What started as an implausible idea has grown to be the top “geek couture” event of the year. What’s this? The Her Universe Fashion Show at San Diego Comic-Con.
For five years now, Ashley Eckstein – accomplished actress, author, and founder of fashion icon brand Her Universe – has spearheaded the Her Universe Fashion Show at San Diego Comic-Con. Each year, this event grows in size and scope, as hundreds gather to celebrate the height of geek fashion.
Ashley’s determination to pay it forward
Ashley Eckstein has worked hard for every inch of her success. As the voice of “Ahsoka Tano,” a then-new Star Wars: The Clone Wars character, she wasn’t initially embraced by all. When she saw a lack of apparel for female fans and applied for a Lucasfilm license, she was initially turned down.
These stumbling blocks never stopped Ashley in her determination to pursue her dreams. As she writes in her new book, It’s Your Universe: You Have the Power to Make it Happen: “Don’t let anyone tell you, ‘No, you can’t. [T]he universe is truly yours to take hold of and…you have the power to make anything happen!”
What’s uncommon in Hollywood – but second nature to Ashley Eckstein – is her spirit of giving back and creating opportunities for others. After founding Her Universe, she recognized a need. Fashion designers didn’t have a platform to showcase their talents and passion for their fandoms.
This was the birth of the Her Universe Fashion Show. Partnering with pop culture retailer Hot Topic from the beginning, Ashley created a runway and a prize: work with the Hot Topic team to create a new fashion line to be sold in its 693 stores nationwide. Winners from previous years’ Fashion Shows have gone on to successful fashion and art careers, including costuming for Marvel Studios.
Bigger and better than ever
The 5th annual Her Universe Fashion Show exceeded all expectations. Fans queued up in eager anticipation for hours at the Manchester Grand Hyatt on July 19th, 2018.
This year’s Fashion Show was about celebrating milestones. It’s the 25th Anniversary of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Can you believe the Powerpuff Girls turn 20 this year? It’s also the 10th Anniversary for Star Wars: The Clone Wars. (As a gift to fans, executive producer Dave Filoni announced the return of The Clone Wars earlier in the day).
The waiting area was decorated with displays from sponsor, Loungefly.
Loungefly – creator of coveted accessories such as the sold-out Rose Gold Minnie backpack at Disney Parks – brought cases of hot new merch to the show.
Quickly, the ballroom filled to capacity. Guests in the overflow area were treated to a live simulcast on screens outside the ballroom. No one was left behind.
DJ Amanda Jones returned, adding grace – and bass – to the Fashion Show.
The swag bag
This year’s swag bag was the biggest yet. Of course, everyone went home with a copy of Ashley’s book It’s Your Universe: You Have the Power to Make it Happen. Guests also received a glasses case from sponsor Zenni Optical with a voucher worth $250.
Studio Ghibli was represented with a My Neighbor Totoro T-shirt. Guests also collected a Star Wars Performa shaker drink bottle, Hallmark Itty Bitty plush, DC Pumps miniature superhero heels, a Loungefly pin, and discount codes from sponsors Hot Topic and Espionage cosmetics.
An eye for fashion – introducing the judges
Each year, the judges choose one Her Universe Fashion Show winner. A second designer wins by Audience Choice. This year, a third designer was chosen by sponsor, SINGER Sewing Company based on excellence in sewing/construction. Our distinguished judges were
- Cindy Levitt: Senior Vice President of Licensing for Hot Topic, BoxLunch, and Her Universe
- Todd Keller: Merchandising Manager for Loungefly
- Joanna Fogt-Sohn: Senior Creative Director for Licensing and Merchandising at Cartoon Network
- Olivia Mears: SINGER® Sewing Ambassador
- Jane Francisco: Editor-In-Chief of Good Housekeeping
- 2017 Her Universe Fashion Show winners: Rose Ivy, Grace Duvaland Lindsay Orndorff
Premiere of the Her Universe “Destination Disney” line
The show started with the premiere of last year’s Fashion Show winners’ Disney Princess designs. Entitled “Destination Disney,” each of the winners chose two Princesses as inspirations for their head-to-toe fashion lines.
Rose Ivy created a Rapunzel-inspired ombré dress and Tiana cold shoulder romper. Lindsay Onrdorff is modeling her Mulan green hoodie vest and jogger pants. She also designed a Moana layered top with print skirt.
Grace Duval is wearing her Ariel design: purple smocked shell top and green denim jeans with scale details. Her second Princess was Jasmine, creating a powder blue off-the-shoulder crop top and pants to match. The Destination Disney line – complete with make-up brushes, eyeshadow palette, purses, earrings, and “Mu-shoe” – is available at Hot Topic and online at Her Universe.
Ashley models the first-ever Funko Pop! Gown
Ashley Eckstein has been known to set records with her Fashion Show gowns, designed the last four years by 2014 Her Universe Fashion Show winner, Andrew MacLaine. In 2016, Ashley wore the first-ever LEGO Ahsoka couture gown. Last year, Andrew created the dreamy Cinderella gown in just three days.
This year, Ashley challenged Andrew to set another record: make the first-ever Funko Pop! gown. In honor of the 25th Anniversary of The Nightmare Before Christmas, the gown was made from Jack Skellington Pop! heads. Wow.
