The Her Universe Fashion Show: Design Submission Tips – Part 1

The Her Universe Fashion Show: Design Submission Tips – Part 1

The Her Universe Fashion Show – 7 Tips to boost your design submission!

The Her Universe Fashion Show (HUFS) is a geek couture fashion show competition that is annually held during San Diego Comic Con.  Around 25 designers are selected to showcase their work for a chance to design a capsule collection for Hot Topic to be sold across the country! How cool is that?!

So as a two time participant in the Her Universe Fashion Show, I wanted to share some of the knowledge and know how of applying to the show! I’ve broken it down to the following:

  1. Your Design Inspiration
  2. Geek Couture vs Re-Designed Cosplay
  3. Creating Your Design Proposal
  4. Special Effects on the Runway
  5. Finances
  6. Past Work
  7. Video Submission

Ok, so now your interest is piqued and you’re contemplating if you’re going to submit or not, so here are a couple of things to consider:

Your Design Inspiration.

Hot Topic is in touch with the most popular franchises so it would be helpful to choose an inspiration from a recognizable franchise. Not to say there aren’t more obscure franchises represented, but you are being selected by people who are curating a show that wants to be as wide reaching and approachable as possible. If they can’t recognize it, they may not know the reference, and a good design may be passed up for something more familiar. Camille Falciola (HUFS 2016 Audience Award winner for her “I Solemnly Swear I’m Up to Couture” Harry Potter inspired gown), on picking an obscure inspiration:

If you want to submit something obscure maybe on your sketch add a small picture of the character or show your design relates to so they can see the inspiration if they don’t know it off the top of their heads. I know many people have done that. Submit what your heart wants. If you don’t make it in the first time, there’s always next year (I hope). I didn’t get in my first time and I learned what I could have done better with my submission.

Jesse Thaxton (who won the 2016 Comic-Con HQ Winner for her Falkor of The Neverending Story design) encourages everyone to submit whatever inspiration feels special to you:

 I think that a solid design and a visible concept out weigh popularity of a franchise. Nerdy obsessions aren’t just about the popular things!

Geek Couture vs. Re-designed Cosplay

Unstitched Blog - Her Universe Fashion Show Tips for Design Submissions. Joker's New Look by Kelly Cercone & Usagi's Transformation by Leetal Platt
[left] “Joker’s New Look” by Kelly Cercone, [right] “Usagi’s Transformation” By Leetal Platt

Kelly Cercone, HUFS 2015 Judge’s Winner and HUFS 2016 Judge said:

There is definitely a lot of overlap, but I feel like fashion, and by extension “Geek Couture” tends to have more subtly, a “realness” we associate with clothes over costumes. A lot of that comes from materials choice, colors, size and placement of details.

There have been mainstream examples of Geek Couture from Rodarte’s Star Wars designs in their F/W 2014 collection to a Super Mario capsule collection by Moschino and to very recently, Mary Katrantzou’s Fantasia inspired collection.

Gwendolyne Christie in a Giles Deacon Stormtropper dress. Photo Credit:

A good test with your designs, to see if they’re treading the line, is to imagine them being worn on the red carpet. Maybe even picture a celebrity wearing your design- is it suddenly more of a costume? And not to say there isn’t theatrical fashion (*cough, cough* Alexander McQueen’s entire body of work). 

If you’re having trouble struggling to find different ways to translate your inspiration into fashion, check out fashion magazines like W Magazine or Harpar’s Bazaar, or even sites like or or check out YouTube and look at recent (and/or archived) fashion shows for inspiration! Leetal Platt (HUFS Audience Winner 2015) says:

“I have a mantra which is is “if it can’t be worn on a date, on the street, or on a red carpet, it’s not couture, it’s a costume!” That has helped me edit lots designs quite effectively. It’s especially useful in the geek couture case, because our love of dressing up as a character, or making a character, can take over whether a person actually might want to dress that way at all, and ultimately that’s fashion. I think you really see that in the fashion show because the most effective pieces, the ones people remember, are the ones they can see themselves wearing maybe in a distant dream. You want the audience to BE the person on the stage. It’s harder for them to identify with a look that is just an offshoot of something they’ve already seen, or something that they can never imagine wearing anywhere but the convention floor.”

