The Her Universe Fashion Show is open to a range of designers, both professional and amateur. That’s one of the things that makes it such a fun experience! I know this blog can feel a little intense if you haven’t applied before (or even if you have). I am coming at it as a veteran who now works in the professional fashion world, but truthfully, you don’t need to be nearly as in-depth as I took this process. This series is meant to be taken as guidelines and advice, but as I keep stating, there isn’t a surefire way to win or even get in. Do it because it is fun, but be aware of the time and financial commitment you will be making if you apply.
If you are in amateur sewing category, don’t despair! This competition is just as much for you as it is for any professional. I started as an amateur in 2015; I had no formal sewing training and sent my application in on a whim. I didn’t spend a ton of time on my drawings, and even submitted a design that was for another project entirely. I learned a ton in the process of building my look every year, and strived to improve with each entry and construction. This and the community make it worth applying every year, no matter your level. Don’t feel like you are “good” enough? I encourage you to try anyway! This competition was a huge force in me deciding to go back to school and pursue fashion full time!
Manage That Time
Congratulations! You made it into the finals! First off, celebrate yourself. Getting in is Hard and if you’ve made it to this point, in a sense you’ve already won. You’ll grow throughout the competition as an artist, and the friendships and connections made along the way will continue to push you upwards. Once you’ve celebrated a bit, take a breath and start planning.
Time management may be the most important part of your preparation. In 2017 I was finishing my look hours before it hit the runway in a rush, but in 2018 I finished a few days before flying out to San Diego. I can tell you the experience is much more fun not working until the clock runs out.
Generally, designers have about 2+ months to work on their designs, which should be enough to complete most looks without issue. As creatives, if we have a certain amount of time before a deadline, it’s easy to fill every second of that time to make our work the best it can be. It’s also easy to continue iterating as we go, which always adds more time. That’s why it’s good to stick to your drawing as a blueprint. If you stray too far from your original concept, you risk disqualification.
The first thing you need to consider when planning is how much time realistically you can set aside to work on your look. Day jobs, commission work, children, and other obligations can limit the time you have for this project. Determine the number of hours per week that are realistic to devote to your piece. From there, prioritize the things that are the most important to complete. Make a list of all the steps and rate them on what is important to finish. For example, maybe you want to add some beading to the hem of your gown, but the bodice is the main focus. Prioritize the construction of the bodice, and add the beading later on if you have time.
If you plan on a technique like dying, beading, or embroidery, it’s always ideal to test this method before jumping in so you have a fair guess of the time it will take to complete. In my Aliens design, I incorporated a mesh window technique that I did many proof of concepts on before I even submitted my designs in April. I wanted to have cut out letters on my coat, and it took me hours of testing to not only realize I needed the letters to connect in order to have a clean facing, but to find the right balance in size based on the thickness of material I used. If I had waited to test this concept, I am not sure it would have been clean by the time I had to walk the runway.
When project managing your process, it’s also important to note the difficulty of your piece. It’s always preferable to do a “muslin”, which means a rough draft of your garment using similar (but cheaper) fabric to get the fit and drape correct before moving on to the final fabric. Often this is created in muslin fabric, which is simple cotton that is easy to draw on and very cheap, hence the name. I originally had a much thinner material in mind for my jacket, and through testing I realized that I needed to make a change based on how one of my muslins turned out. It was great that I figured this out before getting hip-deep in construction with fabric that was going to be more trouble than it was worth.
As far as challenging yourself with a difficult design, fellow 2018 winner Jane Burson says it best:
“…if you've never made a corset before, think twice about doing a super complex tight-laced design with 20 panels unless you're ready to make a lot of muslins figuring it out - I've made a lot of corsets, but because of the design and quilting the diamond pattern over the panels, I still had to draft the pattern 3 times and make around 6 mockups before I locked down my final version.
Part of the joy of design work for me is puzzling out how to take something from concept to reality, but I always have at least a basic idea of where to start. You don't want to design something so ambitious that you can't make it a reality, or your construction visibly suffers.
