Ashley Eckstein, founder of Her Universe, believes in the power of dreams. And she has dreamed bigger than anyone may have dared. She built a brand and a fan community based on positivity and is always looking for new ways to give back.
Thus, what started as a novel programming addition to the San Diego Comic-Con lineup in 2014 has grown to be a destination of its own. Welcome to the hottest runway for geek couture – the 6th Annual Her Universe Fashion Show at the 50th Anniversary of San Diego Comic-Con.
Showcasing the Power of Fashion
Thousands of cosplayers and fashion fans of all ages gathered at the Manchester Grand Hyatt on July 18, 2019 to celebrate the hottest couture reflecting their fandoms. DreamWorks’ animated series: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (on Netflix) inspired the theme. Twenty-four finalists were chosen to present their creations on the runway, showcasing this year’s theme: the Power of Fashion.
Through the Her Universe Fashion Show, Ashley Eckstein has created a supportive community of fashion creatives who uplift one another. Year after year, we see designers return – whether as judges, or as finalists – ready to cheer each other on. This is truly rare in the world of fashion and retail.
But, this is Ashley’s Universe. And she has invited us all to join in.
Judges and Sponsors
We saw some familiar – and some new faces – at the judging table this year. Her Universe Fashion Show partners Hot Topic, Cartoon Network, DreamWorks, and Disney Parks were represented. And following tradition, the winners from last year’s Fashion Show also returned as judges.
Here was the distinguished panel.
Ed Labay (VP, GMM, Hot Topic) – and key partner of Her Universe
Liz Munoz (CEO, Torrid)
Merit Leighton (Voice actor, “Frosta” in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power)
Michaela Dietz (Voice actor, “Amethyst” in Steven Universe)
Lisa Baldzicki (VP Parks Merchandise & Product Development, Disney Parks)
Meghan Camarena (geek culture influencer @strawburry17)
Cynthia Kirkland (@athel_artistry, 2018 Judge’s Choice winner)
Jane Burson (@janemakesstuff, 2018 Singer Sewing Winner), and
Kristi Siedow Thompson (@ksiedowthompson, 2018 Audience Winner)
At stake: two designers win a contract with pop icon retailer Hot Topic to create an exclusive licensed apparel line. This year’s winners will design a Her Universe fashion line for Wonder Woman: 1984.
Last year’s Fashion Show winners (from left) Kristi Siedow Thompson, Jane Burson, and Cynthia Kirkland created a Marvel Avengers: Endgame fashion line that became one of Her Universe’s best-selling ever.
Cartoon Network and BoxLunch again sponsored this year’s Junior Designer Competition, themed to Steven Universe. Created in 2018, this separate contest allowed younger designers to show off their fandoms and skills.
Guests never leave the Her Universe Fashion Show empty handed. Swag bags have been a tradition since the beginning.
This year, the bags included She-Ra swords or tiaras…empowering us all to join in. A copy of Pop Insider magazine featured an article on Her Universe, and a back cover feature. Performa provided a Marvel Avengers ‘Iron Spider’ shaker bottle. Coupons, pins, buttons, and stickers rounded out the gifts.
Some lucky attendees also won gift cards from sponsor @BoxLunchgifts.
‘For the honor of Greyskull…’
Every year, Ashley Eckstein unveils an astounding gown to open the Her Universe Fashion Show. In previous years, Ashley showcased an Ahsoka gown made from LEGO bricks, a shimmering Cinderella gown, even a Funko POP gown made from Jack Skellington heads.
This year, Ashley amazed with a transforming gown based on DreamWorks’ She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Starting as ‘Adora,’ she walked on stage and said the magic words…
“For the honor of Greyskull…’
With smoke effects, she transformed before our very eyes into She-Ra. Even her hair transformed!
Ashley welcomed us all to celebrate an evening where fashion has the power to uplift your mood, and help you express your true inner geek. She also announced that she will be voicing one of the characters in the Netflix series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
Just in case you weren’t there, here’s our YouTube video of the transforming gown.
And the genius behind Ashley’s curated couture looks? It is none other than Andrew MacLaine (@andrewmaclaine), Audience Winner from the very first Her Universe Fashion Show in 2014. Andrew has worked with Ashley’s demanding traveling schedule over the past five years, sometimes creating gowns without a fitting until the very end. And the results are pure magic.
This She-Ra transformation gown took almost a month to create, with over 5,000 hand-sewn beads. Andrew shopped multiple stores to find the perfect fabric that would not wrinkle when packed in. He explained that the white gown is ‘hidden in plain sight’ – inside-out, and tucked into the jacket.
There would have been more beads, except they started catching on the red Adora jacket during the transformation rehearsals.