A great example of blending fandom and fashion is Kristin Koga’s design from 2015, inspired by Bob’s Burgers. It has a couple of easily identifiable accessories (Kuchi Kopi nightlight purse, Louise’s iconic bunny hat translated into a fascinator) but the garment is inspired by the color palette, animation style and quirky humor of the show.

“The Greek Couture Burger (comes with Tzatziki sauce)” by Kristin Koga. Photo Credit: Her Universe

Ok, so I have this great design and I can’t wait to submit!

Wonderful! So you’re deciding to take the leap and apply to the fashion show? Congrats!

But then you see the application portal. You’re blinking at the submission page, overwhelmed by the entry form and nervously wondering what to say. Eep!

It’s ok! Every designer, who has been a part of the show, has had that moment. So you’re not alone!

Let’s break down some of the major sections of the application:

Creating your Design Proposal for the Her Universe Fashion Show

How do you get to the runway at San Diego Comic Con?

Details, details, details!

I want to submit my design, but I’m not a very good artist!

You do not need to be an art student to submit an illustration (though you can have someone draw your design for you!), but it does need to be clear. If you are not a skilled artist, then make up for it in your written description! Camille shares:

“My second year [applying] I chose to sketch them out myself. It took a while and they were still basic 2D sketches but it conveyed my point across. If you feel your sketches aren’t good enough, use the video tool to explain what you’re trying to do. Another tip- the internet is AMAZING. Since I cannot draw a proportionate body, I downloaded basic croquis and traced it onto my sketch pad. There are also so many fashion sketches online that if you are unsure how to sketch a jacket, for example, look at some drawings to see where lines go and alter them to match your idea.”

[left] My original submitted illustration for the fashion show (that got me in!) [right] Reillustrated to show what I had in mind for the final presentation. Illustration by my friend Jazmen Richardson.

What specific fabrics do you have in mind? Include swatches of your intended fabrics! What techniques such as embroidery, specialized beading, or fabric manipulation will you be using? How do you imagine the final styling? The accessories? The movement of the garment? And how do these elements tie in with your inspiration? You can never be detailed enough- this shows the selection committee you understand the construction process and have a vision for the final product. This is the section that usually makes or breaks your submission. Leetal advises:

“Viewing submissions, the only thing the selection committee have to go by is your sketch and their primary objective is to have a good show. You’ll want the sketch to be legible, readable, and clear, and its even better if you have some of it planned out like with fabric swatches, embroidery samples, or engineering notes, flats, etc. All of these bits help the selection committee imagine your design walking in their show, and that helps them see if it fits in, so clarity is key! If you cannot draw it is ok to have someone else draw for you as long as the design as a whole is by you alone!”

A great illustration with a weak description can be passed up for a good design with extensive construction details. And when there are other designers often times submitting from the same franchise, this section really helps differentiate what makes your design different.

And remember, this is a geek fashion show – Be passionate about your selection and let them know! Be detailed about how your inspiration is being translated through the design- is it that the silhouette is evocative of the character? The color palette? The overall aesthetic is in tune with the character’s personality? Be specific, and tell the story of your design. Remember, you are not only pitching your design, but yourself as the designer as well.

Emerging geek designers, cosplayers and hobbyists are welcome to apply to the Her Universe Fashion Show until 11:59 PM PST Wednesday April 19th, 2017. Here is the submission link:

2017 Submissions

Still have questions about applying? Be sure to comment and post! In Part 2, we will discuss finances, special effects on the runway and submitting a bio video.

Ready for Part Two? Allons-y! 

Continue to Part Two →

– Laura

UNSTITCHED Blog - 7 Tips to boost your Design Submission for the Her Universe Fashion Show

Laura Cristina Ortiz, is a freelance Costume Designer in the film & television industry, runs her blog UNSTITCHED and a two time participant in the Her Universe Fashion Show (2015, 2016). Last Year, she was both the 1st Runner up for the Judge and Audience Award for her “Define Couture” geek couture design inspired by the Pixar film “WALL-E” (and the robot of the same name). You can read a write up of her design on Disney Style here. Follow her on Instagram and on Facebook

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