Meet Catherine Elhoffer, Designer Behind the Star Wars Dresses
You may have seen some of her recent work in a galaxy far far away – or rather, all over the Internet. Catherine Elhoffer‘s Star Wars-inspired dresses have been travelling through cyberspace at light speed, filling a fashion need for geeks everywhere. Casual and Muggle-friendly enough for everyday wear, her designs are stylish recreations of a variety of characters – from Rey to Captain Phasma to BB8! I recently had the chance to chat with her about her designs, her inspiration and how she got into the geek fashion business.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you? Where are you based? What do you do?
So I’m a 28 year old unicorn-sphinx faerie creature. Wait, no, human female. Sorry, I get that confused.
I’m a designer and seamstress, so some people say I can do magic. I never argue that. I like to think that I never got a wand from Ollivander because my magic flows through a needle and thread, not a stick of wood. I am from St. Louis, MO (Lake St. Louis to be exact, but if you’re not from around that area it just sounds like ‘St. Louis with a Lake’), but I moved to Los Angeles after graduating from college. I’m now living just outside of downtown Los Angeles in sunny California.
I sew for a living. I was designing and merchandising for a living for a bit, but moved on to just doing everything involved with making apparel. I like to think I design Geek-based fashion, but really I do just about anything involved with a needle and thread. I love merging modern fashion trends with the costumes and culture of geeky fandoms. And people seem to really like what I do, which only encourages me to do even more and try even harder.
How and why did you get into costume/fashion design?
I got into costuming when I was 15 and joined the local renaissance faire. It got me playing around with a sewing machine and fabrics from my local Walmart and Jo-Ann’s. When I went to college I took one fashion design class, and while I loved the class, I absolutely hated the other students in it. They didn’t appreciate the subtle tricks the professors were trying to impress into our tiny minds, and the lessons just completely went over their heads. It was a lot of spoiled girls hoping to get an easy A because they shopped at Bloomingdales so they knew fashion. I think I had the highest grade in the class because I finished the workload halfway through the program. The professor pulled me aside and told me I did not belong there, because I actually wanted to WORK. He pointed me to the costume shop in the theater department, which ended up being my home while in university. I graduated with a degree in Technical Theater with an emphasis in Costume Design; while completing my studies I also got to intern at the St. Louis Opera Theater as well as the Goettingen Opera House in Goettingen, Germany. Pretty cool for a 21 year old.
After graduating and moving to Los Angeles, I made a living designing and styling shoots for web, TV, feature films, indie films, student films, commercials, and more. I built up my portfolio and resume, and was incredibly proud of all my work. Then I fell into the geek fashion world because I was working a ton on geeky parody pieces for different Youtube projects; I have always been a fangirl of many, many fandoms, but I found if I pushed it even more with my wardrobe then the cast and crew would trust my choices more easily. I had one director I worked with who ended up never questioning my costume choices because he knew I was just as big a fan as him, so I would always do what was best. It was great!
So I ended up working with a few mass-production geek fashion companies before going solo and doing it on my own. The fashion world is a nightmare. I like to think I am back in the costume world, it just happens to be everyday subtle costumes.
Your Star Wars dresses and tops have been getting a lot of social media attention lately. Were you surprised this collection has taken off so well?
Yes and no. I mean, Star Wars is kinda a huge deal right now, though I have no idea why… ;P
I’m thrilled and shocked to see people responding so positively to my designs and creations. I really just make these things for myself, and maybe a friend or two. So it’s really awesome to see so many people starting to follow me or find out just who I am. It means so much, because I’m nobody. I’m just a seamstress who really loves to geek out about really anything.
But I think there is a serious lack of fashion, even now, in the geek world, so I’m not surprised because there’s a real void that I’m able to help start to fill, even if I’m just a single person sewing in my dining room. There’s plenty available in the junior’s market –you know, the short dresses and cheap leggings, fabrics that go sheer or shrink as soon as you put them in the wash. But there’s really nothing for adult women in the world. Longer hem lines, nice sizing, sophisticated designs. Having worked in the mass-world, companies think they have to slap the character name or logo onto the product in order for fans to know what it is, but I just don’t believe that to be the case.