Ashley also enlisted the help of designer Harmony Leiker (@harmonylanddesigns) to create the metal accessories and complete the She-Ra look.
Harmony Leiker is a four-year veteran of the Her Universe Fashion Show (last year, presenting her Rapunzel-inspired gown). Using self-taught expertise in metal work, she fashioned She-Ra’s golden gauntlets and transforming winged tiara.
Andrew is quick to give credit to Harmony, and emphasized how this was truly a positive collaboration. They exchanged sketches, color concepts, even beads to ‘plus’ the design. In the end, they forged a new friendship.
Together, Ashley Eckstein (‘She-Ra’), with Andrew MacLaine (‘Bow’) and Harmony Leiker (‘Glimmer’) were unstoppable. The end result was nothing short of spectacular.
See the introduction of Andrew and Harmony in our video here:
New fashion lines
Ashley then announced their newest fashion lines, now available at Hottopic.com and Heruniverse.com. One of my favorites was the new Loki dress. With an interwoven bodice pattern and gold foil Loki accents, this piece was stunning. They also presented new Star Wars and She-Ra-inspired looks.
Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Kiki’s Delivery Service, Her Universe revealed new Studio Ghibli separates with accessories like the Kiki’s Delivery Service cross-body purse and jewelry.
For the first time ever, Her Universe announced a Harry Potter fashion line to let your House spirit shine. Models walked the runway in sweater dresses and comfy unisex hoodie robes, available for each House in Hogwarts.
Her Universe also presented three dresses inspired by heroines in the Potterverse: a powder-blue satin Fleur Delacour dress with shoulder cape, a Hermione Granger Yule Ball dress, and Luna Lovegood’s lavender Christmas party dress.
A ‘Royal’ co-host
Ashley enlisted co-host Tiffany Smith (@tiffany_smith), who recently played Meghan Markle in the Lifetime movie “Harry & Meghan: Becoming Royal.”
Together, we tapped into our inner She-Ra to open the Fashion Show.
Geek couture making headlines across the galaxy
Twenty-four finalists were chosen to bring their geek couture to the runway at San Diego Comic-Con. Their creations were inspired by fandoms ranging from Disney to Star Wars, Marvel to Lord of the Rings. Here were some of the (mostly Disney-related) highlights.
Ericka Angiuli’s (@Eangiuli) Avengers gown was truly Marvel-ous.
Kimberly Burns (@Kberry723) packed a galaxy of Star Wars details into her Jyn Erso-inspired gown entitled “Heart of Kyber.”
Olivia Mears (@avantgeek) presented a multi-layered She-Ra pantsuit that embraced the theme of the evening.
Jill Nofziger (@jillnndesign) infused color into her Maleficent gown.
Brianna Casper (@Ghost_Banana) added a touch of the macabre to her Queen of Hearts interpretation “Off With Your Head.”
Duck Couture (Wooo-Ooo!): Liz Todd (@ambrose_cosplay) created a transforming gown worthy of Scrooge McDuck, complete with a money bag, gold coin sequins, and Scrooge McDuck dollar bills lining the jacket.
“The Spirit of Hope” tapped into Lisa Truong’s (@a_siren) inner Jedi.
Hailey Jensen (@haileyjensenart) was ready for the ball with her Cinderella gown, “Dreams Come True.”
Who carries a Han Solo-in-carbonite purse? Why, it’s Heather Smith (@Geekanista5) in her Boba Fett pantsuit.
Even Oogie Boogie was celebrated with Wes Jenkins’ (@artofwesjenkins) glowing gown with parka.
There were so many other notable entries. Here are Lizard Leigh’s (@HeyLizardLeigh) Steven Universe transforming gown, Kathryn Henzler’s (@fullmetal_flamingo) Galadriel interpretation, and Andrea Ohnesorge’s (@spectacular1771) colorful ‘My Unicorn.’
Celebrating the 80th Anniversary of Batman at the San Diego Comic-Con Museum
The Her Universe Fashion Show was honored to be included in an inaugural display at the San Diego Comic-Con museum. Celebrating 50 years of SDCC and 80 years of Batman, Ashley Eckstein was asked to wear something appropriately themed to the opening gala.
She called Andrew MacLaine, and he created this stunning Batman gown for her in just one day! A new record, even for Andrew!
This full-length sequined gown was black and gold and sparkling all over. I loved the prominent Batman symbol, as well as the details in the neck line.
50 Years of Happy Haunts, and there’s room for a thousand
Judge Ed Labay and co-host Tiffany Smith called upon Madame Leota to introduce Disney’s Haunted Mansion fashion line for Hot Topic. Answering the call, Ashley materialized in a Haunted Mansion-themed bridal pantsuit.
