All right my nerds, let’s dive into the actual submission process for the Her Universe Fashion Show Competition. If you haven’t seen part 1, find it here. The first blog in this series gives an overview of what to expect from both the competition and upcoming blogs, which is here.
For those of us who start thinking about the competition on the way home from the convention, it can seem like agony to wait until next year. Worry not, it’s already mid-January!
In past years, applications are announced and opened somewhere at the end of March or beginning of April, and then closed about 4-6 weeks later at the end of April. Finalists are announced within a week or so. Finalists are invited to bring their sketches to life on the runway at San Diego Comic Con in July. This competition is self-funded. Her Universe does NOT provide financing for the finalists looks or trip to San Diego.
Each year, more and more designers apply, and in fact last year over 300 submissions were received. The number of finalists chosen varies from year to year, but is usually around 24-27. Since such a small percentage of designers “make it” each year, it’s important to fill out your submission with care, as well as provide quality illustrations of your designs. Also make sure to read the directions and rules and meet all the qualifications (especially if you have ever worked for Hot Topic stores).
Every submission will be notified via email if they have advanced to the finals. They will let you know either way, which is super nice since there are so many submissions. So make sure that email is spelled right!
The application consists of a few different sections. Her Universe wants to know who you are and what participating in the competition would mean to you, so there is a biography section. You must also detail your experience level in sewing and provide photo examples of looks you have created. Clothing is best, and probably human clothes, if we want to be super specific (still holding out for the animal Her Universe competition). These do not need to be geek or fashion related, so cosplay and costuming work fine for this.
In the last couple of years, an option to submit a bio video has been included. This is NOT required. These don’t have to be fancy, just cell phone videos are acceptable. If videos aren’t your forte don’t stress about it! There are a good mix of finalists who do videos as well finalists get in without it. If you decide to make a video, Ashley Eckstein does indeed watch every one. Here is mine from 2018, as well as 2017. I am kind of a derp, FYI. You most certainly do NOT need to include anything about your look in the video, I had just been working on perfecting the technique last year, and had a sample to show. It’s all about getting to know you as a designer, so for me it was important to show my derpiness.
There are two sets of judges in the Her Universe Fashion show: there are the folks that choose the top 20-some finalists, and a different set of judges that choose the winners during the runway show. The initial selection part is done by Ashley Eckstein and her staff at Her Universe. For the runway show, judges are comprised of staff members from Hot Topic and affiliated companies, last year’s winners (I will be judging in 2019), as well as a handful of guest judges that include notable cosplayers, celebrities, and industry professionals. Ashley does not select the winners.
You may submit up to 3 complete designs of women’s wear looks (no mens, children, or dog-wear…YET), but only one design per person will be chosen. Her Universe is looking at the initial set of submissions and figuring out how to program a really great show. Each year that I submitted several has resulted with the most “out there” look being selected. My guess is because they want really showy pieces to wow the audience. So, as it has become my constant advice, PUSH the drama in every piece you have. It is important that you really showcase your ideas in full. This competition is ultimately an advertising event for Her Universe and Hot Topic, so it is in their best interests to select the looks that will make the biggest splash on stage.
The Award Categories
There are three award categories (one new as of last year) to consider with your design. It’s not necessary to focus on this as you design; you should design your best design, by golly! But a little strategy never hurts. Personally, I was keeping my eye on the judge’s / construction award as I designed, but instead won the audience vote (oh well!) so there is no tried and true method here.
The Judge’s Award usually goes to a design that best captures the inspiration as fashion. Often (but not always) the looks tend to be geared toward a higher fashion look, as well as unexpected treatments of the fandom, yet remain obvious as to what the look is celebrating. Flawless construction is a must. Let me say this for people in the back: FLAWLESS. CONSTRUCTION. IS. A. MUST.
Last year a new award was added: The Singer Sewing Award for construction. In year’s past, construction and sewing techniques were a solid part of the judge’s award. I think breaking this out into a third award is great, because there are some amazing techniques that need celebrating! Last year Jane Burson won this award for her Howl’s Moving Castle inspired look, which not only included incredible feather work, but an impeccable corset with individually quilted diamonds shapes in the bodice. I MEAN. Look at those diamonds!!
The Audience Award is exactly what it sounds like: every audience member gets a ballot to select their favorite look of the show, and the votes are tallied to select the winner. I am thrilled to have been the 2018 winner of this award. Interestingly, as I said, my focus was entirely on trying to win the judges award. I only dreamed up the lining design of my jacket later on, which I think is what really solidified the audience vote because it was unexpected. This is another reason iteration is so important in your development. Designs for this award are usually over-the-top and have special treats just for the audience. In the past these have included stage transformations and unexpected reveals, light-up tech elements, larger than life concepts, and incredible runway performances.
The sketch you provide of your look can make or break your submission. As the years have progressed, the illustrations which are chosen as finalists have only gotten better and better. If drawing isn’t your strong side, remember that you are allowed to commission your concept art to an illustrator!
Ultimately, your illustration should best demonstrate what your final garment will look like. This will be your road map as you construct. You may illustrate your look however you like - paint, colored pencils, or any physical media works great, but digital art is great too. A dynamic pose of your figure can really help bring movement and life to the design, like Cynthia Kirkland displayed in her winning Shape of Water submission last year. Including both front and back and/or side of your design isn’t fully necessary, but do it if it is important to understanding your look. In the past I have often only included the front look of my design, and then figured out what the back would look like later on. For my jacket design last year, it was important to see both the closed jacket as well as the open version, so I showed 2 figures.