So, long story short, I really am not surprised because I do something that no one else is doing, I’m just thrilled others are liking it so very much!
What are some of your favourite dresses that you’ve created?
I’m partial to flared skirts, as I personally don’t wear bodycon or tight dresses. So I really love the Rey-inspired structured dress (the dress with two narrow belts and a slit at the neckline). And the Jedi-inspired dress, that one is probably my absolute favorite right now. I love the different fabrics in it, stretch vinyl and scuba. I respond to textiles, I’m always running my hands along everything in the fabric district. And that dress is a perfect mix. It’s also very flattering and fun to wear.
I also made a Shego (from Kim Possible) inspired dress last year, and it’s still my go-to dress when I have to dress up. It’s neon green and black, and is everything to me. It’s such a random character from an old franchise, but when I get an ‘OMG IS THAT SHEGO?!’ when wearing it, it makes my week!
Do you have a favourite type/style of garment to make?
I really love dresses, especially flared skirts with pockets. Because it blows my mind that they’re so damn simple to make but still aren’t in modern skirts and dresses. Like, honestly, if you see a dress with a flared skirt and it doesn’t have pockets, I don’t care HOW cute it is, that company has failed you. Pockets are incredibly simple and easy, and cost almost nothing to add. It’s my goal in life to change the way we treat womens’ clothing, and just add the damn pockets.
How do you choose which designs you’ll make next?
It’s kinda based on which fabric I already have so I can whip it up, and then what I think people online will love to see. And also if a friend has a mighty need for something. I had a friend ask for a peplum top to wear to work, and so I threw that together for her because I adore her and want her to feel empowered at her office, and when I posted a pic it got such a great response that I did another peplum top. I like making people happy, and so right now I’m just trying to keep people interested in me. Because I think I’m pretty interesting. And it’s fun seeing all the comments and interactions!
Your dresses and tops are a great mix between stylish and downright geeky, walking that fine line between cosplay and everyday wear. What is your approach to design in terms of catering to the geeks who will wear them?
Thank you, that’s my goal. I like to design things that even someone like my mother, who is not at all a geek and isn’t into anything geekier than Sex in the City, would wear. I sometimes go a little more ‘out there’, as she’s not into hooded dresses but I love them, but I am always trying to design things that can trick her into being accidently geeky. Like that photo of the elderly woman in the accidental Star Trek cosplay that was circulating the internet. My mom is still back in Missouri, so I don’t often send her stuff, but that’s the intention behind a lot of my designs.
I also really love to search fashion sites like BCBG and TopShop, see what designers are doing for recent collections, and draw inspiration from them. There are silhouettes that make the rounds, and I’ll use them too. But I like my designs to be organic, to look like they absolutely belong in the world due to the fabric, texture, silhouette, accents, and all.
Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Well I’ve always wanted to do Wizard wear, because capes and cool sleeves are everything. And my first fandom is mutant-based, so I’ll probably be doing dresses for friends based around them soon, since there’s a movie coming up. Potter World is opening in Los Angeles in a few months, and I have girlfriends who will harass me until I make the things I’ve sketched out for them to wear. And I have a ton of Game of Thrones inspired pieces that I need to make myself. I have a Khaleesi tunic I made two years ago that I still wear often, but I really want a Cersie wrap dress for myself, and something Sansa-like.
What is your favourite part about what you do?
I really love all the love. When I get the comments of ‘I NEED DIS’ or ‘OMG I LOVE THIS’, it makes me so happy. I’ve had a lot of negativity when working for others in the fashion world, where they didn’t like my designs or didn’t care for my work, or didn’t think fans would want what I was doing. So to see such absolute love is an amazing reminder that I am good at this and that I do know what I’m doing. It’s such an amazing reminder that I am creating art that others are appreciating and loving. That’s my absolute favorite.
Keep an eye out for Catherine at some this year’s Amazing Comic Conventions, where she’ll be hosting their fashion shows! If you’d like a geeky design of your own you can send her a commission request through her website, or see more of her work on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram.