Comic-Con makes fashion statement

Ms Laura Cristina Ortiz in her 1980s- style cocktail dress and shrug inspired by the 2008 Disney Pixar film Wall-E.
Ms Laura Cristina Ortiz in her 1980s- style cocktail dress and shrug inspired by the 2008 Disney Pixar film Wall-E. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

SAN DIEGO • It will not be joining New York, London, Milan and Paris on the official fashion month schedule any time soon, but San Diego, perhaps best known for annually hosting more than 130,000 comic- book fans who descend on the city during Comic-Con International each July, has been the unlikely epicentre of a fashion movement that achieved every supervillain's dream of taking over the world. To be specific: wearable pop culture.

It was fashion - and decidedly not costumes - that took centre stage last Thursday evening at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel during this year's Comic-Con, where the Her Universe Fashion Show, a competitive event reminiscent of Project Runway, involved 27 designers debuting pop culture- inspired ensembles that would not have looked out of place during John Galliano-era Dior or Lee McQueen-era Alexander McQueen.

Just as at the Met Gala in May, technology was a visible theme, albeit technology inspired by fantasy.

One dress, an elegantly draped cream concoction, was decorated with illustrations using thermo- chromatic pigment, which disappeared when it reached 40 deg C, the better to evoke a magical map with vanishing ink from the Harry Potter series.

Other designs brought to mind Zac Posen's luminous Met Gala gown by incorporating lights.

"I had already designed it before I saw the Zac Posen," one designer, Lynne Marie Martens, said of her creation, a mille-feuille of a dress inspired by Doctor Who and featuring hundreds of twinkling lights.

Posen's dress did prompt Martens, 29, to explore using fibre- optic fabric, although at about US$100 (S$135) for just a few metres, it was prohibitively expensive for her version, which had 73m of tulle. Instead, she used individually addressable LED lights, meaning she could programme the colour of each one separately, as well as the pattern and speed at which the lights blinked.

"I worked with a programmer who wrote the code for me," she said.

Ms Laura Cristina Ortiz, 27, who took time off from her day job as a costume assistant on the coming Fox television series Lethal Weapon to participate in the show, created a 1980s-style cocktail dress and shrug inspired by the 2008 Disney Pixar film Wall-E, a dystopian tale about a trash- collecting robot abandoned on an uninhabitable planet Earth.

Ms Ortiz incorporated a dizzying amount of recycled material into the design, including cardboard, crepe paper, soda cans, plastic bottles, an Ikea bag and a cable stripped out of an iPhone, which was used to lace up the bodice at the back.

The fashion show, which is in its third year, is the brainchild of voice actress Ashley Eckstein.

She started Her Universe, a female-oriented apparel company after which the fashion show is named, in 2010 after realising that women who wanted to wear sci-fi-printed T-shirts were being grossly underserved.

She obtained her first pop culture licence from Lucasfilm, and today, Her Universe produces items such as Deadpool leggings and Darth Vader cape dresses.

Today, Star Wars is a bona fide presence in fashion, thanks to subsequent collaborations with brands such as Rodarte, Preen and, on a charity initiative last year, Diane von Furstenberg.

Other designers (most notably Jeremy Scott) have similarly begun appropriating fondly remembered childhood throwbacks such as Barbie, Mario Brothers and Looney Tunes in their collections.

Brands such as Givenchy, Commes des Garcons, Lanvin and Louboutin have worked with Disney on one-off designs and capsule collections based on the studio's classic films such as Bambi (1942) and Cinderella (1950). And in San Diego, cosmetics brand MAC, which has collaborated with Alexander McQueen and Rihanna, has even created a sci fi-themed pop-up store directly opposite the convention centre, where it is previewing its coming Star Trek collection to a receptive audience.

"Pop culture really equals nostalgia and it takes us back to our childhood," Eckstein said, citing the current obsession with Pokemon Go as an example. "In a world right now where so many crazy things and terrible things and scary things are going on, everyone needs an escape and something that just gives you hope and makes you happy."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline Comic-Con makes fashion statement. Subscribe