The Third Annual Her Universe Fashion Show Showcased Legos and Disappearing Maps, Among Other Things

Her Universe founder and owner Ashley Eckstein, center, in a stunning dress covered in shiny Legos.
Her Universe founder and owner Ashley Eckstein, center, in a stunning dress covered in shiny Legos.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

Now in its third year, The Her Universe Fashion Show, held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt during San Diego Comic-Con, brought people of all ages, colors and sizes to the runway to celebrate the fashionable potential of pop culture.

Out of hundreds of entries, 27 would-be professional clothing designers were selected to compete for an opportunity to work with Her Universe to design an exclusive clothing line for Hot Topic. The undertaking includes designing the couture, buying needed materials, making the outfit and traveling to San Diego.

Two winners were chosen last week. Ultimately, there will be three. The first winners were the judges’ pick and the audience’s pick. A final one will be selected by online voters after they watch the final episode of the corresponding reality series, “The Her Universe Fashion Show: Fashion Meets Fandom,” that’s currently airing on streaming on-demand network Comic-Con HQ

Ashley Eckstein founded the Her Universe clothing company in 2009 because of the lack of fandom-themed clothing specifically made for women. As hostess and emcee of the show, she showed off the first stunning dress of the night. It was a collaboration between designer Andrew MacLaine (the audience-picked winner from the first Her Universe competition, in 2014) and sculptor Nathan Sawaya. The latter is famous for his spectacular Lego sculptures, showcased in the touring exhibition “The Art of the Brick.”

Eckstein has a funny, onstage moment with her dress designers Andrew Maclaine (left) and Lego artist Nathan Sawaya (right.)
Eckstein has a funny, onstage moment with her dress designers Andrew Maclaine (left) and Lego artist Nathan Sawaya (right.)
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

MacLaine and Sawaya’s challenge was to construct a beautiful dress for Eckstein out of Legos that also featured the animated character she used to voice Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano.

“I created the dress and [Sawaya] created the art that goes on it,” explained MacLaine. “It is 10,000 Legos making this dress. This is the first time Lego fashion has ever been seen in the world. It was days and days and days of sewing on Legos individually to a dress.”

In order for the Legos to be sewn on, holes had to be drilled in each as well. “There’s a reason why it’s never been done before: because it hurts,” said MacLaine with a laugh. He estimated the dress weighs 25 pounds and said that after the show, it is destined for an exhibit, not a closet. “It would break the hanger,” he said with a grin.

After Eckstein kicked off the program in the stunning dress, it was time for the first of three runway shows of the evening. This one showcased the Her Universe product lines, which included Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who and Marvel themes. Some of the designs are available from the Her Universe website, while others are carried exclusively by retail partners, such as Hot Topic, ThinkGeek, Loot Crate and more.

Designer Camille Falciola's entry in the Her Universe fashion competition (worn by fitness model and author Ashley Marie) was based on the disappearing/reappearing Marauder's Map in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books and movies.
Designer Camille Falciola's entry in the Her Universe fashion competition (worn by fitness model and author Ashley Marie) was based on the disappearing/reappearing Marauder's Map in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books and movies.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

After that, it was time for the most important part of the night: the runway competition. While most of the entries were stunning, the two winners were obvious frontrunners the moment their creations hit the runway. Camille Falciola’s entry was based on the Marauder’s Map in the Harry Potter books and movies. Thanks to magic, the lines of the map disappear and reappear on command —and with help from an engineer, Falciola turned fictional wizardry into reality in her design. “I’m using thermochromic paints, which are powdered pigments that change color at certain temperatures. In this case, it disappears above 40 degrees Celsius. The whole dress is lined with carbon fiber tape and once it is connected to power, it heats up,” explained Falciola.

The layered skirt of Hannah Kent’s Mad Max: Fury Road-themed “Oh What A Gown…What A Lovely Gown!” swished with every step gracefully under a form-fitting leather bodice. “I’ve been solidly working — probably a good two months — on the design just to get the fit right,” said Kent. “It’s a fully boned and corseted structure.”

Designer Hannah Kent in her Max Max: Fury Road gown, which won the judges' hearts in the Her Universe 2016 fashion competition.
Designer Hannah Kent in her Max Max: Fury Road gown, which won the judges' hearts in the Her Universe 2016 fashion competition.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

Competitor Adria Sanchez-Chaidez got it off to a dramatic start, throwing off a sedate black jacket to reveal a glittering Wonder Woman dress called “Diana on the Town.” It included a flowing blue skirt adorned in glittering white star appliqués and golden rope attached to the rhinestone-studded red bodice.

Grace Duval’s creation, "The Dragon Behind The Wall," combined two Game of Thrones characters. The outerwear, a black leather jacket and long skirt that represented character Jon Snow, concealed a summer skirt and short-sleeved bodice combination reminiscent of another character, Daenerys Targaryen. “I was inspired by a fan theory that the two of them are related, and this season it turned out to be true,” said Duval.

The dress was worn by Melanie June, a model and fellow designer from Brooklyn whom Duval has known since 2007. The outfit proved an ecologically sensitive one. Duval cut more than 10,000 “dragon scales” from bicycle inner tubes for the long skirt and recycled other leather jackets for her own outerwear creation. The skirt alone weighs 20 pounds and the jacket five more. Duvall estimated the entire outfit could have taken as long as 1,000 hours to make.

The grim beauty of Elissa Alcala's entry epitomizes what it means to embrace life's difficulties and make something significant out of them.
The grim beauty of Elissa Alcala's entry epitomizes what it means to embrace life's difficulties and make something significant out of them.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

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Another significant moment of the competition was designer Elissa Alcala’s discussion of her 28 Days Later-themed dress, called "The Rage Virus." Alcala is battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. She started losing her hair because of the treatment, so she shaved her head. Her brave march down the runway in a seemingly blood-tinged dress with a glittering red bodice was an unforgettable embrace of her real-life battle and somehow turned it into something grimly beautiful. 

Some audible “wows” could be heard from members of the audience when Lynne Marie Martens’s Doctor Who-themed dress, “TARDIS Through The Wormhole,” appeared onstage. Martens says that creating the long, colorful train and the tutu required more than 80 yards of netting and tulle. Lights were interwoven through the design as well. “The twinkle lights are copper string lights and battery-operated. I can turn them on and off with a remote,” Martens said as she demonstrated the capability. In between layers of tulle in the skirt were three more strands of LEDs. She worked with a programmer so the lights would display the exact colors she wanted.

Why go through such effort and expense? “Because the opportunities Her Universe is offering to us [are] so worth it and I’ve met so many wonderful people,” said Martens.

Now that she’s one of the big winners, Kent is most looking forward to learning more about what it means to design for more women than just her. “ “I’m overwhelmed. I’m very excited,” she said. "I think it’s going to be such a great, creative, collaborative process, and I’m excited to grow in my life and career.” 


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