Karen Chen Skates in Dresses Designed and Sewn by Her Mother

Karen Chen Skates in Clothes Designed and Sewn by Her Mom

BEIJING — As quickly as Karen Chen skates onto the ice, the dreaded feeling returns.

Her coach could possibly be pounding on the wall of the rink to get her excited. Her household and pals could possibly be screaming encouragement from the stands. The followers could possibly be cheering her identify.

But in that highlight, standing there ready for the music to start, as she’s going to in Thursday’s free skate of the Beijing Video games, she nonetheless feels so very susceptible.

“It’s solely me, my physique and my thoughts, and it simply hits me that, ugh, I’m doing this on my own,” mentioned Chen, a two-time Olympian and the 2017 U.S. nationwide champion. “That may be so scary.”

She is aware of the treatment is shut, so shut that she carries it along with her. A fast contact of her jade rabbit necklace and a look at her costume remind her that it is going to be OK as a result of her mom is on the market along with her, too.

Chen’s mom, Hsiu-Hui Tseng, gave her that necklace when Chen was 9 after her first severe damage within the sport, a chipped bone in her foot, and the rabbit is Chen’s Chinese language zodiac signal. It’s meant to guard her, and Chen all the time wears it.

And her costume? That’s a special story, one stitched collectively over years of a mom’s love and help for a daughter who had an Olympic dream and now has realized it twice.

For many of Chen’s profession, her mom has made her glowing costumes which are fastidiously designed with Swarovski crystals which are one of the best for catching the sunshine. There could possibly be hundreds of them on every costume, and every is individually glued on. The larger ones are additionally sewn on, so that they don’t fall off.

At this degree of the game, the place clothes can price a number of thousand {dollars} every — or extra as a result of, in some instances, Vera Wang has designed them — a selfmade gown that may move muster on the high degree of the game is a rarity.

There’s a lavender one with a deep V lined with shining butterflies and flowers, for a efficiency to “Butterfly Lovers Concerto.” One other, purple with a splash of white and fuchsia flowers that flows daintily throughout the bodice. A black one with a moody deep V design of dazzling blues on the entrance and an identical deep scoop on the again.

And one which’s amongst Chen’s favorites: a lavender gown with an ombré design that took Tseng a number of tries to excellent as a result of she purchased the material from a Jo-Ann retailer and dyed it herself. You’ll be able to be taught something on YouTube, she mentioned.

Chen, 22, wore meticulously mom-made clothes in each the brief program and the free skate of the staff occasion final week, when america gained the silver medal. She will’t think about sporting a gown made by anybody else.

“It’s arduous to elucidate, however I simply really feel one of the best after I put on them,” Chen mentioned, a number of days after arriving in Beijing.

At first, Chen didn’t skate with bespoke clothes. When she was about 7 or 8 and wanted a dressing up, her mom simply purchased one on the rink’s professional store, albeit balking on the worth. Chen ended up complaining about it, saying “Oh my God, that is like too itchy and I don’t need to put on this!”

Her mom supplied a well-recognized parental reply: “I paid cash for this. You will put on it.”

And Chen did put on it, however just for some time. Her complaints wore her mom down.

“Her physique could be very delicate, and so her clothes want to slot in a sure method,” Tseng mentioned. “So I mentioned, ‘I’ll see what I can do’ and solved that concern by myself.”

Tseng’s previous Barbie dolls helped. As a woman in Taiwan, Tseng was not glad with Mattel’s style selections, so she ripped aside her dolls’ garments to look at the deconstructed cloth, then used them as a template for her personal designs and borrowed her mom’s stitching machine to create new, improved garments.

Years later, she additionally tore aside her daughter’s first competitors gown and put it again collectively in a method that made Chen really feel snug — and, possibly extra necessary, assured.

That dressmaking was simply the beginning of Tseng’s devotion to her daughter’s profession — and Chen mentioned her mom’s effort and sacrifices have helped her attain the highest of her sport.

