If you’ve made it through the whole So You Think You Can HUFS blog series, congratulations! This last blog should be a real treat for all my fellow fashion nerds out there. I was able track down almost every single HUFS winner and berate them (I mean ask them nicely) some questions that I know many competitors are dying to know. I’ve worked hard to present the best and most fair advice as I see it throughout this series, but it’s time for me to step back so you can hear some other winner’s thoughts! EDIT: Just kidding I went back and answered the questions too.
As with any creative competition, each judge looks for something a little bit different. Some of their answers are remarkably similar, and some say the exact opposite of each other. Ultimately, it is up to you on which feedback is most important!
What kind of advice would you offer for the initial submission process?
Leetal Platt: As the show is only a few years old, submissions/selections has been an evolving science for both entrants and the selection committee both. It seems over the years that the show has developed a signature for being theatrical, so sometimes more subdued or quiet RTW outfits get (unfairly, in my opinion) passed over for the crazy stuff. Ultimately, only you know in your mind how awesome your look is, so you the entrant need to really make submission about SELLING it. An average look can really take a step up if it’s presented in a professional, exciting, beautiful way that makes it easy for the selection committee to visualize it on the runway. Look up portfolios or presentations of fashion students online and present your idea in a sketch that has life and movement. Opt for a dynamic (moving) figure rather than a static one. If you can’t draw, commission an artist to do it for you. Present the sketch alongside inspiration reference, and show real world reference to techniques you intend to use. Include photos of other looks that inspire the feel and attitude of your design, and scan your fabrics and place them beside the sketch or digitally paint the fabrics into the sketch directly. I have seen too many great submissions get passed over because their dinky sketch was overshadowed by someone who simply knew how to sell without words. Keep in mind that it’s a crapshoot every time because you never know who else is in competition with you, it could be any number of things that bump you out (maybe there are too many jumpsuits in the show? Maybe there’s one too many capes?) And do NOT take it at all personally. Submissions are not a sign of your design worth, great designs haven’t gotten in simply because they weren’t a good tonal fit.
Cynthia Kirkland: First, bridging the gap between fashion and costume can be very difficult as the line is generally blurred in high fashion. However, the greatest asset in the initial design process was attending the portfolio review at Wondercon where I could sit with some of the show runners to discuss what my more successful design concepts are. Never be too intimidated to ask for help from friends or past participants. They can be your greatest resource, inspiration, and support. (Editor’s note: check out the Workshop group on Facebook)
Camille Falciola: Get creative! I’d start planning at least a couple months in advance. If you only just found out about it at the last minute you should still submit, but you will need to work fast. You are allowed to submit up to three designs. If you are chosen to be a finalist you will not be able to choose which design you get to showcase, so make sure you love and can execute all three of your designs. Nothing is worse than having to make something you dislike. The show wants women’s couture designs, but anyone can apply. It’s also not based on a size 2 model so if you do plus size designs, submit that! The great part about this show is that it’s so diverse. Have fun with it.
Do not get discouraged if you don’t get in the first time. My first year submitting I didn’t get in. I received feedback from my designs which was so helpful, and the next year I submitted again and won.
Rose Ivy: Two things that are really important on your submission are examples of your past work, and a clear and detailed description of what your design is and how you plan to make it happen. Both of these help the judges pick contestants who can deliver on the final runway. They need to know you can produce what you’ve laid out in your submission. If you’re concerned about the quality of your sketch, make sure to paint a clear picture through your description. It’s super important that you can communicate your vision to the judges, whether visually in your sketch, or through your words.
Andrew MacLaine: You are able to submit 3 designs, so be sure to do that! Make each design a little different to show your range and different interests. Most of all, make sure the designs you submit mean something to you! Believe me, the people looking at your work can tell when you are passionate about your concept and when it is just a sketch of a really pretty dress.
Remember, the sketches are not all Her Universe looks at when choosing the finalists. Make sure to add a number of examples of your past work. We want to know you are able to create the design you sketch. Show your passion for being a fashion designer when filling out the written portion and show that being a designer is something you would like to do as a career.
