Once upon a time, in a desert land called Palm Springs, California, there lived a man with a passion for fashion. His designs were truer than true, as this man was no ordinary man. He created wearable works of art. The kind of fashion models die to model, cosplayers covet to don, and the kind of designs that are envisioned from the love of the craft with quality and care, leaving all who witness it speechless and swooning.
This man worked hard for many years of his life giving to the trade, not for money, but for the reward of a smile from the one whom he gifted with the art. However, he reached a point where he was ready to prove himself to the world, spread his vision, and make a name for himself.
Unfortunately, even after several tries, he was told by many “professionals” that his work was too “dramatic,” “bright,” or “theatrical.” He was advised to fit into a box that even he knew he didn’t belong in. So he waited. He waited until the chance presented itself. After some time, the chance to prove himself arose during the 2014 San Diego Comic Con in the form of the Her Universe Fashion Show. And prove himself he did!
Almost two weeks later, his winning creation? Still viral. This man is still elated about his design and flawless performance. We had some time to discuss the concept and creation behind the award-winning gown and what he plans to do moving forward after his recent win, an upcoming contract, and independent designing.
Meet Andrew MacLaine, Audience Choice Winner and Designer of the gown “Regina’s Curse” that landed him a future with the major clothing corporation Hot Topic.
But first, let’s rewind to the night when everything started to change.
Andrew MacLaine was one of 36 contestants for a Geek Couture fashion show called Her Universe during the 2014 San Diego Comic Con at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. The show, complete with a live DJ, was co-sponsored by Hot Topic and Nerdist Industries, and hosted by none-other-than Ashley Eckstein, creator of Her Universe.
The show brought geek fashion to a whole new level in the couture fashion industry. Couture is a common abbreviation for “haute couture,” French for “high fashion.” It refers to the creation of an exclusive custom-fitted design. Couture designs are often recognized for their high quality craftsmanship and attention to detail as well as the exclusivity of the garment. The rules were simple: create a geek culture-inspired couture design. The show was a resounding success.
The atmosphere was magical, stated Robyn Sarvis, a local San Diegan. “It was my first experience at any fashion show,” said Sarvis. “I felt like Carrie Bradshaw without the cosmopolitan. The excitement was palpable, and each designer clearly had fans in the audience, which made it all the more exciting.”
The ballroom at the Hyatt was packed with all types of geek couture enthusiasts. The designers couldn’t help but peek in anticipation of who would be there to witness the first geek couture fashion show, and to also look for their supporters who were there to cheer them on.
“I felt relieved that the house was full,” said MacLaine. “A part of me was concerned no one would come.” He wasn’t fazed by the amount of people who had come to show their support and appreciation for fashion. “To me, it was about putting on a show. That’s what I really wanted to do,” said MacLaine.
It seemed that many of the designers felt the same. The designs were incredible, and they carefully chose models to play to the character to create a show for geeks of all factions.
35 out of the 36 designs had walked the runway. Some designs left some of the audience breathless, others in awe; and for most, striking chords in their nerddom and making everybody fangirl to their fullest. There was a design for everyone – Doctor Who, Portal, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Pokémon, and so many more. Many cheered, many cried. Many swooned, and many, many sighed.
The lights lowered, and Andrew MacLaine appeared on the screen.
“Geek couture, to me, is really what fashion should be all about. It’s about the past, the present, the future. It’s about anything that excites you. It’s about anything that really makes you want to be creative. And I think that that’s amazing, because you really should design what excites you. Otherwise, why even do it?”
Then, the last design of the night walked out onto the runway. Immediately, the crowd knew the design was inspired from the hit ABC TV series Once Upon a Time. The character before us was none other than the mayor of Storybrook, Regina Mills.
Accompanying the outfit down the walkway was Katy Perry’s “Roar,” and what happened on the crescendo was nothing short of…well, magical.
Right before our very eyes, Regina Mills transformed. Regina ripped off her jacket and threw her head back. In one single second, both her outfit and hair had transformed into something completely different. She had transformed from the Mayor of Storybrook, Maine into the Evil Queen of the Enchanted Forest.
In that moment, the crowd went wild. People were jumping out of their seats and applauding as the evil queen made her way to the judges.
“I was there for the audience,” stated MacLaine. “The thing in my head was that I wanted to audience to scream so hard. I wanted all my fellow geeks and nerds out there to scream their heads off because they were witnessing magic in front of them.” The audience members are people who know what it’s like to embody a character who is fantasy, said MacLaine. “They’re my people and they’re what’s important to me. I’m a nerd and a fashion geek, and I wanted to put a show on just for them.”
“When [Regina] walked out on the runway, I was struck by the crisp lines and immaculate construction of her clothing,” said Sarvis. “The colors were striking in contrast with her fair skin and makeup. As the transformation took place you could hear audible gasps in the audience before a loud cheer exploded through the ballroom. It was magical!”