If you're using a new technique or fabric or material, do some tests with them prior to submitting. There are some things certain fabrics and materials just won't do, and it sucks to find that out after a design has been accepted and you're in a time crunch trying to complete it. In that vein, don't underestimate how long it might take you to do fussy time-consuming techniques like embroidery, fabric painting, beading etc. If you can, time yourself doing a test swatch and then estimate how long it would take to do the full execution of that beading/embroidery etc.
Seriously, don't underestimate how time-consuming this process can be (I'm pretty sure I spent about 70 hours just sewing feathers onto my dress fabric), and how quickly the time between acceptance and the show will pass. Most of those couple months felt like I was working an additional full-time job.”
Once you have a list of all the things you need to complete on your look, add up the estimated time it will take to do each step. If you notoriously work until the last minute on projects, take this number and double or even triple it to ensure you have enough time to complete your look. This will give you an idea if your ambition versus what is possible in the time allowed. If your timeline is unrealistic, adjust. Make the pattern less complicated. Decrease the amount of details in the piece. If you don’t know what to adjust, bounce ideas off your brainstorming buddies. I personally had a few moments that I had to stop working on something and let it be “good enough” in order to ensure that all my pieces got completed.
Fit That Sh*T
Fit can be something designers forget to focus on in their designs as we make a mad dash for the deadline, but it is one of the most important things in presenting your look. Fit means a lot of things, but generally, it means how the design fits and moves on your model. Is it too big or too tight or *just right*? Does the skirt ride up when the model walks (meaning it’s too tight). Does your corset look like it’s falling off? Scheduling fittings with your model or testing the look on yourself throughout the process is important. Make sure to walk around as if on the runway to visualize the final version. My model was out of state so I sent her muslins in the mail to try on, and we did a Skype fitting session. Take photos of the fit so you can analyze it, and ask your model how it feels on. Also, think about your model as you build: will they be able to sit down in the look? Is there enough ease so they can breath comfortable for a few hours in the outfit? How will they get in and out? This last question is surprisingly missed by many emerging designers.
Sewing Technique and Finishing
The top designs in the Her Universe Fashion Show nearly always have impeccable sewing technique. In 2017 after the winners were announced, I recall looking at Rose Ivy’s winning look and thinking, WOW. That sewing and patterning is flawless. I made it a goal for myself to make something incredibly clean for the following year. Following is a few simple steps to to clean up any garment as you work on it:
As you sew, press. Every time you sew a seam, you should be ironing the stitches to set them. Not only does this make it easier to construct, everything looks cleaner as you go. I never used to press my seams until the last step, and when I went to fashion school I realized that I was making my process so much harder this way. Also, if you have access to a serger/Merrow/overlock machine, definitely finish your edges (and then press them). If you don’t have one of these, try to contain your edges internally and use pinking shears if necessary.
If a stitch is crooked, rip it out and redo it. I am definitely guilty of saying “meh, it’s fine, no one will notice”, but the more I sew, the more I realize that every crooked stitch makes the garment the much less precise. If this is hard for you, practice until you feel confident doing the final stitches. Go slowly on the machine. For my 2018 look, I remade my shirt and pants multiple times until I got the straightest stitches and best finish. I used sheer chiffon for the pants which I knew would be difficult, so I planned on making the pants a few times to get the process down before using my final fabric.
Finish the insides of your garments if you can. I know this can be hard to do when we have so much on our plate, but it IS important. If you don’t have time for a lining, make sure that you at least have finished hems and clipped threads. If you do something like jacket, however, skipping the lining is a risk as the judges may ask what it looks like inside. The will likely not ask what the inside of a dress or shirt looks like, but a jacket is usually asking for finishing!
Ultimately, this competition is a great way to challenge yourself and make something really amazing to showcase on the runway. No matter how you go about it, take pride in your work every step of the way, and don’t forget to stop and enjoy the process. Taking pride in your work and living in gratitude for the opportunity is the best way to truly get the most out of the Her Universe Fashion Show.
Navigating the Financials
Originally this was going to be part of the blog above, but it’s important enough to be broken out into its own entry! I’ll talk about ways to save money on your design, ways to raise it, and planning your San Diego 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!