Jane Burson: I only found out about the competition a few days before the deadline and I just threw together some ideas last minute. I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH THAT THIS IS A BAD IDEA. Seriously, take advantage of friends or family or The Workshop on Facebook. Sketch up a bunch of ideas and talk through them with some other people; you want people who can be honest and give constructive criticism. But take their opinions with a grain of salt. Think about how to best present yourself and your past work in the bio sections, and review those with someone else as well. You want to convey to the selection committee that you have the technical ability and project management skills to produce what you've designed in time for the show.
I’d also recommend that you have at least a rough idea of how you're going to execute your design. I'm a big believer in pushing yourself out of your creative comfort zone, but if your design is WAY beyond your capability level you could get yourself into trouble.
Finally, this is a self-funded event. That means that all you have to pay for all your materials, tools, travel, hotel etc. - just know that costs can add up, and that can be a challenge for some people!
Lindsay Meesak Orndorff: Have a very clear idea of what you’re submitting. The more you can explain your concept and specify how the elements relate to your idea the better. I highly recommend putting together a reference sheet and labeling your sketch. You don’t have to focus on a specific character. The show has featured designs based on scenes in films, vehicles, and even an entire book. The sky’s the limit, you just need to consider the various elements of what you’re creating and push it. Anything can be inspiration so really give it some thought!
Beyond that, you really need to show that you’re capable of creating the outfit that you designed. Provide examples of past designs, or examples of elements you would be incorporating into your design. If you’ve never been a part of the show before, I highly recommend submitting a video. Help them get to know you. Who are you as a person and designer? Why should they pick you?
Also, try and submit at least a few days before the deadline. Don’t wait until the last minute and risk something going wrong when you submit. Luckily, you can work on parts of your application and save your progress, so work on it until you’re happy.
Grace DuVal: One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from my first fashion teacher. I sketched some insane thing and showed it to him, and he looked at me, smirked, and said "yeah, but how is she gonna get into it?" I had never even considered where the opening to the outfit would be or how a model would ever feasibly wear it. I want you to fully consider every element of the design, not JUST the runway impact (which is important) but the minutia (which are really what seals the deal of a great design). How is it constructed/what is it made of/how do they get into it/how comfortable is it/can you walk up or down stairs in it? Act like a construction worker and make those blueprints--make sure it has a solid foundation, then build details on top of that.
Also: don't have eyes that are bigger than your stomach. Which is to say, know your limits in terms of construction and skills, and then design at the outer limits of those skills. I want you to challenge and push yourself, but I think it's a critical mistake to submit a design that is so out of your current depths that you shoot yourself in the foot before you even begin. Maybe that huge dream project is out of your reach right now, but you can work towards it over a few years and eventually you can conquer it. Heck, one of my most successful pieces ever took five years from inception to completion. Be patient, good things take time.
Hannah Lees Kent: The selection committee wants to see that you have a vision, and that you are able to bring it to life in your look. Some designers can recreate a costume or character beautifully, but as soon as it is their own design, the same detail and care doesn’t rise to the surface. It’s not only about your drawing or concept, they’re looking at your previous work. They want to see someone who is experimenting with fashion and with their own vision as well (even if it’s cosplay-inspired fashion).
Also, know your terminology. Before submitting your design, research the difference between avant garde, couture, and ready-to-wear.
(Editor’s note: Often times designers will assume couture is the same as avant garde, which isn’t true. These are separate concepts. Couture is anything made for a client’s specific requirements and measurements, often also meaning “one of a kind”. HUFS participants are all creating couture looks. Avant Garde means new, unusual, or experimental ideas. Some couture looks are also avant garde. Ready-to-wear looks are those looks that are “off the rack” and/or sold in stores, not for one specific client. Hot Topic and Her Universe sell ready-to-wear clothing. Often HUFS designers will say their design submissions are ready-to-wear, which is not technically correct. They are less avant garde styles that have the same aesthetic as something that could be purchased in a store. They are still technically Couture.)
