This is the home stretch my nerds! The final steps in this competition all happen when you get to San Diego Comic Con. Although your concept, fit, and construction may be the most important elements in your HUFS entry, a great runway performance, cohesive styling, and confident presentation can really seal the deal. If it were only about the look, the competition would be done on mannequins rather than a runway walk.
What to Expect
The day of the show is very exciting, but prepare yourself for it to be a long one. Participants can usually show up as early as noon to practice their runway walks (although the day before the show, contestants get plenty of rehearsal, so don’t worry. Extra rehearsing on the runway is optional the day of the show). There is a short photo shoot for each competitor throughout the afternoon, which is immediately followed by your pre-judging session. This schedule generally runs in show order, and you will receive your time slot the day before. Since Her Universe must prepare a cohesive show with all the entries, you do not get to choose your order placement or your runway music for the performance.
Jewelry, shoes, and accessories are all great ways to continue fleshing out your fashion concept! The garment should still be the the star of the show, but styling can really emphasize your design. In 2018 I worked with jewelry designer Jamie Rage of Delight and Rage to design some incredible pieces to go with my Aliens look. Jamie has made custom pieces for many other competitors including Adria Renee’s kinetic BB-8 earrings from her 2018 Last Jedi inspired look. Other designers have collaborated with specialists to create their accessories as well. The rules do not stipulate that you must be the sole maker of your entire look; in fact, it may save you time to contract out some of your accessories so that you may really focus on the garment. With that said, if there is something special that you can pull out of a purchased item like a shoe, don’t be afraid to try it! I bought a generic sneaker boot for my look and embellished it with red and gray crystals and reflective tape that matched my jacket. These were inspired directly from the Reebok sneakers worn by Ripley in Aliens, but “runway-ed” up for a fierce high fashion look.
Editing is also very important for both your garment design as well as your accessories, hair and makeup. It’s worth reiterating that the garment should be the star of the show. Over-Accessorizing and/or super wild makeup or hair may bring the focus away from your look. Jamie and I worked on quite a few different jewelry concepts for my model, but didn’t end up using every one. You only get a little bit of time to tell a story on the runway, so it’s important that the viewers can focus in.
If you use a hat or eyewear like sunglasses, make sure you see can your model’s face. Consider removing the glasses at some point during the walk if it’s important to your design. Make sure your shoes, especially if they’re visible, are walkable on the runway. If you choose flats rather than heels, make sure they really make sense with the design (or are hidden). If you choose shoes that are harder to walk in, make sure to utilize the practice time on the runway to iron out any kinks. Bring double-sided tape and heel inserts to keep shoes on, and treat the shoe bottoms if you’re worried about slipping.
When it comes to hair and makeup, do a practice run on yourself or your model if you can. However if that’s not possible, have solace in the fact that there is plenty of time to apply hair and makeup before the show. Do some research on what kind of look you want you or your model to have that also represents your design. Make sure you have a plan! As mentioned in the previous blog, these services are not provided by Her Universe, but often contestants will share makeup artists and hairdressers to save money. Some designers feel confident doing their own hair and makeup too, which is absolutely allowed. Stay away from too much body paint, prosthetics, or things that are more in the cosplay realm and keep it on the high fashion side. For example, if you have a blue character, don’t paint your whole body blue. You do not need to look just like an inspiration character. It’s much more important to make it fashion. In 2017, although my model did resemble my character naturally, I tried to make her a little more upscale. My makeup designer gave her a smoky eye and a red glitter bloody spot under her nose for her Eleven from Stranger Things look.
Some designers walk their own designs on the runway, while others get a model to showcase their look for them. Either is totally acceptable and there are advantages to both. If you model your own look, fittings are easy because you can try it on as many times as you like while constructing. However, the biggest advantage to having someone else model is that you can really focus on the design part and not have to worry about walking. Nerves can get the best of us all, which is why it it so important to practice the runway walk whether it’s yours or someone else’s.
As a fashion designer, I am an advocate for inclusivity on the runway. In 2015, I had a drag queen walk for me; in 2017 I did a national model search for a disabled person to walk. Last year I used a woman of color who was also a two-time cancer survivor. We as designers have to power to be inclusive, so I encourage you to select a model that may not be seen on runways often. The looks must all be womenswear per the rules, but Her Universe has always made accommodations for me in the past to use both a drag performer and a wheelchair/crutch user. Consider people of color, plus sized, disabled, and trans folks to walk for you. I put out a model call on Facebook for my disabled model in 2017 and had over 20 people apply! Katie Fleck, my model, was everything I was looking for and did an incredible job for me.
Your model doesn’t have to be professional, and in fact this is many folks first time walking a runway! You can always use a friend who you trust. Last year I used my friend Mackenzi Bell-Nugent partially because I wanted a WOC and partially because she is a performer who I knew would turn it out for me! There are also many San Diego or Los Angeles local models that are dying to walk in the Her Universe Fashion show, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding someone. In 2017 and 2018 I was not able to pay my models but I did fund their trips from their home states. My 2015 model was local to San Diego. It’s up to you whether you hire someone or fund their trip, especially if you are on a tighter budget. Cost may be a good reason to model yourself if you are worried about funding.
