Her Universe Fashion Show: Three Pieces of Advice From This Year’s Three Judges

A guest post by Laura Cristina Ortiz (UNSTITCHED)

The Her Universe Fashion Show is an annual geek couture fashion show that takes place at San Diego Comic-Con every summer. It is a competition, where about 25 designers present a couture garment inspired by pop culture for a chance to design a capsule collection for Hot Topic to then be sold across the country!

(Source: Ace of Geeks)

Every spring, right after WonderCon, Hot Topic and Her Universe begin accepting applications to the show. And every year, the winners from the previous year become part of the judging panel for the fashion show. In 2016, it was the first year that there was three powerhouse designs that took home the gold!

Camille Falciola, Hannah Lees Kent, and Jesse Thaxton took a moment and lent their words of wisdom to those considering applying to the fashion show. From finances and overall design to runway special effects, they each share their personal experience in hopes to inspire your submission.

Scope of Your Design Submission

To go big or go home? Do you want to design a big ballgown out of a myriad of different fabric types, but only have experience making a single cotton tote bag? Have no fear, Jesse, designer behind the “Falkor” inspired couture design from The NeverEnding Story, lends advice in regards to big design appetites that may not match physical skill level:

Design the biggest, most intricate thing you can think of without thinking about your skill level. Once you’ve got that drawn out, then go back through and redesign, based on what you know you can make.

If you’re still stuck trying to figure out the construction of your design, maybe take sometime to practice and develop those skills. You can read sewing blogs, attend remedial sewing classes locally, YouTube tutorials, or even sign up for!

Special Effects and Technology on the Runway

Camille, winner of the Audience Award for her “I’m Solemnly Swear I’m Up to Couture” Harry Potter inspired gown, is well-versed in incorporating a special effect into her geek couture piece. Camille worked with engineer Rick Manno to have the print on the gown disappear and reappear on the runway before the audience’s eyes (just like the Marauder’s Map!). They used a special thermochromic pigment and complicated temperature rigging.

Her advice regarding doing a design with a technological element:

I personally have never been a big fan of lights on a couture garment, so I’ve steered away from it. Unless it’s that fiber optic fabric, lights have a tendency to look very cartoony, and to me, it kills the couture feel. But you might be the person to do right, so do what your heart desires. If someone is to do a transformation piece, definitely do your research!!! Technology is often unreliable, as I’ve come to learn. So if you do choose something high tech, have a backup of your key element. Extra circuit board, batteries, lights, etc., so you aren’t stuck day of or day before having to run to Fry’s (it’s far from the convention center, trust me). I know it seems there is a trend with transformation pieces in the last years, but from what I’ve heard, I think they may be trying to change course away from them. So make sure to submit another option as well. Also, someone else gave me great advice too. If you do a “gimmick” piece, make sure you can’t see the strings (what makes the dress work).

Committing to Perseverance and Finances

Left to right: Asajj Ventress from ‘Star Wars’ inspired design (2014), “Runway Ready Ripley” inspired by Ripley from ‘Aliens’ (2015), and Imperator Furiosa from ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2016). (Photo: Hannah Lees Kent)

Perseverance is the name of the game sometimes when it comes to submitting your design. It is not uncommon that the HUFS features repeat designers—Hannah, winner of the 2016 Judge’s Award for her “Oh! What a Gown….What a Lovely Gown!” Mad Max inspired gown (specifically, Furiosa), had been part of the show since the very beginning. After three years of participating, Hannah gives honest advice about the financial commitment associated with the show:

Be aware that this contest does require a financial investment on your part. It’s great to design an elaborate gown, but if you can’t afford all of the materials, that is something to be aware of before submitting. There is also the aspect of getting to the con, your hotel and food for the time you’re there. Her Universe graciously provides food back stage during rehearsal and the show, but the rest is on you. I suggest setting aside whatever amount you can now, and keeping in mind that it has to cover materials and travel. Some trips that worked well for me is making sure to measure twice and cut once! I ran into the issue of only have 2 yards of my leather for the skirt, so I made sure to pattern it to death with muslin before ever cut into the good stuff. I also highly suggest patterning out of something cheaper, like muslin or whatever fabric will drape similarly to what your end fabric will be. That way, when you have your pattern all figured out, you will know exactly how much of the nice fabric you need and won’t end up overbuying when it may already be expensive. Everyone has different areas of their lives that they are able to budget more easily, I think the important thing is to realize, much like cosplay, the Fashion Show is not cheap to participate in. So knowing that early on can hopefully help you set aside the funds you need to minimize stress. That said, having had the chance to participate in the first 3 years, it was absolutely worth it! I have grown personally as a designer and seamstress, and met some of the most incredible and inspiring people in my life. I feel so blessed to call the fellow contestants my friends and to know we’ve shared all these memories together. I wish you all the best of luck and hope to meet you all at this years Her Universe Fashion Show!

Interested in learning more? You can check out my blog posts “Applying to the Her Universe Fashion Show, Part 1 and Part 2“! If you still have questions that we did not answer, please feel free to comment on this post!

Emerging geek designers, cosplayers and hobbyists are welcome to apply to the Her Universe Fashion Show until 11:59 PM PST on Wednesday, April 19th, 2017. Here is the submission link.

Good luck and happy sewing!

Laura Cristina Ortiz is a freelance Costume Designer in the film & television industry, runs her blog UNSTITCHED, and she’s a two-time participant in the Her Universe Fashion Show (2015, 2016). Last year, she was both the 1st Runner up for the Judge and Audience Award for her “Define Couture” geek couture design inspired by the Pixar film WALL-E (and the robot of the same name). You can read a write-up of her design on Disney Style. You can also follow her on Instagram and her blog.

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