“I used to be so younger and wanted a lot assist that I couldn’t have carried out this with out her,” Chen mentioned. “Once I made the staff in 2018, it was a dream come true, and I additionally knew that my mother was behind all of it.”

When Chen was in center faculty, her household partly uprooted so she may practice with the internationally identified coach Tammy Gambill, who was based mostly in Riverside, Calif., 400 miles south of the place the Chens lived in Fremont. Chen’s father, Chih-Hsiu Chen, couldn’t transfer due to his job, however Tseng may work remotely as a database engineer, so she rented an house in Riverside, the place the household lived throughout the week.

Ultimately, Chen’s youthful brother, Jeffrey, additionally began coaching in Riverside, as an ice dancer. On weekends, they’d drive again to Fremont so the entire household could possibly be collectively, and Chen remembers her mom being so drained throughout the six-to-eight hour drive of their Honda minivan that Chinese language podcasts or recreation exhibits can be blasting within the automotive to maintain her awake.

In the course of the week, Tseng would get up at 6 a.m. for East Coast enterprise conferences and produce her laptop computer to the rink, the place she would work within the stands.

“My husband and I may by no means do a sport like determine skating as a result of we didn’t have the sources,” Tseng mentioned. “We are going to do something to provide our kids the chance to do what they love.”

Tseng continued to make Chen’s clothes till 2016, when Chen’s first probability on the Olympics drew close to, and so they turned to knowledgeable as an alternative. Clothes are such an necessary a part of a skater’s presentation that athletes present them to coaches and even judges earlier than competitions to get suggestions on how a gown makes their physique look as they carry out jumps and spins.

“The gown, the hair, the make-up, the music choice and the story behind it, it’s all concerning the packaging and that’s a giant factor, proper?” Drew Meekins, Chen’s choreographer, mentioned. “The gown wants to indicate off the physique line in a method that’s most interesting to indicate issues like posture and stretch of the limbs. All these issues are evaluated in this system part marks.”

He added, “Karen’s mother is nice at highlighting her in simply that excellent method.”

However the price of these professionally made costumes is excessive, and Tseng mentioned she generally paid greater than $3,500, and additional for alterations. Typically Chen had to purchase an entire new gown as a result of the judges didn’t just like the one she confirmed them. In 2018, the associated fee grew to become unmanageable and Chen went again to her mom for costumes. Tseng additionally makes costumes for her son, Jeffrey, and his ice dancing associate, Katarina Wolfkostin. They have been named as alternates for this Olympics.

“I don’t care what folks say as a result of, first, it saves cash and second of all, she’s tremendous, tremendous gifted,” Chen mentioned. “That’s why my clothes are all the time drop-dead attractive.”

Earlier than turning on her stitching machine, Tseng listens to the music Chen will carry out to after which spends hours looking on-line and flipping by way of magazines to take a look at wedding ceremony clothes, gymnastics outfits, different skaters’ costumes and style, typically, to get concepts for a brand new creation.

Then she meets with Chen to debate potentialities and, later, tweaks reminiscent of which stone coloration seems finest and which route the crystal design ought to go.

Tseng mentioned she spends about $1,000-$1,500 on every gown and creates about 10 of them per 12 months. Chen receives them by FedEx at america Olympic coaching middle in Colorado, the place she has lived and skilled for the previous few years — and every time she opens the field, her coronary heart jumps.

Her newest gown arrived the day earlier than she left for Beijing.

For 20 hours a day, 4 days in a row, Tseng had lower cloth, sewed and glued, and sewed some extra for her daughter, who plans to retire quickly from worldwide competitors and return to her pre-med research at Cornell College.

“I barely slept in any respect, however I wished to make one thing actually particular,” Tseng mentioned. “I do know sooner or later I gained’t have this opportunity as a result of she may have a special life, and I’ll miss this.”

Chen, who was in thirteenth place within the ladies’s singles competitors after Tuesday’s brief program, mentioned she plans to put on the brand new gown for the free skate on Thursday. She wouldn’t describe it as a result of she wished it to be a shock.

“It represents our particular bond,” she mentioned.

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