By Ani Bundel

Most of the impact of Strike Decimated Comic-Con 2023 has focused on the high-profile absences: the lack of Hall H line, the canceled panels, the lack of celebrities. But a secondary casualty has been a reduction in cosplayers. Between the absence of influencers who professionally cosplay due to SAG-AFTRA’s guidelines, and those amateurs who chose not to dress up to show solidarity with the strike, elaborate outfits have been startlingly reduced this year. In fact, other than the sudden and spectacular proliferation of Barbie-themed outfits, this year feels like it was the least cosplayed SDCC in a decade or more.

That made the Her Universe Fashion Show all the more special. Since Ashley Eckstein conceived of celebrating the talents of cosplay creators in the mid-aughts, the Her Universe Fashion Show has been one of the more high-profile events on SDCC’s Thursday night schedule. This year, the looks on the runway ran the gamut of fandoms, with an emphasis on Disney’s centenary, diversity of bodies, and, of course, the strike.

Eckstein was absolutely adamant about personally making sure the show stayed within SAG-AFTRA guidelines, and in her pre-recorded message, assured the audience this was SAG-sanctioned, to a round of cheers. (Both she and her 2023 co-host Michael James Scott are members.) The show then presented this year’s entries to a packed hall, which had been at capacity for hours prior to start time.

The outfits that walked the runway (twenty-five in all) included everything from Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and even National Geographic. Eckstein herself was not to be outdone; she wore a film-inspired outfit created in collaboration with Walt Disney Imagineer Daniel Joseph, a film strip gown made from flexible OLED screens, which played scenes from Disney’s major big screen hits. Scott, meanwhile, wore multiple outfits, including a Genie/Darth Vader creation by Andrew MacLaine and a Thanos-inspired suit by Kristi Siedow-Thompson. He also provided the music, singing Cinderella’s “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and Aladdin’s “Friend Like Me.”

As for who won, one might argue that all the contestants did, as they all got to show off their skills to an enthusiastic crowd. However, like 2022, the grand prize wound up as a tie between two looks, with Judges Winner going to Rachel Petterson for her Minnie Mouse couture red-and-white polka dot dress and Audiences Winner going to Raeven K, for her Mistress of the Elements, Storm-inspired flowing, black, pearl-studded ankle-length gown, suitable for an X-Men red carpet.

For the first time, the winning designers will both create two collections for Her Universe. The usual grand prize of creating a line for Her Universe x Hot Topic, and a second collection as part of the ongoing collaboration Her Universe x Disney Parks. All four collections are expected to be available via the Her Universe website in late 2023/early 2024.

The 2023 Her Universe Fashion Show will be available to watch in full on Her Universe’s YouTube Channel beginning July 24, 2023.

Miss any of our earlier SDCC ’23 coverage? Find it all here!