Geeks gone glam: the Her Universe Fashion Show returned to San Diego Comic Con for its fourth year and showcased the work of 25 fashion designers, all looking to win the prize of designing Her Universe’s 2018 clothing line. “If you can dream it, you can do it,” Ashley Eckstein, founder of the brand, told the Hyatt ballroom full of buzzing press and fashionistas in a pre-recorded video. “I dreamed that one day, the phrase ‘geek couture’ would become a real description…fast forward to today…The Her Universe Fashion Show is truly my dream come true.”
For those unfamiliar with Eckstein, she is most famously known for her role as the voice actor for Ahsoka Tano from the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series. Eckstein grew up in Orlando, Florida; her dad worked for Disney World — “I was practically raised on Main Street USA” — and later Eckstein became a “cast member” of Disney’s Hollywood Studios herself. Eckstein went into acting and starred in bit Disney TV roles on shows like That’s So Raven and Phil of the Future before landing the Star Wars job that helped catapult her into the spotlight. “Disney taught me how to dream and how to make those dreams come true by showing me magic and making that magic tangible,” Eckstein explained to the whole room.
It wasn’t disclosed if Disney sponsored the fashion show in any way, but undeniably, the evening was a well-oiled marketing machine for all things Disney. The show is, as Kate Tanski pointed out in her review last year, indeed one big advertisement.
As the lights dimmed, Eckstein floated out in an outfit that lit up and transformed into a stunning midnight blue Cinderella-inspired gown, designed by 2014 winner Andrew Maclaine.
Eckstein reminded the crowd that tonight we would be the “Fairy Godmothers,” as the audience would choose a winner alongside the judges. Sitting at the judges’ table was VP of Hot Topic, Cindy Levitt; former Her Fashion Show winners, Hannah Lee-Kent, Jesse Thaxton, and Camille Falciola; actress Harley Quinn Smith; cosplayer Yaya Han; and Disney Style editor, Nicole Myknott.
Eckstein said they’ve never specified a theme, but that this year it just so happened to lean heavily towards Disney. The first half of the show was dedicated to Disney film-inspired pieces, and to properties that were acquired and/or fall under the Disney distribution umbrella.
Skyler, who is herself Pacific Islander, recently lost her grandmother, and says she felt an even deeper connection to Moana as a result. Her dress was created by repurposing her grandmother’s old dresses.
There were also pieces based off of Star Wars characters, with a gorgeous Ahsoka Tano gown and a twist on a Chirrut Imwe outfit.
And then we saw dresses that channeled the characters of Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy — with Judith Ann Grivich’s Groot dress notably lighting up in the dark.
There were also a few designs inspired by classic Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films.
After the Disney properties, we saw pieces from a variety of fandoms, including Overwatch, Portal, Stranger Things, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — made entirely out of towels! — to name a few.
As the designers filed out and the judges deliberated, we were treated to a surprise sneak peek for the new Disney show Raven’s House, now about a grown Raven Baxter as a divorced mother of two.
The judges announced the winners, a tie between Rose Ivy for her Doctor Strange outfit and Lindsay Meesak Orndorff for her Princess Mononoke outfit. The audience choice went to Grace Duval, who created the wonderfully transforming Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy skirt. The winner’s envelope was rolled out by an accurate-to-film-sized BB8, which will be available for purchase in 2018.
Eckstein announced the prize: the three would be in charge of designing a Disney princess-themed Her Universe clothing line, and notably, would be creating whole outfits rather than just individual pieces. Eckstein rounded out this news by saying she would also be debuting a book in 2018 under Disney Publishing called It’s Your Universe.
It was clear that this particular show aimed to turn the audience’s mind towards what Disney had in store for the marketplace in 2018, rather than focusing on say, the general geek couture landscape. I say this as someone who tries to be aware of how and when advertising is working, and also as an old, cranky soul who generally has to preface statements with “I hate to be the wet blanket here, but….”
But it’s apparent there’s a reason Disney is the cultural juggernaut it is today. The message of Follow Your Dreams, while a bit pre-packaged and cliche, is regardless something that people need, and like, to hear. The Disney branding of the event did not at all detract from the artistry and hard work of the designers, nor from the joy on the audience member’s faces as each model strutted out. The fashion show aimed to be even more inclusive than Walt Disney reportedly was, with models of varying sizes, skin tones, and abilities walking the runway.
And dang it, I can rail against Disney and capitalism as much as I want, but I can’t deny I grew teary eyed when Eckstein brought a mother-daughter duo on the stage; when she geeked out over a fan’s entirely hand-knit Ahsoka dress; and when she asked all the little girls who walked the catwalk during judge deliberations about their hopes and dreams. Disney critiques aside, it was an inspiring evening, and one of the most well designed and organized events that I attended while at SDCC. I wish all the best for the designers, and I can’t wait to see what the winners and Eckstein have in store for us.