Nick Verreos Talks “Under The Gunn” Triumph…But Would He Mentor Again?

by | April 29, 2014 at 8:52 AM | LGBT, Project Runway

Nick Verreos (Lifetime)

It’s been a few weeks now so hopefully most of you have finally caught your breath after the season finale of “Project Runway: Under The Gunn.” (I almost have but not completely since the finale was such a jaw dropping thrill.)

The first season of the Lifetime reality competition series, hosted by Tim Gunn, featured three former “Project Runway” contestants who stepped into the role of mentor to teams of up-and-coming designers. The series had a plethora of ups and downs with emotions flaring between not only the contestants but mentors Mondo Guerra, Anya Ayoung-Chee and Nick Verreos. And like all good reality TV, one word you would never use to describe the first season is boring.

While it was nearly impossible to guess the winner of the first season, Verreos came out on top when his designer, Oscar Lopez, wow’d the judges with his final collection (see video below), thus awarding the designer with a cash prize of $100,000, a 2014 Lexus CT 200h, a fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine among other prizes.

I grabbed some time recently with Verreos, who talked about the overall experience including whether he saw Oscar’s win coming from miles away, what he made of Gunn’s frequent chastised for working too closely with his designers and, more importantly, whether he’d step into the role of mentor again if  “Under The Gunn” returns for a second season.

Now that it’s behind us, I have to say that “Under The Gunn” was an interesting show to watch. I’m sure it was even more interesting to be a part of!

Nick Verreos: You could say that again. I love it when just the viewers can say that and my answer, just two words. ‘You think?’ Yes, it was interesting to watch. My husband (David Paul) and I said the same thing and this is coming from somebody who lived it, who did it. And I have to say that, obviously, it’s not my first time at the reality show rodeo as it were…so for me to go into it [and] having been not an amateur at this kind of thing, it was odd to see the editing and the results.

I’m always the first person when I watch reality shows and hear people on their shows afterwards say that they’ve come off really bad. They always say, ‘it’s the editing. That wasn’t me.’ And I just want to like, I want to like grab their heads and slap them, you know? And here I am being in that position where I watched it, and like you said, it was interesting.

Mentors Mondo Guerra, Anya Ayoung-Chee & Verreos (Lifetime)

Yeah. Well, talk about Oscar, who I saw as kind of the quiet one that kind of just slowly started emerging. Is that how you saw it? I know you believed in him a lot, but talk about how you saw him from kind of the beginning to the end of the journey.

NV: When I first saw his portfolio, it was obvious that he had talent. But all that we saw in terms of the photos that he had submitted to us, there were lots of gowns, there were a lot of custom things that he had done and they were rather elaborate and there was possibly a bow too many. But it was obvious, at least I think not just to me but to the other mentors, that this guy knew his stuff. And he had construction skills. And I love that part.

There was just something about this guy when I saw his outfits and I saw that he could do a lot, that he could do a lot in a very short amount of time, I said, ‘I’m going to choose this guy because he’s super talented, he can obviously do a lot, and hopefully I can mentor him to edit.’

So I knew that he was super talented from the get go but in terms of being the possible winner, there were so many variables within the whole entire group that we just never knew. And I have to tell you that the environment…I don’t know if the show really showed it, but both Oscar and I, we felt every single challenge that we went into, we thought it was the end.

And that was because of either Tim Gunn saying negative things or the judges saying, ‘well, all you can do is gowns…’ And, literally, I remember every single time before we walked down to the runway and sat down and those benches, Oscar would pull my hand and he would say, ‘Nick, this is it.’

So there was never any feeling of us thinking that we got this, we’re going to win, Oscar’s going to be it. He kept doing above and beyond and I kept trying to push him to do above and beyond because like I said, every single challenge we thought it might be the last one where they might just be done with Oscar. And so there was never a feeling like, ‘oh yeah, we got the crown.’ And that is why, every single challenge, I literally cried. And even I, Jim, I watch it and I’m like ‘who is that damn cry baby?’

Was it hard for you to have – and this may have been the editing again – but was it hard for you to have Tim constantly be telling you to not guide your people so closely? I was curious if that’s how it really was or was it just editing.

NV: Good. Good. You’re good.

I watch a lot of TV and I know how these shows work.

NV: It’s a combination of the editing, and let me tell you. When, in the beginning because I have such a hard time convincing some of the designers to be on my team, and when finally I had a team and I was just happy to have anybody, you know? And I went in guns blazing, because again, I fought so hard while the other, I say ‘the other kids,’ but Mondo and Anya looked like a walk in the park.