Her Universe and Hot Topic want to set up everyone for success. They don’t pick people whose skills aren’t at a level to bring their design to life. This isn’t American Idol where we want to see a whole bunch of people fail when they audition. They want people to succeed. They want a great show. They want each person to have the chance to win, and that is what they are considering when they pick the designs.
Kristi Siedow-Thompson, aka Moi: Put thought into every part of your submission. I love doing the video sections because it allows me to show my personality and be goofy, yet also show my passion for the competition and fashion in general. Having both made it in and not made it in, I definitely recommend not focusing your design on only what you think will win; design something that is YOU. Show us what your strengths are and that you’re willing to push your own boundaries. In 2016 I designed my looks based on what I thought the judges were looking for. I played it safe creatively, and I did not get selected. In 2017 I threw caution to the wind and just designed the coolest and craziest ideas I could think of (like an upside down dress). I designed looks that made me really happy and that I really would enjoy making. When I did make it in that year, I realized what a good lesson I learned. Always design for yourself.
Kelly Cercone: Don’t submit a design unless you are really sold on it. Just because the limit is three; you don’t have to submit three, or two just because you can. I’ve heard from other people they were kinda disappointed when a design they felt 85% about picked over their favorite. I ended up only submitting one design and I’ve never regretted it. (Editor’s note: I submitted only one design in 2018 and I also don’t regret it. Only submit the things you want to make.)
What kinds of mistakes do designers make that hurt their chances of winning?
Andrew: I hate to say that any designer can do anything "wrong" but, yes, there are mistakes that can be made that do hinder winning.
A big one is letting your nerves get the best of you. Show confidence on the runway and in front of the judges, even if you are scared out of your wits. I have seen designers walk on, heads down, rushing through their presentation, unfortunately giving the impression that they don't want to be there. Keep your head up, smile, and show you are having a great time!
Another big mistake is when final garment doesn't look like the sketch. Yes, sketches are blueprints of garments to be made, so there can and will be differences between conceptualization and realization, but remember the judges chose your design because the sketch excited them, so make sure you stay true to that and make the dress as amazing as or even better than your submission!
Cynthia: To get into the competition, ask the right questions: “Is this costume or fashion? Can someone wear this confidently to a red carpet premiere or the Met Gala?” If you cannot confidently say, “yes.” Then you should keep sketching. Ask your friends to be your clients, pitch your ideas to them, and discuss if your concept is successful.
Secondly, upon being chosen: DO. NOT. PROCRASTINATE. The first day/week you should be purchasing your fabric and starting your muslin mock-up. I have seen beautiful concepts fall short because the time and care were not taken. Your judges are professionals and will notice the time and care, because they want to know if you would be a good business partner. Can you turn out a design and/or garment quickly and cleanly? Essentially the judges are asking themselves, do I want to work with this person after this fashion show?
Kelly: Always set aside 2x as much time to do something as you think you will need. (3x if you can) you will thank yourself later.
Leetal: Maybe because of the cosplay roots of a lot of contestants, there’s a tendency to overdo the details and ignore the overall. There’s a general fashion theory that what a person sees is silhouette first, color second, and fit third. That’s how the brain processes a look. If you imagine your dress in silhouette, does it inspire curiosity or awe? A lot of designers get excited about doing a sexy gown, and everyone ends up doing the same gown different ways, thinking that the hand-printed hem or the 3d printed custom shoulder pieces are that extra step that will give them a win. Speaking of overdoing details, contestants tend to focus on details but not the RIGHT details…. the dress is hand-painted or has hundreds of hours of beadwork, but the hem is wavy and the seams are puckering, and the synthetic polyester fabric looks cheap. Contestants should remember the Masquerade is scheduled on another day, this is a fashion show. (editor’s note: Oooo BURN!)
