Last October, Ashley Eckstein got a package delivered to her front porch. Inside, she would find the best gift she’d ever received: a unity quilt with 84 squares, each designed by a former Her Universe Fashion Show contestant and inspired by the geek couture ensembles they created for the runway.
Eckstein — an actress known as the voice of Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the founder of fandom apparel company Her Universe — launched the Her Universe Fashion Show back in 2014. At the annual show, which usually takes place live at Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC), designers showcase original, fandom-inspired couture looks and compete for a chance to design a Her Universe fashion collection for Hot Topic alongside Eckstein.
Last year, when SDCC was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Her Universe Fashion Show was canceled, too. Tomorrow night, though, the fandom-fueled event will return for its seventh show — this time, it will be virtual.
However, the 2021 Her Universe Fashion Show wasn’t always a given. By the time that unity quilt reached Eckstein’s front door in October, the fandom fashion trailblazer was feeling unsure about the importance of the show and uncertain about whether she should try to make it happen this year.
“I’ll be honest, I think we all were sitting at home last year and questioning what was and wasn’t important, especially with talk of ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential,’” Eckstein recalls. “I even began to question if the Her Universe fashion show was important to fans. Would they miss it?”
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Then, the unity quilt arrived, evoking not only a strong emotional response in Eckstein (“I was sobbing, just sobbing, happy tears. … I literally was slinging snot!”), but also helping her realize how important the show is to fans. “It said that this show is not about a competition,” she says. “This show is about a community. It was the most beautiful gift I’ve ever received in my entire life.”
Soon after, Eckstein and the Her Universe/Hot Topic teams came together and started working on a virtual version of the fashion show. The entire event, which will air tomorrow night as part of the official Comic-Con@Home programming schedule, is prerecorded. The theme for the event is, fittingly, “community,” which Eckstein says will shine throughout her opening monologue, the designers’ video diaries, and more.
Having the show be virtual will, Eckstein admits, make it different in many ways. “There’s nothing that can replicate that feeling of electricity, of being in the ballroom, the feeling of excitement and the roar of the crowd,” she explains.
Perhaps the most notable change will be in the voting procedures: At the in-person Her Universe Fashion Shows, a panel of judges typically selects one winner, while the live audience votes for a second. With the prerecorded format, the judge-selected winner will be announced during tomorrow’s livestreamed show. Then, online audience voting will be open until Sunday at 11:59 p.m. PT. The team will film the audience winner on Monday and then on Wednesday, July 28, Her Universe will rerelease a final version of the show that includes both winners.
However, on the flip side, Eckstein says there are many upsides to the virtual show, especially in regard to inclusivity. Typically, only 2,000 fans are able to watch the live show (a fraction of the 130,000+ fans who attend SDCC) and vote for the audience winner. This year, an unlimited number of fans across the country can tune in and participate.
This inclusivity extended to the contestants, too — In previous years, contestants needed to be able to come to SDCC and compete in person. This year, removing that added expense allowed many more designers to participate. “As long as you are able to bring your vision, your design to life, you could do it from home,” Eckstein says. “That actually opened up the competition to a lot more people, so it was very exciting.”
In addition to seeing the 25 contestants’ designs during the show, fans can expect Eckstein to show off some new styles and continue to shine a spotlight on inclusivity, empowerment, and mental health awareness. Overall, Eckstein says that this virtual event has something to offer fans of all ages.
“I promise it’s going to be inspiring. It’s going to be fun,” Eckstein says. “Literally the entire family can sit down and watch the show together. It’s going to be full of laughs, it’s also going to be full of tears. I mean, happy tears for sure… It’s going to be something fun to do on a Friday night.”
The 2021 Her Universe Fashion show will take place tomorrow, July 23, at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET. For the latest info about how to watch the show, visit the Comic-Con@Home programming schedule!