The energy was palpable the moment I hit the second floor of the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel, hours before the Her Universe Fashion Show was scheduled to start on Thursday evening of San Diego Comic-Con 2019.
The annual show features not only upcoming Her Universe collections but also showcases the work of designers who enter to participate by submitting their ideas for fan-inspired fashion months before. This year's 24 designers were chosen back in May with just a few weeks to complete their designs.
I entered the bustling backstage space while the designers had only a little over an hour until showtime. There, I spoke with designer Lizard Leigh on what happened to be her cosplay tenth anniversary, who said the thing that first drew her to cosplaying was the positive community.
"I've always thought anyone who starts cosplaying is like a nerd and always makes a lot of friendships online. And cosplay, for me, was a really nice intersection of online friendships and real-life friendships," she said.
The theme of this year's event was The Power of Fashion, and each designer uniquely interpreted what that meant to them. For designer Brianna Casper, it meant going to the darker side.
"I was kind of playing with the idea of the power theme they have this year," Casper said. "And so I kind of wanted to do a villain. I was watching Alice in Wonderland and I was like, 'Man, she would be such a good character to do a design based off of.' So, I just kind of started playing with ideas until I got to where I'm at now."
I’ve never sat in the front row of a fashion show. That’s something for people like Zendaya or [insert famous fashionable person here]. But once shuttled out of the backstage area, that's exactly where I found myself as the show kicked off. Her Universe founder Ashley Eckstein entered in a She-Ra and the Princesses of Power-themed dress, complete with transformation. The crowd went wild and for the next few hours, the excitement in the room never let up.
A quick look at the new Her Universe collections like She-Ra, Star Wars, Kiki's Delivery Service, those previously-announced Harry Potter dresses, plus a few other adorable Wizarding World sweaters, got the show off to a good start.
Heading into the competition portion of the evening, videos told the stories of the inspiration for each designer and how fashion made them feel. The power of fashion was beginning to become clearer. These designers are fans and people looking to find a community, just like the rest of us. The way they demonstrate their love for a show, comic, or movie, is through fashion — and the Her Universe Fashion Show is the pinnacle of these things they love. That community and support was one aspect Leigh really noticed as a participant.
"I would say I learned what a positive community the Her Universe fashion show can be," said Leigh, whose Steven Universe transformation dress stunned the audience. "And I feel when you are someone like me who's been doing this for 10 years, and has been doing very conceptual cosplays for a long time, it can be easy to feel like you're sort of the only one doing it. And the nice thing about Her Universe is [it's] saying that there's actually a lot of people who do more conceptual fashion design type stuff that intersects with cosplay in a really fun way."
But the power of fashion is not just in the way it can help us individually, but also how it can be used to improve the lives of others. At the show, Eckstein revealed a partnership with On Our Sleeves, a movement to transform children's mental health. Her Universe sold T-shirts throughout the weekend, with proceeds benefitting the organization.
While the fashion show featured 24 talented adult designers, there were also opportunities for designers as young as six to participate in a competition for kids. The young winners were able to show off their Steven Universe-inspired designs on the runway, as well as have the opportunity to work with BoxLunch to create a line of their own.
But perhaps the most heart-warming moment of the show was when the audience was given the chance to walk the runway themselves. With huge smiles, people of all ages, genders, and races strutted down the runway getting a moment to shine of their very own in front of the packed crowd.
And then the moment came, the time to announce the judges' and audience winners. As the designers made their last walk down the runway, I realized that the show wasn't necessarily about fashion at all. Sure, in the strictest sense, it is, but it's more about the experience of allowing a space for people to showcase their love — and who can't get behind that?
So, if like me, you didn't think that a fashion show was an event for you, the Her Universe Fashion Show might be the one to prove you wrong. Love is, after all, for everyone.
You can view all of the photos from the show below.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.