Lindsay: I’d say the biggest thing is not knowing what winning category you’re going for. While your design may fit multiple categories, don’t try to please everyone. When I created my Princess Mononoke look, I knew while it may look great on the runway, it wasn’t going to wow the audience like past audience winners had. Therefore, I wanted to win the judge’s category. I looked at past winners and knew that a well constructed garment along with a great story was what they typically looked for. What elements could I include that would convey that?
The other mistake is not giving yourself enough time to create your look. While it’s great to to go big or go home. Be very realistic in terms of what you can create in the time you’re given. Some of the past designers have only had a little over a month to complete their looks. Hand beading might be a nice element, but is that something that you can do with the time given? A well thought out and well constructed design is going to look so much better than something that was going for a lot but rushed. Remember, you can get others to help you as long as you’re the one who designed it. While I could have created the clutch I had for my outfit. I choose to commission it so I could focus on the main design.
Kristi: Never forget that this competition is a privilege to participate in. My biggest pet peeve is contestants who get dramatic about every single part of the process. It’s not cute. Just because Her Universe was able provide something one year doesn’t guarantee they will do it the next. Also, know going into the show that it will be expensive. Complaining about how much money you’re spending especially after having participated before is not only in bad taste, it also is frustrating for those who didn’t get in or who have further to travel and must spend more. Be Humble.
Also, if you are not nice, people will remember, and may be judges the following year. Don’t underestimate how stories of bad attitudes travel. When referencing certain drama with previous judges, I found most of them had heard all the stories of negative interactions. That said, most everyone is amazing to work with and drama is usually minimal.
Also, although I have yet to judge, I have a lot of insight from talking to so many winners. If you are taking a piece off to show off something else during judging, don’t just throw it on the ground! You took time and effort to build it, treat your pieces with respect. Also, make the time to prepare your presentation; it’s disappointing seeing something has not been pressed properly on the runway. Again, you likely spent hundreds of hours on your look! Don’t miss something as minimal as ironing.
Finally, if you choose to model your own look, realize that just because a runway walk is the best one you’ve ever done does not mean it is the best walk in the show. Be realistic about your own runway walk and whether hiring a professional could give you a leg up. During New York Fashion week I often assist in model castings and have seen HUNDREDS of runway walks from the best models in the country. It is a special skill; some people really have it and some don’t. A great performance can really sell your look.
Grace: Don’t focus on WOW Factor over solid foundations! Incredible silhouettes and never-before-seen performances are all awesome and important, but at the end of the day I need to see that you've made a really solid garment. If the fit is off, the hem is too long or too short, seams are rippling, stitching shows in a way that it shouldn't--all of those are distractions from what could have been a winning look. Prioritize your time and skills, knowing that you have a finite amount of time to make your design, and then work within those limits. If you try to shove too much on your plate it will show.
As an artist I work in a triage method, meaning that I prioritize what absolutely has to get done vs what is optional from most to least important, and then I complete things in that order. Generally I will not ever get everything at the bottom of my list finished before it's showtime, and almost always those things are NEVER missed. Put another way: learn to edit. It will save you time, sanity, and will almost certainly improve your design.
Camille: I find the choice of model to be absolutely one of the most important parts of the process. In the last few years of the show, I’ve witnessed fantastic pieces be overlooked because the walk down the runway was lackluster, and I’ve seen pieces that I didn’t think were the best over-shine others with a great walk. I truly think it can make or break a design. Whoever you pick (you or a model) to walk that outfit down the runway needs to have the right look, energy, and confidence for your best chance. If you choose a friend or yourself, don’t be afraid to take a class, or watch videos, ask friends and family for honest feedback. You don’t want to rehearse until you get it right, you want to rehearse until you can’t get it wrong, so that no matter what happens on that stage, you’ll know exactly what to do and have the confidence to do it.
It’s not as common, but sometimes designers have amazing pieces but they are from a more obscure fandom. It could be problematic for the audience and judges. who are looking to connect with a piece. They’re more likely to vote for something they know and love. I’m not saying to only choose the most popular topics, but it was something in the back of my head when I was submitting my designs.
