As fashion week moves into the spotlight in New York, the most flamboyant designs may be on the ice in Canada, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
Next week, American figure skater and provocateur Johnny Weir will unveil a sparkly one-piece of his own design in Olympic competition. It's not often that a skating wardrobe change makes headlines, but that's what happened after Weir received threats for wearing white fox fur on his costume at last month's U.S. championships. (He has since switched costumes.)
It's all part of the package with Weir, who has made a name for himself as much for his off-ice drama -- like wearing a Soviet team jacket to warm up at the 2006 Olympics -- as for his skating. Weir, a contender to win a medal at his second Games, has shaken up the business of men's skating by blending it with high fashion and over-the-top personality.
While other American male skaters have most commonly made post-Olympics names for themselves as coaches, TV commentators or professional stars in traveling skating tours, Weir has taken the unusual step of foraying into fashion during his competitive career.
He has walked (and skated) the runway at New York Fashion Week and this year started his own Be Unique label with a line of $95 black jackets. After appearing in a documentary called "Pop Star on Ice," he is now the star of the Sundance Channel's reality show "Be Good Johnny Weir," which shows him practicing for many hours as well as shopping with his best friend Paris. In a promo for the show, Weir participates in a photo shoot in which he, wearing nothing but women's high heels, gloves and gem-studded leggings, emerges from a giant gold Faberge egg.
Weir, who has worked on costumes with the same seamstress since he was 13, calls one of his outfits "a Care Bear on acid. " He attributes his fifth-place performance at the 2006 Games to not feeling his "aura." Despite the negative attention for his fox fur choice, he doesn't apologize for loving fur. ("Pop Star on Ice" showed him moving numerous boxes of furs to a new apartment.) He even skates differently, spinning and jumping clockwise, unlike most of his counter-clockwise competitors. He spends lots of time with his fans, and enjoys particularly large followings in Japan, South Korea and Russia.
"Johnny Weir is the kind of creative talent that is pretty addictive for our viewers," says Sarah Barnett, the general manager of the Sundance Channel, which is owned by a unit of Cablevision Systems. "He is not afraid to show everything."
Headlines and fan loyalty haven't yet won Weir top-shelf sponsorships. His rival and fellow U.S. team member Evan Lysacek, the 2009 world champion who focuses on the sport's athletic jumps and spins, is backed by Coca-Cola and AT&T. Weir -- whose performance since the 2006 games has sometimes disappointed -- only gets money from his ice rink and skate manufacturer, as well as exhibitions and lectures. (He is in talks with "a very big furrier" but is nervous about moving forward "for obvious reasons," says his agent, Tara Modlin.)
Skating has never lacked for male peacocks. But Weir's particularly public persona creates discomfiture at a moment when figure skating has been struggling to reassert itself as a legitimate sport in the aftermath of a 2002 judging scandal.
"Figure skating, with its roots in amateur sports, has created champions with an image of innocence and wholesomeness. Gender role ambiguity has been tolerated, but not promoted," says Susan Chun, the editor of the skating blog Lifeskate.com. While Weir has in the past said he didn't get sufficient support from U.S. Figure Skating officials, Modlin is quick to say that the organization's new president, Patricia St. Peter, is a fan of Weir's. Officials at U.S. Figure Skating didn't respond to a request for comment.
While he attracts detractors from the traditional figure skating world, Weir was also criticized by Mark Lund, the gay former editor of International Figure Skating magazine, for not more directly addressing whether he is gay. In interviews, Weir celebrates the fact that he is effeminate and likes "sparkly things" but deflects questions about his sexuality, saying he doesn't want to be put in a box.