This year marked the third Her Universe Fashion Show at San Diego Comic Con, and it was definitely the biggest show yet. The Her Universe Fashion Show is a new genre of geek-related entertainment that I hope we see at other comic cons, because it really is an appreciation for geek fashion and the fans who make it, but in a different way from the traditional masquerade or costume contest. These couture gowns are meant to be inspired by fandoms, but are wholly original creations.
You may remember last year’s winner, this stunning convertible Sailor Moon gown that transitioned from Usagi’s school uniform into a gown inspired by her transformation sequence into Sailor Moon, which involves light, ribbons, and little else.
This year’s offerings were no less stunning, and included several that transformed, like this gorgeous Wonder Woman gown.
As always, there was a range of fandoms represented, from the contemporary to the nostalgic. Dresses inspired by movies released this year, including several inspired by The Force Awakens
As well as the Judge’s Winner, a Furiosa-inspired gown by Hannah “Hanime” Kent.
There were, for some reason, several dresses inspired by Harry Potter, which I suppose is more proof that Harry Potter is the fandom that will never die, including the Audience Winner, a Maurauder’s Map-inspired gown by Camille Falciola where the Map appeared and disappeared as the model walked the runway.
Nostalgia also seemed to play a key role, with dresses inspired by the 1980s films Labyrinth and The Neverending Story.
And while the clothing is stunning, part of the appeal of the Her Universe Fashion Show is the designers themselves. Short bios and videos of the designers accompany the fashion show, and this year, thanks to Her Universe partnering with Comic-Con International’s streaming service Comic-Con HQ, a reality TV show that showed the designer competition behind the scenes, Project Runway style. The episodes range from 11 minutes for episode 1 to the 41 minute finale of the fashion show itself. Unfortunately, the short form makes the show feel even more commercialized in the sense that they can sometimes feel like commercials for Her Universe and Hot Topic.
It’s when the show gets away from the format, to Eckstein interacting with the contestants one on one, that the show shines. As you learn their stories and see their struggles, you get to know these incredible designers, and as they are mostly women designers when mainstream fashion is still dominated by men, it’s nice to see. As a platform for women to talk about other woman fans about designing and creating clothing based on things that inspire them–that I would pay to see. For a month, anyway.
But the commercialization and success of Her Universe has, like any good narrative, also created problems because of its own success. One of the most egregious examples of commercialization was Eckstein’s Lego Ahsoka Tano gown.
Yes, the gown is stunning. Yes, it’s cool to see that it’s actually made out of Legos. But it’s still basically a walking advertisement for Legos.
The bigger problem is that Eckstein says in Episode 1 of the Her Universe Fashion show that Her Universe is a community for women. But as Her Universe has achieved increasing commercial success, with various lines being sold through retailers like Think Geek, Hot Topic, and now Kohl’s, it’s now excluding plus size women by not offering the same styles available to straight sized women.
That doesn’t seem very community-oriented to me.
And this is a problem that Eckstein needs to address. In the early days of Her Universe’s partnering with Hot Topic, she made certain that the entire Avengers clothing line, designed by the winners of the 2014 Her Universe Fashion show, was available through Torrid in addition to the junior sizes available at Hot Topic (even though there was a delay, and the collection was not available immediately.) There was a concerted effort to correct that with the Star Wars: The Force Awakens collection designed by the winner of the Her Universe Fashion show in 2015. But during that same time, several Her Universe collections have been made commercially available without plus sized options.
The fact that many of the designers in the Her Universe Fashion show could not purchase the clothing that Her Universe sells commercially is a problem. But I also weigh this with the fact that Eckstein makes sure to have real women of all sizes walking in the first part of her show when they preview of Her Universe’s upcoming lines. And many of the designers are not straight sized themselves, and choose to walk the runway wearing their own designs. That’s wonderfully empowering.
There’s also a break during the show when the judges deliberate, and audience members are invited up to walk the runway. That’s empowering too.
So I hope that Eckstein knows that I appreciate everything she does to empower women of all sizes, and I hope that she’s able to partner with different retailers in the future to create fashion lines with all the pieces available in all sizes, and in stores. (Looking at you, Kohl’s, with your “online only” Junior Plus options which consist of two t-shirts and zero cute dresses or rompers). And I implore her to remember the fangirls who make this success possible. Plus sized women have money too, and I want to spend it. So I’ll be over here, waiting for my Captain Marvel dress.
Check out the gallery below for more pictures from the 2016 Her Universe Fashion Show at SDCC!