Rose Ivy: I think designers often make the first mistake of designing beyond their means, whether it be financially, skill-wise or time-wise. Though it is a wonderful idea to push yourself in your design, you have to also consider the time in which you have to construct it. Be honest with yourself and what you can do in the time allotted, the judges would rather see something simple and done well than complicated and messy. That’s not to say don’t be ambitious! Just be sure you can deliver. Also it’s important to be thoughtful in what you say to the judges, you’ve just completed a ton of work and they need to hear about it in just a few short minutes. Decide on your most important bullet points and present them confidently and concisely.
Hannah: It’s always good to be mindful of how you’re interacting with others. You may not be talking to Ashley herself during the buildup to the competition; you’ll have someone reaching out to you to get videos from you and to deliver information about the show. Be respectful and polite because although they may not be a judge, they may pass along things to the decision makers. They are doing their best to work with you, so be professional in how you work with them.
The fashion show is a great opportunity to push yourself as a designer and as an artist. I think it’s always good to try something new. In my case, I had never worked with leather and decided to make a wet-formed leather coat in 2015. When attempting to push yourself into a new realm, be aware of your entire design and don’t bite off more than you can chew. You don’t want to sell the judges on an amazing design that would take 6 months to complete, and then show up with look thrown together carelessly.
Jane: I think focusing too much on what is 'sure to win' and not designing to your personal passions and strengths is a mistake. Kristi discussed design gimmicks in the second post in this series, there's a lot of really great info and detail in that and I encourage you to read/reread. Because if you look back there's a wide range of fandoms, styles, and level of design complexity represented in past winners - there's no one thread that ties them all together. (Editor’s note: Thanks for the shout out, Jane!)
Additionally, keep in mind that there is always going to be a certain level of subjectivity in the results. A fandom that is super popular and may have pulled an audience fave one year, won't be as relevant another year. A design that might have won best construction the previous year might be in a year with 20 designs with exceptional construction.
Ultimately, there is nothing you can do to guarantee a win. All you have control over is your own design, execution, and performance - try to focus less on winning and more on executing the best possible garments and expression of your design possible.
As a judge, what did you look for in the winning designs?
Lindsay: Some of the best advice that I received from a past judge was to treat this like a job interview. Because the prize is a ready-to-wear line, yet you’re creating a couture look. (Editor’s note: This is why Hannah’s advice to know your terminology is so important!) You need to show that you understand various elements of design and what customers of Hot Topic might go for. Have you thought of your look head to toe? Do you have original jewelry, or a custom handbag? What kind of research did you do when you created your design? Did you custom dye your fabric, create some original embroidery, custom print your fabric, etc? Were you able to execute on the design that you submitted? Is it well constructed and can we tell you used your time wisely? These were all elements we looked at with each garment.
Does your design look good even if the judges don’t know what your reference is? This has definitely happened before, and it’s important that your design can stand on its own. What’s the best way you can explain your design even if they don’t know the reference? Maybe this means providing some reference for the judges. Try and keep it concise, we rather be paying attention to you than looking at something you give us.
Practice what you’re going to say. Before I went in front of the judges, I used friends and family to listen to my pitch. While I was still nervous, doing this meant that I was more confident when I talked to the judge’s panel. You don’t have a lot of time with the judges, so what do you want them to know the most? What would you be remiss about if you forgot to tell them?
Additionally, while it may not weigh as heavily, how does your design look on the runway? We’re looking for the whole package. Does it fit your model? Do certain elements look that much better once under the lights? How does it look when in motion?
Jane: What I'll likely be looking for will be multifaceted; there are a lot of elements that combine to really get that 'WOW!' factor. How creative/original is your concept? Is it a recognizable and interesting homage to the source of inspiration? How well does it show on the runway? Is the construction solid or are there execution issues that are distracting? How well thought out was it beyond just aesthetics, because - there should be meaning and intent behind every design decision!
What I mean by this is - there's nothing wrong with doing a 'ball gown' version of a character look, but why did you pick a ball gown and not a tailored tuxedo look? Why did you give the design cap sleeves instead of bishop sleeves? Why did you use pleating instead of gathering? How and why did you combine different inspirations to come to your final design?
