For a lucky few, our fandom can become our careers. Such is the case for Catherine Elhoffer, a long time fan and fashion designer. Even if you don’t know her name, it’s very likely you’ve seen her work. She’s designed and created some of the most popular fashion apparel available through We Love Fine, she created the gorgeous Totoro dress seen at the first Her Universe fashion show, and now she’s working diligently on her own fandom creations, including those inspired by Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
I had a chance to catch up with Catherine and find out more about how she translates fandom to fashion and she gave me a glimpse into her process in creating her Captain Phasma inspired dress.
No design can begin without a solid concept. The first thing Catherine likes to do is take in colors, lines, and textures from her inspiration. Then she looks for any iconic elements from the original source. It’s important that even inspired-by designs are instantly recognizable as the character.
“For something like Captain Phasma, she has silver and black as her predominant colors, and then a red accent. She’s also incredibly sleek with clean lines, and has some battle damage and scuffs, adding some texture to her shiny look.”
Catherine says she also pulls inspiration from current fashion. She loves bringing in fashion-forward styles and finding the geeky twist lying within in. For this dress she found inspiration in an unusual place: newscasters.
“I love how news anchors wear flattering and fashionable dresses, often in just two colors to reduce noise on camera. There was a recent post that spread across Facebook about a dress that nearly all female meteorologists have worn. I was really inspired by the idea of using only two colors to accent the body and flatter the curves.”
Once she has those elements in mind, she moves on to the sketch phase. She said it’s rare that she ever skips this step. She recommends keeping a sketch book and markers handy, and especially ones that contain blank fashion croquis (which are a the tall model outlines that serve as a template to draw your outfit directly on).
Taking Next Steps
I asked Catherine how she takes the next big leap into making a piece and what challenges lie ahead. She said that depending on the piece, she might make a paper pattern, but she also often relies on fabric draping; this is a process where you take your fabric and pin it on a mannequin to block out the basic shape. Since her Phasma gown is so structured, she was unable to take the latter tact.
She then had to go collect just the right fabric. Luckily, she has the benefit of being close enough to shop in downtown Los Angeles, which has a thriving fabric district. Her first go at the design had her using a silver spandex, but she’s since switched to a stretch vinyl as it will have increased longevity. This is also the time where designs start to take shape and transition from concept to reality. She said sometimes designs change very little from the concept, as was the case with her Phasma dress, but in some cases they just have to be altered.
“My Poe [Dameron]-inspired flared dress started with a very defined right-angled accent just below the chest. When I went to sew it up, the fabric was simply not willing to do that. So I had to improvise, curving it out into the lines that it has now. It looks amazing and is incredibly flattering, but it’s not what my original concept looks like!”
When asked about some of the particular challenges she faced on this design, she noted that the fabrics for this dress were extremely tricky. Sewing a combination of vinyl and spandex presents a lot of technical forethought. She said a lot came down to adjusting the feed of her sewing machine (the rate in which it pulls fabric through) to reduce bunching and stretching. All in all, she was able to turn out the first version of the dress in an astounding two days!
Advice for Those Looking to Take their Fandom to Fashion
Catherine knows that we all have to start somewhere. Not everyone will have all of the tools she recommends right off the bat, but her short list of must haves are a decent cutting board, self-healing mat, rotary cutter, sewing machine, and if you are at all able, an overlock machine, and a mannequin. But more than that, you have to have faith in yourself.
“I’d say to learn everything you can about everything. Always be open for inspiration and draw as much as you can, even if you suck at it. Everyone sucks at something until they get good at it.”
You can find Catherine’s work and even commission a piece for yourself at her website at Elhoffer Design.
Featured image photo credit: Lucas Films, Catherine Elhoffer, and model Jessica Lynn Gonzales