The Her Universe Fashion Show: Design Submission Tips – Part 2

The Her Universe Fashion Show: Design Submission Tips – Part 2

This is Part Two of a Series.

For Part One, please see

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

So you did your research on couture, fashion trends and even sketched up some designs for the Her Universe Fashion Show (all thanks to part one of course, wink wink*). Fabulous! But you want to take your design one step further- you want to make  a transforming gown that lights up and also becomes an autobot and flies all around the Grand Ballroom in the Hyatt. Then explodes into fireworks that spell out geek chic…

Ok, ok! So you’re interested in a special effect. Let’s take a look!

Special Effects (SFX) on the Runway

A trend has developed on the runway for the Her Universe Fashion Show- the most innovative, theatrical garment usually receives the Audience Award and the truest example of ‘geek couture’ (both in execution and presentation) are awarded the Judge’s Award. Andrew Maclaine (HUFS Audience award 2014) blew the audience away in the first ever Her Universe Fashion Show, with his ‘Regina’s Curse” design, which was a transforming garment inspired by The Evil Queen/Regina from ABC’S Once Upon A Time.

From creative LED use to the innovative transformation of material, designers have been inspired to bring a unique edge to the SDCC Geek couture runway.

Above, Grace Duval Johnson (HUFS 2016) designed a 3-in-1 look inspired by Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones. The Jon Snow inspired skirt/cape was entirely made out of bicycle tubes. BICYCLE TUBES!

If you’re interested in executing a design that incorporates some sort of SFX, be sure to research it. You have an idea that involves a transformation/reveal? Look up tutorials online and on youtube. LED lights? Look on forums! I love that SFX are explored, just be aware that usually means an additional cost, which leads me directly to the next section…


Ok, point blank, here it is- If you are selected to participate in the fashion show, you have to create and fund your own design. Her Universe & Hot Topic do not provide a stipend. However, if you do not have a San Diego Comic Con badge, they will provide one for you. You have to cover all of your expenses.

Ok…wait a second, I have this idea but how am I supposed to afford it if I am selected?!

Plain and simple: save up your money! You can also look into local arts grants in your area and see if you can apply. Google is your friend in these instances! Also, create a budget for your different design ideas so you aren’t so surprised if you are selected! You are submitting three designs, make a budget for each one. Additionally, if you’re torn about which design to submit if you have more than three, budget them out and select the ones you can afford. Hannah Kent advises:

It’s great to design an elaborate gown, but if you can’t afford all of the materials, that is something to be aware of before submitting. There is also the aspect of getting to the con, your hotel and food for the time you’re there. Her Universe graciously provides food back stage during rehearsal and the show, but the rest is on you. I suggest setting aside what ever amount you can now, and keeping in mind that it has to cover materials and travel. Some trips that worked well for me is making sure to measure twice and cute once! I ran into the issue of only have 2 yards of my leather for the skirt, so I made sure to pattern it to death with muslin before ever cut into the good stuff. I also highly suggest patterning out of something cheaper, like muslin or whatever fabric will drape similarly to what your end fabric will be, that way when you have your pattern all figured out, you will know exactly how much of the nice fabric you need and won’t end up overbuying when it may already be expensive. Everyone has different areas of their lives that they are able to budget more easily, I think the important thing is to realize, much like cosplay, the Fashion Show is not cheap to participate in. So knowing that early on can hopefully help you set aside the funs you need to minimize stress. That said, having had the chance to participate in the first 3 years, it was absolutely worth it!

Past Work

This is the other section that usually decides what designers make the cut- the Her Universe and Hot Topic team want to make sure you can actually execute your vision, whether you’re submitting one or three designs. Remember, the show has gotten traction from big publications like the New York Times and Rolling Stone. You may have a gorgeous design, but if you’ve only sewn an apron and want to suddenly make a huge ballgown entirely made out of chiffon- they may be hesitant to put you forward.

Leetal Platt, HUFS Audience Winner (‘2015) and 2016 Judge says:

The selection committee is very open to having all skill levels partake, but the most important thing is that your look actually makes it on the runway. That’s priority number one, is, “can this person even finish this.” You’ll want to prove you can make your design (by telling them about yourself in your video and submitting similar previous work) because it can be the most creative thing in the world but if you can’t deliver it isn’t worth anyone’s time, for example, it would be unadvisable to suggest a design with hundreds of LED’s and not have any engineering history in your background. Overshooting like this is so easily avoidable… be ambitious sure, but be smart about it! Sell your skills!

So it’s helpful to submit portfolio photos that are in the same vein of the design you’re submitting.  It’s not mandatory, but it provides a strong case for you as the applicant. For example, Selina Zawacki (HUFS 2016) “Always” dress, inspired by Professor Snape’s patronus from the Harry Potter books, had worked with LED lights for a bit, even working on the “Paint the Nite” Parade at Disneyland. Her background experience fortified her design submission, as the judge’s knew she was charting into known territory.

However, don’t be discouraged! Adria Sanchez-Chaidez only started sewing 3 months before applying to her first Her Universe Fashion Show submission. THREE MONTHS. Not only did she get in, but also her “It’s Bigger on the Inside” design, inspired by the TARDIS from Doctor Who, was 1st Runner Up for the Judge’s Award in 2015! 

UNSTITCHED Blog - Her Universe Fashion Show - 7 Tips to boost your design submission. It's Bigger on the Inside, by Adria Sanchez-Chaidez Photo by Emile Elizabeth Photography
This was a novice! And look how much fun she is having on that catwalk!
Photo Credit: Emile Elizabeth Photography

 Submitting a Video

Including a bio video is optional in your application however it is VERY helpful. The selection committee gets a better sense of you as a designer, and you have an extra chance to discuss your designs! As Camille mentioned in my previous post, if you do not have the strongest drawing skills, here is an additional opportunity to talk about your designs and execution. You do not need a fancy camera (a web/computer cam/phone works!), just make sure to speak clearly! If you’re nervous, you can write a couple of index cards to help you remember your key points (and this advice carries through for any interview, and you’ll be doing this again to the judges if you’re selected to be a part of the show!). Hannah Lees Kent (HUFS Judge’s Award 2016 and 2017 Judge) shares:

Also, while it’s not required, I highly recommend doing a short video introducing yourself and discussing a bit about your love of geek fashion and maybe even a bit about your designs. It will allow the team reviewing who gets in to have a little more insight into you and your passion for this show. Yes, I know it’s awkward to make videos, but it’s worth it! Also, have fun with it and don’t be afraid to be a little silly! Again, it’s about showing your personality to Her Universe and Hot Topic!

Jesse Thaxton agrees:

Bio videos are great and really give the judges a chance to know you and what you’re passionate about. I submitted one last year and I really think it helped.”

Being a part of the show for two years has been such a wonderful experience, and I highly recommend anyone who is hesitant to take the chance and apply! Backstage during the show, is this amazing menagerie of curated designs, every stitch sewn with love, sweat and tears. You meet designers that range in experience- from professional designers and artisans, to cosplayers to beginner hobbyist. All of the different techniques showcased can be inspiring, as are the various aesthetics and voices. From all around the country, I might add! Hannah Kent shares:

I have grown personally as a designer and seamstress, and met some of the most incredible and inspiring people in my life. I feel so blessed to call the fellow contestants my friends and to know we’ve shared all these memories together.”

Best of luck, may be force be with you and may the odds be ever in your favor!


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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