Step one in the Her Universe Fashion Show process is to HAVE AN IDEA! You may already have 1001 ideas for your submission, or perhaps you have one or two that you really want to hone in on. This blog is part 1 of 2 on how to create a concept and prepare your submission. In this first part, I’ll be focusing on brainstorming and helping you push your ideas to the max.
Choosing Your Inspiration
Ideas can come from anywhere. Anything that could be showcased at a comic convention is up for grabs. So movies, books, comics, shows, games, pretty much all types of media are fair game. It’s best to choose something you connect to personally. Look at the shows you watch, the games you play, the comics you read. Is there a character that stands out to you? Is there a concept that you find that’s dying to be turned into a look? Try to think outside the box.
The biggest advantage to choosing a well known fandom is the connection you will have to the audience and judges. If people know and love your fandom, they may immediately love the concept because of that association.
Something to consider with more popular fandoms is that you may have to share your spot in the show with someone from the same fandom. The first year I was 1 of 3 Star Wars-themed finalists, so I felt like my concept got a little lost in the show. However, when choosing finalists, the HUFS judges don’t seem to limit to the number of looks from each fandom. Some years certain fandoms are very popular, and the selection seems to be about individual designs, not how many of each fandom there are. Don’t get discouraged if your idea is inspired by something very popular, but do your best to make sure your concept stands out.
On the flip side, say you have the most brilliant idea for a very obscure fandom that you really connect to. I say go for it! The biggest advantage to an obscure piece it is going to be its uniqueness in the show. However, you run the risk of the initial judging team not knowing or being able to connect with the reference, and they may not have time to look up every fandom submitted. If you go with an obscure look, be sure you take time to explain your inspiration in the application. If the design itself takes your breath away, an obscure theme isn’t an issue.
Personally I always chose more popular fandoms. In fact, when brainstorming, I often would list the fandoms I loved the most, and then sub-listed out the things I liked the most about them (characters, imagery, concepts) to build design ideas. I tend to gravitate towards popular things in pop culture, but not necessarily ones you’d think about for a fashion show, like Aliens or Stranger Things. My personal strategy was to challenge myself to find something unexpected in a fashion sense rather than the first idea that came to mind.
Overall, choose something you really love, and it will be fun to work on. Never submit a design you wouldn’t want to make. Each year I have submitted 2-3 ideas that I truly wanted to make, so that I would be happy with whatever they chose. In 2018, I invested a lot of time into my Aliens look before submissions were even announced. I didn’t want to run the risk of another idea being chosen that I didn’t feel as passionate about, so I only submitted the one. I spent so much energy on cultivating that design, and if another was chosen I would have been been upset. It was worth it for me to put all my eggs in one basket, and it payed off.
Find a Brainstorming Buddy
I often bounce ideas off my husband because he isn’t in the fashion business. He’ll often think about things in a way that challenges my concepts, which is super helpful. There are also plenty of people in the Facebook Workshop group that you can run things by. Some of the former winners are also willing to give one-on-one critiques of your designs. It’s always great to have outside feedback, but also remember to stick to your gut and make sure the design is yours alone and not designed by committee. Some good advice for listening to feedback is if you hear the same criticism from more than two sources, it’s probably worth changing. If it’s from two or less, use your gut instinct on whether the change is merited. You’d can’t make everyone happy, but if a lot of people are saying the same things you should probably listen.
Mood boards are great ways to get a lot of ideas organized in one place so that you can visually see all your inspiration in one glance. Pinterest is my tool of choice for seeing a lot of concepts without having to print or arrange anything manually. You can also arrange ideas digitally in photoshop or any other program, or print images and put them in a notebook/ on a bulletin board. I personally like Pinterest because it will suggest similar images for me to broaden my brainstorming.
If you have a fandom in mind, find images that show that fandom or character. Try to find a common thread in the imagery that will tie your look together design-wise. It could be color, shapes, style or anything that is notable about that fandom. Watch your movie or turn on your video game and sketch ideas to add to your mood board. Try to think about each detail in the design and how it can correlate to the inspiration.
Some designers have a specific style of design they enjoy working in, such as historical costumes, or particular designers that spark a lot of creativity. Include these sorts of images in your mood board as well. Study what people are doing currently in fashion too. Which brings me to…
Make it Fashion
Cosplayers often participate in HUFS because it is adjacent to the work that they do. However, cosplay is not what the judges are looking for. The winners of HUFS ultimately design ready to wear clothing for the Her Universe line, so it’s important that the winners know what people wear in “real life” rather than just at conventions. Your submission doesn’t have to be in the ready-to-wear vein; in fact, couture means it is made specifically for one person, so unless you plan on manufacturing your look for the masses later, even “ready-to-wear” looks for the show are still technically couture. If you are going for a more avant-garde look, keep in mind what is truly wearable when you submit. A great way to know whether if your look is “fashion” enough is to consider if you would enter it into a cosplay or costume competition. If you feel like it fits in the costume world, work on focusing the fashion further. If you feel like it would be acceptable at the Met Gala, you’ve probably found the right balance.