You should be able to explain the intent behind every element of your look beyond just "I like cap sleeves".
Grace: I'm looking to see who has approached the design from a full-picture perspective. I want to see someone who has incorporated intelligent design decisions from their chosen fandom into a new and compelling design. I'm looking for someone who understands fit and construction, who understands how to make a garment fit beautifully on the body. I'm looking for the person who is also paying attention to the details, to the little things that add up to a complete design picture. The word Storytelling gets used a lot around the judges table, and I think that's something to keep in mind. How does your design, from beginning to end, from design to runway, tell a story?
I'm also looking to see who's excited about their piece. Not in an over-the-top sort of way, but who is so passionate and thrilled by their design that they just can't help themselves? More than anything, I really hope that our love of creating is what is driving us most of all.
Andrew: There are really two sets of judges, the ones at the table and the ones that make up the audience. And they aren't necessarily looking for the same thing! The winner of judges' choice is someone that they see is going to be great to work with, a professional that will really benefit from a collaboration with an international company, and someone innovative that is willing to put in the work to succeed as a designer! The audience is looking for someone that will put on a SHOW, a design that will excite and entertain and make them want to see more! You definitely want to create something that will stand out and be memorable if you are shooting for audience choice. Of course, my advice would be to aim for both!
Leetal: Every judge looks for slightly different things I think, which is why it’s interesting having the panel switch around every year. So I only know what *I* looked for, but when I judged I was super into selecting a look that was fashion with a capital F. I thought the winner should be a look that without the makeup and hair the model could still fit in a Vogue editorial. That meant construction and detail had to be perfect, yes, but also that proportion and editing were key. Most participants don’t know how to edit. It’s clear the participant never looked at similar silhouettes in existing fashion designs, because I recognize their look from a Valentino dress and the Valentino one was better.
Camille: My year was really tough as far as judging, there were so many great designs and we were struggling to choose (I’m sure it’s a problem every year), hence why we had a tie. Personally, I was looking for creativeness first and foremost. I wanted to see that the designer managed to translate the fandom into their creation and keep the integrity of the IP. That was the most important part to me. To narrow my choices down, I took notes on the execution and fit of the garment (we didn’t have the construction award my year) and if the piece in question resembled too much a costume. A comment we made about one of the winning designs was that it’s something you could easily find on a rack at a Nerdy Saks 5th Ave. Every judge will look for something different.
Kelly: Technical ability is always lovely to see, but I found I really loved when they could explain all kinds of decisions they made to support the design. I choose x fabric for x reason, embroidery over beading for x reason.
Rose Ivy: As a judge I was most interested in clean work. I wanted to see precise sewing and clean finishing from top to bottom. I loved hearing how each designer translated their inspiration into the final design and about any new techniques they learned along the way. Runway presentation was super important to me as well, I wanted to see each piece presented professionally and confidently.
Cynthia:I haven’t judged yet, but cleanliness of craftsmanship is always a HUGE plus when I judge competitions. It shows me that you confidently understand advanced garment construction.
Kristi: This year I can tell you exactly what I will be looking for: excellent concept, construction, execution, and performance. I want to see amazing sewing, but I also want to see a concept that is out of the box and really embodies your fandom. I also want to see confidence in presentation for the judges as well as a WERK QUEEN on the runway. Especially now after giving you seven blogs worth of guidance on how to go deep into this competition, I want you all to blow me the heck away. My body is ready.
Hannah: The main things we all looked for as judges was the overall concept and execution, as well as the construction. The care and level of detail in both the construction as well as every aspect of their design is important: the accessories, the purses, the earrings, the hand stitching etc. Those are things the judges can see and the audience may not be able to. We chose chose winners that not only had strongly designed garment pieces, but accessories as well, which embodies what Hot Topic is doing in ready-to-wear. We knew they could design in that realm off the runway.
What advice would you offer to the finalists in the competition?
