By Scott C.
A few weeks have passed since San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) 2023 took place at the San Diego Convention Center (July 19-23), an event that allowed fans to celebrate everything associated with pop culture. Cosplaying, also known as costume play, is one way fans can celebrate pop culture. This is a popular activity seen at several comic book conventions.
The Her Universe Fashion Show honors cosplay through the power of geek couture. Those competing get a taste of a ‘project runway’ type environment, with two winners getting crowned each year. The theme for this year’s event was 100 Years of Disney. It was time once more to see the best cosplayers showcase their geek couture skills during SDCC week 2023. Once again, the host was the lovely and talented Ashley Eckstein (the voice of Ahsoka Tano from Star Wars and the founder of Her Universe). Her fashion show cohost this year was the amazing Michael James Scott, who plays the Genie in Aladdin on Broadway.
This fashion show always happens during SDCC because Eckstein sees the convention as con-Mecca, the event where everyone goes to celebrate and learn fandom together. Andrea Lewis, the Vice President of Brand Marketing at Hot Topic, who has been with the company for over 12 years, appreciates that the Her Universe brand is loved by many, including those who visit SDCC and the Disney theme parks. As for the fashion show itself, after seeing the popularity of the very first event, everyone involved knew that something special was had been born. Next year (2024) will be the 10th anniversary of the fashion show.
SDCC attendees who wish to see the show can do so for free, but are required to pick up a earlier wristband that same day at the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel, which is also the location of the show.
The 2023 show was held on July 20, and was presented by Her Universe and Hot Topic, with Disney joining in on the fun. 2,000 fans were first welcomed in the lobby with a dash of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas via a series of photo opportunities before the doors opened (a taste pictured above).
As co-hosts, Eckstein and Scott were great together, joking around and energizing the crowd with memorable moments and looks. For example, Scott wore the stylish and impressive Darth Vader outfit with several 501st Stormtroopers (photo is in the gallery below) coming out on stage to join on the fun. Scott also sang “Friend Like Me” from the play Aladdin, while also giving out a few teddy bears during this live performance. Of course, I thought that the performance was spectacular! The two couture looks (Aladdin and Darth Vader) for Scott were by designer Andrew MacLaine, while the amazing Infinity Gauntlet look was by Kristi Siedow-Thompson. (Photos of each are in the photo gallery below.)
The latest dress for Eckstein was breathtakingly stunning, and also celebrated 100 years of Disney perfectly through the use of multiple OLED screens wrapping around her in a film strip style. Eckstein said that she has been eyeing something like this complex dress for five years, but the technology to make it possible was not available until now. Disney Imagineer Daniel Joseph was the “mastermind” behind the technology, and Disney Producer and Director John Gleim assisted with the Disney content. MacLaine also designed and made the impressive couture look.
Prizes were given away this year, which is likely a first for the show. They included an updated Legacy Ahsoka lightsaber hilts, Ahsoka prints, free D23 Gold membership, and a trip to Disneyland to stay at the 12-story Disney Vacation Club tower (called the Discovery Tower) opening this fall. There was more, including an FŪL Bags Disney Minnie Mouse Rolling Luggage 3 Piece Set, and a free trip to New York City to see Aladdin on Broadway, meet Scott, and see all of the behind-the-scenes action. Each attendance wristband had a random number, and if called, that fan won a prize. I believe that the audience loved this aspect of the show, so I would guess that this new part will return in 2024. Free swag, however, happens each year, and this year’s was great. Fans received several Disney-themed items in one goody bag that wowed a friend, a first-timer experiencing the fashion show.
As in previous shows, there were 20+ designers (25 for 2023) vying to win 2 spots (winners listed below), and their designs were amazing to see in-person. I still believe that it is hard to pick a winner due to the amazing designs I see at each Her Universe Fashion Show. Fans can see the love and attention each designer puts into each look. The two winners were:
Judges’ winner: Rachel Petterson (@pigsinpajamas) for her “Totally Minnie look” inspired by Minnie Mouse. Petterson is a “Software engineer and aspiring fashion designer in the San Francisco Bay Area who loves fashion’s combination of creativity and technical challenges.” Overall, she sees geek couture as a way for fans to “Come together and use the visual language of a shared passion to tell our stories.”
Audience winner: Reaven K. (@thatssewraevenk) for her “Mistress of the Elements” look inspired by X-Men’s Storm. (Each person in the crowd had to vote for one designer only via a paper ballot.) Reaven has a “BFA in fashion design and has been sewing for +20 years.” She also teaches in Austin, Texas. Overall, she has had “A lifelong obsession with several fandoms and is excited to merge her two loves in geek couture.”
As for her winning design, Petterson could not picture anyone else but Minnie Mouse due to her affection for the character since childhood. It seems that this was the best decision to go with as that design got her the win that she had been looking for; this was her third time applying for the fashion show. I do not blame her for liking Minnie Mouse, as the character is a classic and great next to Mickey Mouse.
Reaven entered the fashion show this year after hearing about geek couture long ago. But when asked if there was another possible character for her design look instead of Storm from the X-Men, it would have been Princess Tiana from the animated movie The Princess and the Frog. Reaven said that being from the South (rural Alabama) and loving the film, doing any rendition would have been very important to her, and to her little niece who loves Princess Tiana. As someone who loves New Orleans and that animated movie, I found her response to be great! But due to her being a big fan of Marvel and Storm for a long time, Reaven went that ‘stormy’ route, which proved to be the correct path to success.
The 2023’s judges were “2022’s Her Universe Fashion Show winning designers Cindy Guillermo and Michael Burson, SVP Hot Topic Merchandising, Robin Motts, Director of Concept Art and Story Development at Disney Consumer Products, George McClements as well as actor, artist and owner of Bungalow Modern, Bret Iwan.” Lastly, the Miranda Starr Tuttle was also present above the runway, just as in previous shows. For more photos of the fashion show and to see the other great 23 designs, check out the photo gallery below.
Overall, the 2023 Her Universe Fashion Show was superb, but that is nothing new with this event. Eckstein, created Her Universe due to being a lifelong Star Wars fan, and to make sure that girls/women everywhere also had the same amount of outfit choices available as boys/men. The Her Universe brand welcomes all, as Eckstein always intended. And by joining Hot Topic, the Her Universe brand has become a juggernaut and has given birth to a welcoming and lovely fashion show. The plans for 2024’s event have already begun, so let the countdown begin for the 10th-anniversary show! I know that I will be there! Will you?