This look was designed by 2015 Audience Award Winner Leetal Platt (@leetal_weapon). It was, she explained, a modern interpretation of a Victorian wedding gown.
Accompanying Ashley were models sporting the new Haunted Mansion separates.
Mental Health Awareness
Her Universe has always stood up against bullying. This year, Ashley Eckstein is also shining a light on childhood mental illness. Did you know what one in five children lives with a mental illness?
Along with Nationwide Children’s hospital, Ashley wants to break down stigmas associated with mental illness. She is an active partner for children’s mental health advocacy and research. “Because we don’t wear our thoughts on our sleeves…” just talking about mental health helps the #ONOURSLEEVES movement.
Using some of the icons from Nationwide Children’s hospital, Andrew MacLaine created a custom-printed fabric to create a unique look for Ashley. The fabric came back with different qualities than expected, so he couldn’t create the original butterfly concept gown he had originally sketched.
Going back to the drawing board, Andrew made four new dresses before he was happy with this last one that Ashley premiered at the Fashion Show. All this, in five days.
Ashley announced a new shirt with these icons, declaring “I Break Stigmas.” Proceeds of this shirt will benefit Nationwide Children’s for behavioral health research and advocacy.
Junior Design Competition Winners Announced
This year, there were so many excellent Steven Universe designs from the Junior division, that the judges chose three Winners and three Honorable Mentions. Here they are pictured with Ashley.
Winners: Emerson (in green), Emily (in pink ombre), and Kayla (in royal blue). Honorable Mentions (from left): Canada, Mercy, and Wesley.
Fashion Show Winners Announced
All the finalists were invited to walk down the runway one last time before the winners are announced.
And the envelope please ….
Judge’s Winner: Adria Renee (@adria.renee) – Destination: Isla Nublar – Jurassic Park
Adria is a self-taught designer, and a five-year veteran of the Her Universe Fashion Show. Armed with cocktails, Adria Renee was ready to enjoy the resort island of Isla Nublar in Jurassic Park.
Her design was glamorous, yet playful – not something you would necessarily expect to be paired with dinosaurs. The bodice contained carnivorous dinosaurs as well as tropical plant details, all enhanced with delicate beading. Beads on the front spelled out: ‘dinosaurs eat man.’
To complete the look, Adria created a burn-out fabric scarf with the Jurassic Park banner – “WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH.”
These were Adria’s other fantastic entries in previous years of the Her Universe Fashion Show
2015 – “It’s Bigger on the Inside” – Dr. Who TARDIS design – Judge’s runner up
2016 – “Diana on the Town” – transforming Wonder Woman gown
2017 – “The Haute of Te Fiti” – inspired by Moana
2018 – Rebellion Reborn – inspired by the Last Jedi
Audience Winner: Sarah Hambly (@officialhambly) “BODAK Green – Marvel’s Loki”
Sarah is also a self-taught designer, and a four-year veteran of the Her Universe Fashion Show. Her entry was a Loki-inspired silk taffeta pantsuit with a flowing skirt and wide-brimmed hat.
The pantsuit is studded with over 121,000 bohemian crystal rhinestones, heat-pressed onto the fabric 2,600 at a time and arranged in an ombré pattern. Sarah did a custom-embroidered golden Loki helmet on the back bodice, and on hat.
Gold foil accents trimmed the skirt, with Loki helmets printed on the interior lining of the skirt.
The look is completed with a Tesseract purse, and Loki boots from Hot Topic (with extra crystal bling). The entire project took three months to complete.
These were Sarah’s other fantastic entries in previous years of the Her Universe Fashion Show
2016 – “Hannibal’s Design” – inspired by Hannibal
2017 – “Annville’s Revival” – Preacher
2018 – “King Couture” – inspired by Black Panther
Here’s our video of the winner announcements:
Closing thoughts …
Congratulations to all who participated in the Her Universe Fashion Show 2019! There were so many gorgeous designs, I could not include them all here. If you’re interested, I also have more videos on my YouTube channel @ChrysalisTravel.
I love Andrew MacLaine’s comments about Ashley Eckstein.
“She-Ra…shows the other people that are in trouble how to help themselves, and that they are heroes too, and that they had it in them all the time… This is what Ashley’s doing, she’s kinda like She-Ra…And she’s helping all of us to realize the powers that we have.”
Ashley finds strength and beauty in everyone she meets, and consistently uses her platform to lift others up. From fashion designers to writers, she provides opportunities to make dreams come true. Standing up for causes such as anti-bullying and children’s mental health, Ashley is not afraid to tackle tough topics.
Perhaps that is why she is a real-life Princess.
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.