Andrew, who took home the Audience Choice Award, said, “This is exciting, because it’s what I was really hoping for, it’s what I was really going for.” By the end of the night, a cell phone video of the dress had gone viral. “I was SOOOOO excited!” he said. “Almost as excited as being there! I watched the video all the way home! Every time I would be screaming. I couldn’t believe how quickly things were being shared, and it was late at night. I was like, ‘OMG! If this is how it’s gonna be tonight, how is it gonna be tomorrow?’ I know all of this can be over at any moment, but I don’t want to it be!”
Andrew’s dress’s transformation video was constantly shared on Instagram and Twitter. As many of the viewers started tagging @OnceABC and #OnceABCoffical, it was inevitable that Lana Parrillo, Ms. Regina Mills herself, saw the video and photographs of the design. She even began sharing them with her followers, giving high praise. “Beautiful,” said Parrillo on her twitter account.
“It was awesome,” exclaimed MacLaine. “I couldn’t believe how many people got so excited, and it was exciting that they wanted to relive that moment.” He was very excited that his design inspired many to share and tell other people what they experienced at the Her Universe Fashion Show. “I, for a short amount of time, gave them an exciting moment in their life just as it was for me,” he said.
Andrew began designing as a student in college where he was studying musical theater. One elective class he opted into was costume construction, where he quickly realized he not only enjoyed sewing, but felt he was naturally good at it. So he continued to take fashion classes when he completed college.
Andrew stated that he enjoys creating dramatic designs that defy gravity. “I have a thing against gravity,” he said. “I drop things a lot, so I realized after awhile that most of my designs have something that defies gravity.”
Andrew has also constructed costumes for his clients.
A client who he had designed costumes for, (which also won an award from the Costume Designers Guild of America at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con), informed him about the Her Universe Fashion Show, to which his exact response was, “OMG! I was like, I HAVE TO DO THIS! I HAVE TO WIN THIS! This is what I do!”
To apply for the show, Andrew had to submit three pieces. He chose to submit something pretty, something weird, and something that transforms on stage. The “transforms on stage” element became the one he was most passionate about creating.
“I started off thinking that I wanted to do a set inspired by Doctor Who. But it had to be something that turned me on, something that was a good showcase for the audience,” said MacLaine. “I decided that maybe it wasn’t the most exciting thing. So I decided on Regina from Once Upon a Time.” Then he shared a tidbit for designers looking to enter into future competitions: “When you do things that are different and not everyone else is doing, then it really is in your favor.”
MacLaine said a lot of work took place to get the dress to the final design, and that most of the time constructing was spent on mock-up dresses. He also mentioned that there were five different versions of the pop-up collar.
Jessica Nielsen, the model for Regina’s Curse, stated, “Andrew, being the smart cookie that he is, did a lot of practice on his own with his dress trying to figure out how to manipulate the fabrics and the wire.” When MacLaine and Nielsen were ready to begin practicing the transformation, they noticed that there were a few things they had to tweak for the performance.
Starting with the jacket, the fur coat had heavy fishing weights added in the sleeves and in the hems. This was constructed so that when the coat came off, it would melt flawlessly to the ground. There was also a lot of planning ahead on how to fold the dress underneath the coat. They had to pin parts of the dress down, put the coat on, and then systematically remove all of the pins so that they could practice the transformation. “It really came down to an analytical science,” said Andrew. “Failing was not an option, so we had only one chance to get it right.”
Andrew revealed that he was originally going to tie a fishing line to the coat so he could pull it backstage while Nielsen walked the runway as Regina. He later decided to leave it on the stage, and Regina, in all her evil manner, had a member of the audience pick it up for her instead. Personally, I liked the showmanship this entailed, and how it added to the authenticity of the character.
“Geek Couture is something I’ve been doing for a long time,” MacLaine shared. He’s been designing outfits for about 20 years, but when he first started getting into fashion and photo shoots, all his inspiration came from Sci-Fi shows and old classic TV. “Which is the geek part of me that inspires me,” he said.
Andrew, along with the Judges’ Choice winner, Amy Beth Christenson, who designed “Great Skirt, Marty,” a Back to the Future-inspired outfit, will work together or separately to create six pieces to potentially be sold internationally at Hot Topic. They can decide who does what, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be together.
Another trick he had up his sleeve was Regina’s hair. “I created the gelatin product that Jessica had in her hair,” said MacLaine. “I used it to slick her hair back and make it hard as a rock.” It’s creations like this that Andrew hopes to develop for the major label.
Andrew has a lot of hope for his designer future. He said, “I’d love to do geek couture if it’s what I’m meant to do.”
Next year, he wants to be able to design the dress Ashley Eckstein, creator of Her Universe and Fashion Show host, wears and be on the judges panel and ride this for awhile, he told me while laughing joyfully. For others who want to possibly enter next year’s Her Universe Fashion Show, MacLaine said, “You have to own what you do, and as long as you like what you create, then it’s right, because opinions are never wrong because they are yours. You should feel inspired and be happy with what you created,” he concluded.