One compliment I received from my win last year was that the silhouette of my look was so different than the other competitors. When we design for HUFS, it’s easy to fall back on tried and true gown silhouettes because they often give us the va-va-voom that we’re looking for. But when everyone is doing similar va-va-voom silhouettes, they may blend together on the runway. It’s good to research a silhouette that is unique but also makes sense for your fandom. Don’t just smash together a silhouette you like with a fandom you like; think about WHY that silhouette works for the fandom. For example, Hannah Lees Kent had a very high fashion interpretation of Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road in 2016. She chose a long line corseted gown that really made sense for the character as a fashion piece. It was simple and elegant, yet tough and futuristic.
As artists, we often will come up with an idea or concept and want to go with it as is, first iteration. However, there is something to be said for truly pushing the design to its furthest point. When I began sketching my coat in 2018, I knew there were certain shapes and text that I wanted to include, but I didn’t know exactly how to put them together. I did many pages of sketches just to get things out on paper. Most of them didn’t work, which is okay - not every sketch you do will be a winning idea! I also needed to explore placement of the pieces so I put together a muslin and moved printed bits of paper on the three dimensional jacket to get an idea of where things would work best. Don’t be afraid to do lots of iterations on the same look to perfect it! I do several pages of mini sketches to just try different ideas, or even just get ideas out of my brain onto paper. Tracing paper is really helpful so that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you draw a new figure. You can trace a croquis over and over and retrace the parts of the design you want to keep the same per each iteration.
Do not finalize your sketch without thinking about how you will build it. Sometimes designers will make an amazing sketch and then realize a month in that they can’t build it the way it was sketched. I struggled a lot with this in 2017 with my Upside Down dress. I just sketched something as fantastical as I could, but didn’t know how I was going to build it. Because of my time restraints that year, I did get it to work ultimately, but with more time and thought it could have been much less stressful and more successful. Push yourself and challenge yourself, but know what you are capable of in the months you have to build your look.
Originality and Research
To truly challenge yourself, the best thing you can do is invent a look that is unexpected and hasn’t been seen before. This brings about a very important tip: RESEARCH your LOOK.
Most of us are not Alexander McQueen (although if you are, dm me plz) so our looks aren’t earth shattering to the fashion world. It’s truly difficult to design something completely original that has never been seen. In fact, it’s easy to fall back on the most obvious idea for a theme. If you want to grow as a designer, I challenge you to iterate away from the obvious ideas, and make research a big part of your brainstorming process.
If you plan on entering this competition, you should look through the last 5 years of shows to make sure you aren’t submitting a look that has been done before. Here are links to videos for 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014. There are many videos on Youtube and articles with photos of all the looks, but these are a great place to start!
If you use a mood board, double check that you didn’t copy an idea accidently and only used the concepts as inspiration. As creatives, we often find ourselves designing things and then seeing something very similar that we’d seen before and forgotten, or came independently to the same idea. Luckily, the internet makes it very simple to double check our brainstorms to make sure they are original. The last thing you want is for someone to think you copied an existing look from a runway, another designer, or especially another designer for HUFS.
If you decide to pay homage to an existing designer, that’s totally acceptable, but make sure and give credit where it is due. And still strive to make your vision unique.
Here’s the real Money Advice: The best feedback I got from previous winners was to Push the Drama. It’s great to have a piece that looks like you could wear it on the street or to a ball, but in order to really wow the judges, you have to give it all the extra drama you can.
An example in my journey last year: my jacket was originally designed as a trench coat length look. I got the recommendation to have it touch the floor, which I at first resisted. I said, what would be added that isn’t conveyed with it being shorter? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that since I didn’t have a gown, I needed to make sure my street style look was very attention-grabbing. That’s also why I did sheer pants; not doing a dress can be a risk, so I had to make the outfit inside the jacket stun as much as the jacket itself. In addition, my model’s face originally was going to be covered by a very high collar in the front. I had feedback that we’d lose the model’s charisma if we didn’t see her face, which was also true. I had great brainstorm buddies that really helped me hone in the look.
Maybe you have a long dress, and adding a bit of a train will really pop the look. Or maybe adding a different color lining to a low-high skirt will make your model’s amazing legs really jump out at you.
Pushing the drama is such a generalized statement, but it truly is the best advice I can offer to design competition hopefuls.
WHEW! That was a lot! Still want more? This was only part one!
Part two of Creating Your Concept will cover:
Submitting Your Design
What to expect from the submission process.
“Extras” or gimmicks in your look like lights, non-traditional materials, or a transformation/reveal.
Strategies on designing for the different award categories.
Tips on illustration and presentation of your design(s).
And stay tuned for the next blog posts covering:
Getting in: Construction, Execution, and Project Management
So you have the perfect design! This section covers tips on bringing your ideas to life in a professional way through construction and execution, planning your time, and planning and raising funds for you trip.
Presentation: The Runway Experience
Many designers have never exhibited on the runway until the show. This blog will cover bringing the complete look to life on stage, as well as what to expect when you step in front of the judges.
HUFS Winners Round Table
Past winners of HUFS will tell you what they looked for when judging the finalists, and will also tell you what NOT to do!