That’s when Nick has arrived. And I thought that, that could be my way of mentoring. Now realizing, and quickly realizing, that wasn’t the way Tim Gunn wanted the mentoring to occur. And nobody sort of gave us any rules of what kind of mentoring we should do but it was quickly realized because of little things that Tim said or did, especially toward me, that ‘that’s not the kind of mentoring I’d like for you to do.’

I think in the beginning, Natalia had done a dress and she wanted to just double check and make sure that the pattern looks right in terms of the shape that she wanted, so she brought it out, the lounge, laid it out on the floor, and I think, just let me know, does this look okay to you?

And it was in a split second I thought, if I say no, I’m going to look like I’m not being a good mentor, I’m not assisting, I’m not putting in my two cents, and if Natalia fails it’s going to be on me. But then if I do help, this might look like I’m almost doing it for them, even though I’m not. So I went to the latter and I said, you know, I’m just going to do what I do, and just be there and answer questions and help. And in came Tim Gunn right in, and followed by three, four cameras. And he just yelled, ‘What are you doing?’ And I looked up like, ‘okay’ because I thought I wasn’t doing anything wrong but then all of a sudden when I saw the scene and I sort of stepped back basically from my body and stepped four months ahead, thinking ‘oh that’s going to look really cute on TV.’

So here’s the big question, and I don’t know if there’s another season of ‘Under the Gunn’ coming, but if you were asked to come back, would you do it again?

NV: That’s interesting. I do not know if there will be another season. I think it’d be great, a lot of people have asked. I think that as always, as it was for ‘Project Runway,’ season one, not many people watch it but it was only after season two, the season that I was in, where it really took off. And I think that possibly it would be great to give it another season. I think the ratings were good enough to do so. I would be happy to come back. Yes. I’d be happy to come back and see if somebody, one of the other mentors, tried to snatch my crown away.  I will be fighting for it. And I have to say, at least this time around if I do, do it, I know a little better of the sort of the mentoring and how to do it and how to do it a la Tim Gunn.

Oscar Lopez (r) takes Verreos for a ride in his new car. (Lifetime)

What advice did you give Oscar to kind of be on the show, because he’s kind of at a good place where, you know, he won the prize, it’s a very good spot to kind of launch into a whole career doing this, like at a different level. What advice did you give him, kind of go into the business side of this outside of the show?

NV: Yeah. I had a lot of talks with him and I just recently saw him in New York, we went out, and between my partner and I, we’ve run our business since 2001 so we pretty much have done it all…I took him under my wing and gave him a lot of advice. He is more, his expertise has been in the business has been mainly generally private client. So I’ve sort of given him advice in terms of like how to navigate any licensing deals or any questions in regards to starting up a business or dealing with department stores, that kind of thing.

And I’ve told him that if he ever, ever has any questions and anything comes up, please…I feel I’m not just your mentor on the show, I’m probably your mentor for life. So if you have any questions, we’ve done it. I always say that try to make the mistakes off somebody else’s dime. I try to tell students that.

And so I tried to tell Oscar that I did ‘Project Runway’ back in 2005 which is almost eight years ago, if not nine years ago and I’ve barely slept since I remember soon after I did Project Runway, Season 2, a former friend of mine said to me, something that really stuck with me. He sort of said, and it was viewed to be catty, he said, ‘Oh, look at you on TV. It looks like you got 13 minutes left of your 15.’ I know! I know! I turned it around and sort of made it a mantra to prove the person wrong and this is not why I did that show and that I’m in for the long run. And I’m going to work my little booty off, for lack of a booty to work off, to use this as a trampoline, as a catalyst, you know, etcetera, etcetera. And that’s basically what I said to Oscar, ‘don’t rest on your laurels. You make it what it is. Keep yourself relevant. And keep on working, and let people know you are around. And everything will fall there.’ I think the mistake that a lot of people make is they’ll just sit at home and think that the calls will just come in. Or the emails will come in, and no, not at all. You’ve got to go out there and hooker yourself. [laughs]

What else do you have coming up, like just in the immediate future?

NV: I’m continuing my spokesperson duties for FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) so I travel around the campuses, they have four different campuses so I do a lot of events for them as well. And I’m working on my collection, my line. In the coming fall I’m going to host Style Week OC (September 8-21), which is a big event that happens at the Irvine Spectrum, and I’m actually going to be showcasing my collection, my red carpet gown collection there. So, yes, so lots of exciting, lots of exciting things. And also we may be judging the costumes for season 13 of ‘Project Runway.’

To follow Nick, check out his website and follow him on Twitter

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.