Cynthia: Have fun. You’ve already won. You are being introduced to a community of extremely creative people from around the nation, so enjoy the ride (all the while sewing really fast. Lol.)
Grace: At the end of the day, do it because you love it. There are no guarantees with competitions, ever. You cannot know that you will win, and you cannot anticipate the decisions that the judges will come to, nor can you anticipate the caliber of the other designs that will be in the show. If you approach the competition exclusively from the desire to win, you will cheat yourself of an incredible experience.
Yes, of course we all want to win, but I truly hope you are in this show because you are excited about your design and want to share it with the world. That enthusiasm and passion will speak for itself in judging and it will show in your garment. Speaking for myself, I always make my best things when I'm designing for myself rather than for The Win. You can never guess what will make you a winner or not, all you can do is design from your heart and continue to better yourself. Your gut and your joy will guide you, I hope you choose to follow them.
Camille: You already are a winner in my opinion. Take it as such, and use this opportunity to showcase your newest creation. You are about to get a ton of press, pictures, new fans of your work, and a great opportunity to meet and work with other fantastic designers. It’s still a competition and you want to win (who doesn’t?) but just having the opportunity to showcase your piece in front of thousands of people and having it be blasted all over the internet is a huge win already. Take this opportunity for whatever you need it to be: learning, more exposure, fun, trying something different and/or networking.
Lindsay: Make friends with the other contestants and lift each other up. Yes, it’s a competition, but you don’t have to be negative either. During my year, we would share elements with each other, and seeing that drove me to continue working on my design because I didn’t want to let them down. There aren’t lot of us that are a part of the HUFS family so make some connections! I’ve made some great friends through the show, and you never know when those relationships might help in other areas of your life.
Please please PLEASE get your design done before you arrive on Wednesday. Trust me, you’ll be way less stressed out and you can actually enjoy the whole experience. We can also tell if you’re tired and haven’t finished your look. Also, it’s much more fun to hang out backstage than sew in your hotel room. I’ve done both and know which I prefer!
Kelly: Have fun! (Seriously) reach out and get to know the other finalists, build a support structure for each other. I’ve made some really great friends from HUFS.
Rose Ivy: Do not take your runway presentation for granted! You’ve worked so hard on your design, make sure you show it off in the best way possible! Often times designs are neck and neck as far as construction/design and it can come down to who presented better on the runway. Whoever your model is make sure they have practiced in the entire outfit beforehand, take advantage of the resources you have on rehearsal day, ask questions and take the time to polish your presentation. Also, don’t be nervous to talk to the judges! They want to hear about every little detail and design element, so be sure to practice what you want to tell them since your time is limited. Be confident and proud of your work, you were chosen for a reason :)
Jane: Don't put off till tomorrow until what you can do today - do as much of your construction and work as possible as soon as possible. You never know what unexpected things might pop up in your life; during the construction period contestants have gotten seriously ill, people have lost close family members and pets, people have lost their jobs. The two months leading up to the show will go more quickly than you think, break your build into steps and intermediate deadlines and make yourself stick to them!
I think this is crucial, because the day before and day of the show are hectic and insane, the last thing you want to be worrying about is whether you're going to have your piece finished in time. Ideally, you should be taking that time to make final fitting tweaks or modifications, and to get you or your model comfortable on the runway.
My design was so bulky and foofy the dress rehearsal was the first chance I had to actually walk the outfit instead of just standing still or doing short little turns and steps in my small house. I needed that practice to learn how to move in the garments to the best effect (it wasn't easy!).
Finally, don't think of your fellow contestants as opponents if you can help it - they are an incredible source of advice and support (they're all going through the same stress you are!). This is an amazingly talented, creative, geeky group of people that you're now connected to and I encourage you to foster those connections and make friends. This show is a ton of intense, hard work and it will be stressful and overwhelming at times. Breathe. As much as possible, enjoy the ride and have fun!