This gown was a true labor of love. After days of brainstorming, Andrew worked an average of 9 hours daily for three weeks to construct this piece of art. It weighed 40 pounds, and contained 500 Jack Skellington Funko Pop! heads. One large Jack Skellington Pop! accented the front of the gown. Each Pop! head had to be pre-drilled, then assembled with heavy gauge wire from the hardware store.
There were three versions of the bodice, explained Andrew. An earlier version had slivers of the Pop! heads lining the outside, but he found the edges to be too sharp. The final bodice was custom sewn from fabric, then layered with white textured foam pieces using epoxy, rubber cement, and contact cement.
In case you’re wondering: no, Ashley can’t sit down in the gown. And Funko sent Andrew just the heads, so no Pop! figures were harmed in the making of this dress.
As a testament to Andrew’s skill, he created this custom gown without a fitting, as Ashley was on her nationwide book tour. Of course, Andrew crafted his complementary Oogie Boogie suit, made from burlap.
Want to see Ashley’s gown reveal? Here’s our video:
Clone Wars 10th Anniversary fashion line premieres
Ashley enlisted her fellow Star Wars: The Clone Wars voice actors for a photoshoot showcasing the new Clone Wars fashion line. It includes Her Universe and Our Universe pieces including an Ahsoka Tano dress and scarf, Darth Maul jacket, Obi-Wan long Jedi sweater, and Padme jacket.
Matt Lanter (Anakin) and Dee Bradley Baker (voice of all the Clones) joined Ashley on stage to model the Anakin hoodie and Captain Rex jacket and T-shirt.
Let the contest begin…
Twenty four fan-inspired designs walked down the runway. There were so many outstanding entries. Here were some of the highlights.
Marvel-inspired gowns included ones from Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther.
Disney gowns were well represented. This is the first Disney Parks attraction gown, featuring Space Mountain.
Pocahontas, Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas, and Rapunzel gowns graced the runway.
Pixar films lit up the stage, with these interpretations from Wall-E (Eve) and Coco (Alebrijes).
Star Wars proved most impressive with these runway hits from The Last Jedi.
Other cinematic inspirations drew from Godzilla and Harry Potter. The Godzilla gown came complete with pockets and a ‘tail’ (removable train). The Fawkes gown transformed from ‘ashes’ into a fiery Phoenix.
New Junior Designer Showcase – empowering the next generation
Ashley premiered the Junior Designer Showcase during intermission, sponsored by Cartoon Network. This contest gave young designers aged six to seventeen a chance to create a look inspired by the Powerpuff Girls.
Four contest winners were paired with professionals and taken through the fashion design process – from concept drawing through final creation. Ashley has found yet another way to pay it forward.
Miranda Robles-Tuttle, Zoe Chavez, Jelly Austin, and Corina Marie Smith walked the runway in their original designs. They will now create a Powerpuff Girls piece to retail at sponsor BoxLunch.
The Doctor is in the house!
Jodie Whittaker, the 13th Doctor, made a surprise appearance at the Her Universe Fashion Show. Jodie was in Hall H earlier in the day for her BBC Doctor Who panel.
In an impromptu performance, she donned the new Doctor Who trenchcoat by Her Universe and walked the runway with hood drawn.
It so happened that Ashley had a sonic screwdriver on hand – the moment was perfect.
Jodie Whittaker spoke of her new costume, saying “Any age, any gender…anyone can wear it. You’re not dressing as a girl and you’re not dressing as a boy. You’re dressing as The Doctor.”
The results are in…
After much deliberation, the votes were tallied. Here’s a look at all our designers and their models as they took one last walk down the runway.
Ashley pulled the winning envelopes out of the Loungefly bag.
The Judge’s Winner: Cynthia Kirkland, “The Couture of Water” – The Shape of Water. This gown’s gilded edges were achieved with painted gold pigments.
Singer Sewing Winner: Jane Burson, “Howl-in’ For You” – Howl’s Moving Castle. Jane modeled her own design, which incorporated 120 yards of feather trim.
The Audience Choice Winner: Kristi Siedow-Thompson, “PWL Chic: Ripley in the Powerloader” – Aliens. Mesh details incorporated into the jacket created translucent panels.
So many emotions were apparent as these designers and models took a final bow.
See the winners announced on our video here:
The designers went to work the very next day to work on an Avengers 4 collection for Hot Topic.
It’s a wrap!
As we wrap on another Her Universe Fashion Show, we wanted to share some last photos. Ashley Eckstein has created an incomparable platform for talented fans to showcase their fashion design skills.
The prize is real, tangible work in the fashion industry with pop culture powerhouse Hot Topic. The results are long-lasting, not just because of the fashions created. But because of the friendships made.
In the process, Ashley has promoted a culture of support and collaboration. It’s visible in how the designers and models are truly happy for each other. After every Her Universe Fashion Show, participants gather to share their design journeys with guests and celebrate together.
Ashley summed it up best in her recent Instagram post.
“I work tirelessly to create a safe and uplifting community for Her Universe and I do believe that positivity is contagious… Our show is a competition, but instead of having a catty, backstabbing and competitive environment, I’ve witnessed a group of incredible people who support, empower and help each other. Everyone came together to genuinely support one another. This is the message I am choosing to take away from SDCC 2018. Let’s keep this going!”
Thank you, Ashley.
Gloria Hasler is a freelance travel writer and photographer. She is a professional travel consultant, owner of Chrysalis Travel, and – together with her husband – co-founder of the Six Castles Club.