A section of the application exists to describe your design in detail, such as how you will build it, what kind of materials you will use, etc. You can also add notes to the margins of the illustration if you feel that is necessary. Other optional things to include on the design are your name, what you call your design (people often come up with quirky titles. Side note: originally I called my look “Get Away From Her You Dress!” But then it turned out not to be a dress.) a background, or swatches if you’re already set on materials. Again, these are all optional, but make sure to save a version of your look without the extras in case you are selected - last year they requested a version on a white background to be used in the program.
If you are selected as a finalist, you must design your look according to the illustration submitted. Any large departures in the final garment without approval from Her Universe will result in disqualification. It has happened, and it SUCKS.
Her Universe generally holds an open call during Wondercon to review your portfolio and get tips on your looks for the fashion show as well as geek fashion and beyond. This year’s Wondercon takes place March 29-31, 2019 in Anaheim, California. Previous years have been described as:
For fans and designers looking to submit their designs for The Her Universe Fashion Show or who just want to get into the business of geek fashion, they are invited to share their portfolio with industry professionals from Her Universe and Hot Topic and get tips and advice on how to best prepare their fashion portfolio.
I personally have not attended this review, but I have heard it can be very helpful. It does NOT affect your chances of winning or getting into the competition. Many winners and finalists have never attended. However, getting your work in front of people for critique is always a great way to grow as a designer, so if you are in the area, I encourage you to get a badge to the convention and check it out.
Often, designers who are aiming for the Audience Award opt for some kind of gimmick with their look. When I talk about gimmicks, I am talking about things outside of the actual fashion, silhouette, and construction of your look such as lights, unusual materials, or my favorite, the “reveal”. I don’t think gimmicks are a bad thing, especially for this particular show, if used correctly. Often, designers will see a previous year when a winner was very successful in a look that had a gimmick to it, and subconsciously think that doing something like that is the key to winning the audience award. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is NO tried and true formula to winning this competition. Just because something happens one year doesn’t mean the judges the next year will be into it. If you use a gimmick, make sure that your design can also stand alone without it.
Here are some tips if you decide to do a gimmick:
Doing a gimmick like this can be very cool if done well. But lights are tricky because it’s hard to know how they will look to the audience. I used reflective material on my jacket last year, which I know is not lighting, but the effect was completely lost on the runway because the overheads were so bright. For lighting effects, the overheads are usually dimmed for a moment during the walk to display your lights interacting with the look. The downside to this is that the audience has to adjust their eyes to your lights and then back to your look when the lights come back up. If you decide to do a lighting effect, my best advice is to make sure that it truly adds to your design and that your lights are very bright. Are you adding lights because it’s “cool” or does it have meaning for your look? Always strive for meaning. Also, make sure the lights don’t detract from look unless it is truly the main event.
There have been some amazing entries over the years that are made of non-traditional materials, such as yarn, latex, leather, and even trash! Laura Ortiz did an incredible Wall-E look in 2016 made completely out of trash, earning her an honorable mention award, coming in 2nd in two out of three award categories. Material choice can be an interesting way to set your look apart. If you decide you can elevate your look with an interesting material, set aside extra time for testing. Sometimes if we haven’t used these items before, a bit of trial and error may be needed. Fit is also VERY important for these materials. It’s great if you made your outfit completely out of recycled bottles, but make sure it fits your model well as a garment and isn’t just a blob on stage (unless you’re going for blob chic, which…by all means…go for it).
After Andrew MacLaine’s incredible Once Upon A Time reveal in 2014 and Leetal Platt’s stunning Usagi Transformation in 2015 (attached gif), many designers thought that a reveal was the easiest way to win audience award. Not true, said Camille Falciola in 2016 with her brilliant Harry Potter Marauder’s map dress, which through some amazing fabric technology, made map elements appear and disappear on the dress in front of the audience’s eyes.
Transformations and reveals are fun, and can make your look really come alive on the runway. They can be very tricky though, and when multiple designers do them in the show, less impactful. When considering a transformation, remember that you are committing to not one, but at least 2 full or partial looks. And each piece needs to be equally strong. Designers can get caught up in trying to make the look you transform into the “main” one, and not really focus as hard on the first, or vice-versa. The most exciting reveals are those that the audience does not expect, so research ways to make your looks seem complete and fashionable in each stage. If your look walks out and the first thing the audience thinks is “oh, she has a different outfit under that jacket”, definitely think about whether the reveal is worth it. Also, consider what the reveal adds. Can your look stand alone without a change? Does it look just as good before as it does after?
Another huge part of a reveal is making sure your model (or you, if you are walking your look) can sell it. Practice the reveal so it is smooth, and the timing so the audience can admire the details in the first look as well as the final look.
Embroidery and Tiny Details
Although this isn’t a gimmick necessarily, I think it’s important to mention. Embroidery, beading, and very intricate details on your look can be very impressive. However, if this is something you decide to include in your look, be realistic about the time it will take to do it, and the value it gives to your design overall. Embroidery and beading is hard and can take many, many hours to complete. Although the judges will see your pieces up close, the audience will only see if from the runway. Overall design, silhouette, and performance are still the most important parts. Make sure you have those first before you add any gimmicks, including fine embroidery detail.
Overall, the most important thing to consider with any gimmick is whether your look would be as successful WITHOUT it. You should strive to have a design that rocks the boat without relying on lights or a transformation for it to have appeal. But again, rules are made to be broken! Anything can happen during the show.
There we are! Now you’re an expert in the application process. You can do it, everyone! And if you aren’t sure if you are “ready” to submit, I’d say do it anyway. The things you learn along the way will be worthwhile for not only future submissions, but being a creative in general. I believe in you!
Stay tuned for upcoming posts, my nerds!
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!