Piper Gilles was born, one of five children, in Rockville, Illinois. She moved with her family to Colorado Springs, Colorado for better skating opportunities. Ultimately, it paid off: in 2008, her oldest brother Todd placed sixth in ice dance, her twin sister Alexe won the ladies’ junior title, and Piper earned silver in junior dance with a former partner, Tim McKernan.
She ultimately split from McKernan, and skated for two seasons with Zachary Donohue. They represented the United States and won back-to-back U.S. national bronze medals on the junior level. When they split up in after the 2009-10 season, Donohue found Madison Hubbell and they’re going to the Olympics as Team USA members.
Gilles, though, took a different path. She headed to Hollywood.
“I thought I was done,” she told Canadian media. “I was gonna coach. I had an interview for ‘Skating with the Stars.’ I got a call from Disney on Ice to play Rapunzel in ‘Tangled on Ice.’ I had to make a decision in a week.”
She also booked a gig in a Simple Plan music video for the song “Can’t Keep My Hands Off You.” Eagle-eyed fans will spot her throughout the video, but she’s most prominently on screen at the 3:16- and 3:24-minute mark.
Once she got word of some top-level dance couples splitting up, Gilles got back on the ice. She got a call from an Ontario, Canada-based number one day, and was pretty confused.
It was Paul Poirier, asking to set up a tryout. They ultimately clicked and formed a team, choosing to represent his native Canada. They had to wait one season before she was released from the U.S., but the team’s character-driven performances quickly put them in the spotlight.
The team, nicknamed P2, has had some memorable programs. To name a few: Mary Poppins, a circus-themed program, the Beatles, disco, and this year, a James Bond-themed program.
Their sense of humor is well-documented. On their official International Skating Union biographies, at one time or another, Gilles has listed: “singing to animals, waiting to be awakened by a kiss,” “trapeze, riding elephants, unicycling, miming on street corners,” and “standing while eating, leaving toothpaste caps off, playing on the phone when talking to someone, dirty cereal bowls.”
Not to be outdone, Poirier has written: “Being too loud, coffee, bad puns, dancing in public,” “fashion, watching hockey, football, cottage weekends,” and “taking more than 1 sample, forgetting to cut nails, eating PB from the jar, being too loud at 6 a.m.”
P2 missed the 2014 Olympics, despite Gilles’ expedited Canadian citizenship process. Poirier injured his ankle in May 2013 and was off the ice until August, after undergoing a four-and-a-half hour surgery and needing 13 screws. They needed more time to recover. This time around though, the team has a stronger international resume and were named to the Canadian team by virtue of their silver medal at country’s nationals in January.
Gilles always designs the team’s costumes and has always had an eye for fashion, said her designer, Susi “The Costume Lady” Hubbs.
“She has such a strong fashion sense, on and off the rink. I just really make the garment and she takes it and runs with it,” Hubbs told NBCOlympics.com.
Gilles once told IceNetwork that if she could trade places with anyone in the world for 24 hours, she’d pick designer Betsey Johnson.
Gilles and Poirier make an annual trip back to Colorado Springs, where Hubbs is based, and work with her for a week straight.
“She and Paul come in for about a week every summer and we crank out all of their costumes in that week’s time. I just tell everybody else I’m not available this week,” Hubbs said. Once the pieces are done, Gilles takes the costumes and typically will do all the rhinestoning herself.
Their short dance costumes are particularly eye-catching.
Gilles found a fabric on the site of a British supplier, and brought it to Hubbs. It’s a burnout velvet, and the dress is constructed so it drapes over Gilles, Hubbs said.
Gilles isn’t the only one with a stylish look, though. Last year, for the team’s disco program, he was so dedicated to the craft that he sported a spectacular mustache. When the season was over, Gilles hosted a Facebook live for Poirier to shave it off.
Halfway through this season’s short dance, Poirier has a miniature costume change on the ice. Try and spot it during the PyeongChang Olympics.
All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, his sleeves grow and poof out. Hubbs explains the magic behind the reveal:
“She grabs the back of his sleeves. The other sleeve is encased… the short sleeve is created by the long sleeve being folded up. When she grabs the back of it and pulls downward, it just unfolds. It was tricky trying to get the right combination of sturdy yet able to just sort of fall apart.”