations. They wanted me to be the Mentor of this special “challenge” and also, naturally, they asked me to design a gown for the celebrations as well. I designed the “Malibu Barbie” gown for her Birthday Party at her Malibu Mansion.
When did you come to Hollywood and how was the beginning?
I have been in LA since I came here to attend UCLA, so I have been here for over 17 years (crazy!). Being in LA was a bit overwhelming at first but I grew to enjoy the weather, the sun, the beach. It was just hard to “keep up with the Hollywood Joneses” as they say. Everyone was too perfect, too fabulous, with the perfect cars, the perfect multi-million dollar homes. Soon I discovered it was all “smoke and mirrors” and there was lots of phoniness. The way I handled being in this crazy town was to make sure to set up a small group of “family” (friends) who were all real, grounded and not so involved in the rest of the crazy madness of “Hollywood”. Being a fashion designer in a non-fashion designer town also helped.
Many say that the people of LA do not have a fashion sense. Do you think we are worse than other cities?
LA has its own unique fashion sense. It does get a bad rap, especially when people outside of LA think the “LA look” is all those douche bag looking Christian Audgier/Ed Hardy graphic t-shirts that Jon from “Jon and Kate Plus 8” unfortunately likes to wear. There is certainly an element of tackiness in what some people think is “LA fashion” but at the same time, a lot of trends begin here in Southern California.
Lots of designers—especially NY based ones—come to LA to get inspired, find out the latest trends, visit all of our famous “Vintage Couture” shops, go to Fred Segal, Kitson and go to Robertson Blvd and Rodeo Drive to see what’s hot. Since we are such a “celebrity-obsessed” culture, this (whether good or bad) makes LA definitely be a “hot spot” for fashion and trends.
Do I think it’s worse than other cities? No, not really. It’s all relative I think. Do I think people, in general may dress better in NY for example? Possibly. But I do feel since NY actually has a summer, fall, winter, etc., there are more ways to be creative with your style and clothing on the East Coast, and especially New York City.
Which cities in the world have the best dressed people according to you?
Anywhere in Italy! It still amazes me how chic and polished, especially all the men—from the garbage man to the police officer to the bank accountant—look in Italy. From head to toe! And they don’t have qualms about looking “too feminine” or wearing a bright pink shirt with a bright pink tie. Whereas here in the US, the word “gay” would come up, and you know how straight men have their issues with that! It is also great to see 80 year old Italian men looking fabulous, from the perfect camel wool coat to the fabulously-shined leather loafers. You never see 80 year men here in States looking that well put together. They’re usually in Bermuda shorts, white socks, Teva sandals and a fanny pack!
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment in life and/or career?
When I was asked to be part of the Sears holiday ad campaign, along with “High School Musical’s” Vanessa Hudgens and LL Cool J. This was an unbelievable moment to have my own commercial and to be aired all over the US—in both the English and Spanish markets, especially since it involved me telling a “wish story” about my Grandmother giving me my first sewing machine back when I was a young boy. It was a wonderful moment for me.
In addition, I must say, just the fact that I get to do what I love to do—and make money from it—is enough of an accomplishment for me and I feel blessed for it.
Do you have Greek-American friends?
I do. One of my best Greek friends is the owner of Decades Two, a boutique here in LA, and one of my favorite stylists is also Greek. We both don’t speak such good Greek so we bond over that—and how other Greeks “shun us” for it! For some reason, my Greek “brothers and sisters” get up in arms when I tell them I don’t speak that much Greek. It’s akin to blasphemy!!! I used to sit there for HOURS trying to explain why but I would still get the “You’re a BAD Greek!” look. I just laugh now.
I also have a great time any time I have to do any TV work with one of my favorite Greek “sisters”, Debbie Matenopoulos—she’s a CRAZY Greek!!! Love her—she has such a potty mouth on her—she’ll curse in Greek for like 5 minutes—I don’t know what she said but you know just from her hand gestures that it isn’t good!
Any future plans for “Nikolaki” ?
More red carpet gowns, more beautiful celebs wearing my gowns and dresses. More fashion shows—and possibly a NIKOLAKI “Web store” for next year. I’m also working on a possible HSN (Home Shopping Network) line so women all over the US, from size 0-18, can buy a “piece” of NIKOLAKI at a much lower price! Otherwise, there are my $10,000 gowns instead!
Any plans for work in other fields?
I’m really enjoying all the TV work I have been doing in the last three years. I just finished shooting a pilot for the Style Network and working on different projects, involving being a red carpet “style expert” and hosting, which I feel is a natural extension of me and my brand.
What is your typical day?
I get up around 8 or 9 AM, have a big cup of coffee, watch “The View”, then get on the computer and return emails, do my blog (www.nickverreos.com), take care of orders, call back stylists, have a couple of fabric meetings and then I “get to work” in terms of working on my collection, draping my gowns and doing the patterns.
On the days I teach, I leave my studio mid-day to teach for 6-8 hours on top of the above. This usually happens twice a week but now I find I just don’t have the time for that so I try to only teach once a week because of my crazy schedule.
My day usually ends at around 8 or 9 PM, I return back to the studio, take care of more blog or website stuff, deal with my My Space, Facebook and all the other stuff, have dinner around 10 PM and then my day is done. If I can get to the gym, somehow I do. And yes, in case you wondered, I barely sleep!