You will get a chance to speak directly to the judges about your work during the prejudging section which happens a few hours before the runway show. In this 5 minute or so period, you can explain your look in front of the judges and answer any questions they may have. Some judges may get up and look closely at your garment, which is why your finishing is so important. The judging panel includes the previous year’s winners as well as Hot Topic and other industry professionals, as well as guests that can range from cosplayers to social media stars.
Prepare a short but natural spiel about your look to introduce it. Talk about your inspiration as well as how you constructed the look. Try not to let nerves get to you! Most previous winner judges want people to be passionate and excited about their look, and there is no reason to be nervous (even though we all are, amiright?). Some contestants prepare construction booklets or extra info, but I personally don’t think there is enough time to show off anything extra. The judges may ask you a few questions, but for the most part, your look should speak for itself. Just remember, try to stay relaxed and natural! Have fun and the judges will too!
The runway can be intimidating for those who have never walked one in a show before (which is usually most of the competitors). The Her Universe Fashion Show runway walk isn’t your normal walk. It’s not a New York Fashion Week “serious” stomp. It’s confident, but much more light hearted and really plays to the audience (especially if you’re looking to win the Audience Choice award!). Think about your concept as well as what you want to showcase when planning your walk. Do you have a reveal you need to work through? Does your dress have a train that you want to swoosh around at the end of the runway? What kind of character do you want to portray? In 2018, Tanya Apuya’s Godzilla inspired look roared onto the runway with an incredible performance by her model, who stomped like she WAS the creature herself.
Watch previous year’s performances to get a feel for the style of walk. Practice walking long distances in your shoes wearing your look to troubleshoot any issues. Think about short poses to do at the end of the runway (where the judges and photographers are) and at the middle of the runway (which will be marked for you, and also will have more photographers). Like the prejudging, have fun out there! The audience loves lively walkers who really work it!
Ultimately, there is no surefire way to win the Her Universe Fashion Show. The judges have unique backgrounds and experiences each year and will like and dislike different things. They will compare your design to the other finalists and make decisions based on their own points of view. The best thing you can do to prepare for this is to work hard and make the most well-rounded piece that you can.
Remember that being a finalist in this competition is already a win; you’ll have created an incredible look to showcase on a national stage, and the friendships you’ll create will follow you throughout your career. When they announce the winners, be supportive of them and be humble if it is you. We’re all in it together, my nerds.
The networking and social experiences that are available from participating in HUFS are never-ending, win or not. For example, Laura Cristina Ortiz was featured in a Designing Disney episode after receiving acclaim for her Wall-E inspired design in 2016. Sarah Hambly’s Hannibal inspired design was featured in a photo for the New York Times. In 2015 I was interviewed for an article in Star Wars magazine as well as for the new Covergirl Star Wars makeup collection. There is always a ton of press from the show, and putting that kind of stuff in your portfolio is dynamite. Share it up on your social media platforms, and you never know what can come from it.
Conversely, there is an expectation that winning this competition will somehow propel you into a career or other opportunities. Like anything, there is work involved in cultivating a career or presence. I have personally found success from hard work and discipline. HUFS is not the only thing on my plate in the design world. I am always trying new things, going to events, and making connections. Even if you aren’t a full time designer, there are so many other things in the world that should be sparking joy in your life than one competition. Winning give you the opportunity to design a collection for Hot Topic, but this one experience does not make a full career. Just like getting an A on one test doesn’t earn you a degree. Keep it all in perspective as you reach the finish, because no one likes a sore loser.
It sounds cheesy, but truly the best part of HUFS is the many real friends I have made through it. These folks are all so supportive of one another all year round. I knew 2018 would likely be my last year participating in the show because I put everything I possibly had into it. I knew that if it wasn’t enough to get the “crown” (wait, can I get a crown…?) then maybe the show wasn’t for me. Luckily it DID work out for me, but I am sure I would have still been cheering designers on every year no matter what because of the amazing gifts this community has provided me.
Upcoming blogs in this series:
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! Interviews with nearly every past show winner.
BONUS! Just added!
Guide to the Her Universe Junior Fashion Show
Are you a young person who is interested in entering the Junior fashion show for Her Universe? Hear from last year’s contestants and parents about their experiences!
So You Think You Can HUFS: Series Introduction
The first blog in this series gives an overview of what to expect from both the competition and upcoming blogs in the series.
Creating A Concept Part 1: Push the Drama
How do you even begin to design? This section will provide tips on brainstorming a concept based on a fandom, choosing or inventing a unique silhouette, and making it fashion.
Creating A Concept Part 2: Submitting Your Design
As you design for the Her Universe Fashion Show, you may wonder how to best to fit the criteria of the competition and still showcase yourself as a designer. Highlights include presentation tips, competition strategy, and how to design to GET IN.
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.
HUFS Cost Saving & Fundraising Strategies
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.