Andrew: Make the most of rehearsals. You would think walking up and down a 75 foot wooden plank would be easy, right? It isn't when you're in high heels, lights shining in your eyes, with everyone looking at you and judging what you are wearing! The more comfortable and familiar with what you are doing up there, the better. Make use of the rehearsal time and practice on the runway in your show shoes. Know where the marks are where you have to stop. Figure out what you are going to do WHEN you stop. Talk with the runway coach or practice with your fellow contestants if you feel your walk can be improved. Make it so that you are ready to have a great time once you finally step on that stage!
Be professional and be ready! Contestants are given call times and instructions, so make sure to show up on time and follow the guidelines, knowing shows are often very much "hurry up and wait". Just be patient and present until it's time to go. (Editor’s note: You will be spend most of your time backstage waiting during both the rehearsal and show day. They are long days! It’s best to be patient as Andrew says!)
Do hair and makeup (as much as possible) before arriving. The dressing area has mirrors and table space for everyone, but it's much easier to do hair and makeup in a more calm environment where you have more space and control of the lighting.
If you have questions or need help, ask! You will quickly figure out who the "go to" people are because they will be the ones talking the most. Learn and remember their names.
Hannah: Get started as soon as possible and order your shoes immediately. Two months isn’t a very long time, and you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you didn’t allow yourself the proper time to get your garment done. Time Management is huge! Start as soon as you can.
If you don’t get in, don’t give up. If you really loved the design that you submitted and it didn’t get in: Make it anyway. Make it, and submit it with your application the next year as an example of your work. (Editor’s note: This is truly some of the best advice in this whole article. Practice makes you better! Challenge yourself even if you don’t get in.)
Be active in the Facebook group! The first two years I didn’t win but I got to meet and make so many amazing friends who I am still in touch with today. (Editor’s note: Each year a private facebook group is created independently by the finalists as a means of support during the competition. This is different than the Workshop group.) The group is so special; it’s a great way to get to know the other people that are competing with you. Designers connect in this group and share their excitement, process, progress, and even stress. Instead of being competitors, we all get to bond as fellow designers. It’s such a positive experience that other competitions don’t have.
Leetal: Winning is great and all, but the show is just so perfect for the internet that finalists should really plan around harnessing social media here. The win is awesome but you don’t need it to become the most pinned, most tweeted, or most instagrammed, viral look of the show. Take advantage, become your own PR rep, and get those eyeballs! Winning the contest is arbitrary and out of your control, but don’t let all your efforts go unseen! The show is just giving you a stage, only you yourself can make it worth your while; I hope that everyone involved understands the value of HUFS truly has nothing to do with the contest.
Kristi: Project manage, project manage, project manage!! Constantly assess whether agonizing over a small detail is worth it in the long haul. There were often points in my construction last year where I knew I had to stop obsessing over something and move on because otherwise the piece would not get done. With that said, don’t skip important steps. Make sure that garment is well made before you add those embellishments.
I also agree with everyone’s main points here about taking advantage of the press as well as making all the friends. And not to plug my own blog within my blog (so meta woah) but literally review my blogs as you go.
But my final thought is if you don’t get in, please don’t give up. If you really want to do this, practice. Practice your sewing skills, practice your design, practice brainstorming ideas. Talk to people in the Workshop and make connections. Show people your work and ask for feedback. When I first applied in 2015 I didn’t even know the right way to sew a zipper. Since then I went back to school full time for fashion, and now work full time as a freelance designer in New York City. If I can do it, so can you!
And that, my nerds, completes the So You Think You Can HUFS series. Thanks for coming on this geek couture journey with me! I will be judging the finals this year, so I’m not able to offer feedback to your submissions, but I am always up for connecting with new designers. Find me on Instagram or Facebook and introduce yourself as a hopeful HUFS designer!
I truly wish for all the submitting designers to push themselves to the max, and really enjoy the ride. There is no right or wrong way to enter and pursue this competition, in fact you may not agree with everything I’ve talked about. I challenge you to prove me wrong if you disagree, and do something different and amazing! In the end, put forth your best work and it will be a worthwhile experience.
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.
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.