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Former skater Kuluva's designs sparkle runway

Inspired by time on ice, fashion designer rocks catwalk

Skaters gather after the Tumbler & Tipsy fashion show, from left to right: Tara Lipinski, Michael Kuluva, Sarah Hughes, Sasha Cohen and Richie Rich.
Skaters gather after the Tumbler & Tipsy fashion show, from left to right: Tara Lipinski, Michael Kuluva, Sarah Hughes, Sasha Cohen and Richie Rich. (courtesy of Tumbler & Tipsy)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(09/27/2012) - During New York's Fashion Week, the city was abuzz with talk about the latest styles, trends and attitudes. Designers came from around the world to show their spring 2013 collections while celebrities angled for front-row seats. Perhaps no show garnered more attention than Tumbler & Tipsy®, a flashy, exuberant line created by former figure skater Michael Kuluva.

After attending Fashion Week in 2009 while working for a designer, Kuluva decided to start his own line. He said the inspiration for the name came from a poem describing how "too many tumblers of whiskey might make you a little bit tipsy."

"When I think of that, I always think of party time," said Kuluva, who worked as a professional skater for nearly a decade, touring with shows such as Disney on Ice and Holiday on Ice. "Since being a professional figure skater and wearing so many extravagant costumes, I've taken that back into my design aesthetic."

He was determined to make his fashion show, which was part of STYLE360's Fashion Week presentations, decidedly untraditional -- from the lighting to the models to the music. Tumbler & Tipsy's show was a unique collaboration with video game publisher and developer Ubisoft and that company's upcoming release, Just Dance 4.

"I took about 12 looks inspired from the video game and made them into runway pieces in my collection of 47 looks," Kuluva said. "I did a lot of different colors. We had performers. It made it feel like you were watching an actual performance."

The pieces were modeled by some high-profile models, including Olympic soccer star Alex Morgan, a gold medalist at the London Games, and Kendall Jenner, daughter of Kris and Bruce Jenner and half-sister to the ubiquitous Kardashian clan. Guests in attendance included Olympic figure skaters Sarah Hughes, Sasha Cohen and Tara Lipinski as well as fellow skater-turned-fashion designer Richie Rich.

Kuluva, 29, grew up in Los Angeles the child of two lawyers.

"Being an artist is a little different," he said.

He trained with coach Sashi Kuchiki for a number of years and then worked with Frank Carroll, Ken Congemi, Russ Witherby and Cindy Stuart. During his competitive years, which included competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and North American Challenge, he had a lot of input into his costumes.

While traveling internationally as a pro skater, Kuluva not only took in the sights, but he also tried to attend as many fashion shows around the world as possible.

"Fashion was always in the back of my mind; I just didn't know how to get into it," he said.

He chose to attend the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, where he initially launched Tumbler & Tipsy on a small scale with accessories and some vintage reconstruction (updating older pieces) before evolving it into a complete line.

"We've had an amazing response to the show," said Kuluva, who credits U.S. Figure Skating media training with enabling him to handle all the press attention with ease.

After the excitement of the fashion show, the pieces were packed up, with a portion going to Tumbler & Tipsy's New York showroom, a portion to its Los Angeles showroom and a small portion held for editorial requests to be used in photo shoots.

"A lot of the aesthetic of my life, I put into the collection," Kuluva said.

This includes time he spends in Palm Springs, which inspired images such as hummingbirds, the sun and even a bone he tosses to his English bulldog, who serves as the company's logo.

Since New York Fashion Week, there have been invitations to show at several other fashion events. New retailers are picking up the line, which includes colorful sequined jackets, dresses and jumpsuits as well as silk chiffon pieces. For men, there are some custom pieces and graphic T-shirts.

What Kuluva said he's carried over from skating into fashion is determination, still rising each day on skater's time, 4:00 a.m.

"Skating has taught me to focus," he said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure everything comes out great. Most figure skaters are perfectionists. That's the same idea set I have with this line."