Monday 18 April 2016

Interview with Elhoffer Design

Gold Bot
Jessica LG


By now it will be apparent from my interviews that costumers from both the burlesque and cosplay world are well experienced in a number of areas and choose to specialise in what they do best. There is cross over between the areas in which they gather their inspiration and how they have gained their experience. I want to continue showcasing designers that catch my interest that I think bring something different to the table.

I came across Elhoffer Design on Facebook and fell in love with their designs. This is what geek fashion with a cosplay edge is all about. Her dresses are based on characters in colours, patterns or styles but are not full replica costumes. These are wearable outside of the cosplay arena and passable as geek fashion and in some instances people may not realise the reference and therefore they could be worn in any number of places. For me it’s the subtleness of wearing homage to a certain character which you can dress up further at a convention or dress down with fashion accessories on a night out. They are very wearable and interchangeable styles. This for me is a perfect way to introduce yourself to the cosplay world and enhance your geek fashion wardrobe. These dresses are stylish and flattering for various body shapes and sizes.

Let me introduce you to Catherine from Elhoffer Design. Elhoffer Design was founded by Catherine Elhoffer to create higher-end apparel for high quality geeks. The geek fashion world is saturated with clothing, but there are still gaps in the market that she hopes to fill by designing and sewing pieces that flatter the body, pulling from modern fashion trends, and helping her fellow geeks of the world to be both stylish and chic (and maybe to fit in amongst the muggles). She prefers a subtle geek nod in her designs, using silhouette, color, texture, and lines to tell the geek story. Catherine hand-makes her custom pieces in her Los Angeles-based studio. Every now and then she can be lured into the menswear world as well, often with cookies. 

Rebel Fighter
Jessica LG
What is your background in garment construction and/or design and/or ornamentation? How long have you been costuming for?

Catherine in Captain Wrap Dress
Photo by
Greg DeStefano
So I have been costuming for over a decade. When I was fifteen I joined my local RenFaire and got a sewing machine and fabric from Walmart to make my own costume. I then started making costumes for my friends in the faire, for Halloween, for themed marching band rehearsals (band geek). And I started making some of my own dresses for school dances. When I went to college, I discovered my university had a theater and a costume shop, where I started to work after classes, on weekends, and on breaks. My sophomore year I signed up for costume classes and started to really learn about costume history and construction. My professor also started to let me design for the shows the theater program would put up; junior year was dedicated to a late 18th century British play, and my senior year was a modern production of Hamlet. For my 18th century play, it went up just after Christmas break, which was nearly a month long. I stayed at school over the break in order to build a huge chunk of the costumes, as the shop only had a few hands and I wanted to be very hands on. That kind of focus helped me to really speed up my sewing skills. 

I moved to LA a few weeks after graduating, and my quick sewing skills helped me with the last minute gigs and web projects I'd take. They would hardly ever have weeks to prep, it'd be more like a few days, so if they needed a costume that I couldn't rent or buy, I'd have to make it. I got into everyday wear after a trip to the LA fashion district and finding some truly beautiful spandex print fabrics and wanting to play with them. That's when I started messing around with leggings and skater dresses with my serger. And from there, I started to merge my costume knowledge with the tricks I'd learned making everyday wear. 
Ashley Eckstein in the Totoro Gown
Photo: Chuck Cook Photography
How did you become involved in cosplay costuming?

I've only made a few true cosplays (and even then, it's just the fabric pieces that I really make). I started by working with Nerdist on some parody pieces, and when I'd post pics online of the work, cosplayers would ask me to recreate more pieces. I helped make some Blizzcon pieces for a documentary I was helping with, and we teamed up with Holly Conrad who created all the armour pieces and Chloe Dykstra who worked the wigs and accessories. It was an incredible learning experience for me, as Holly explained all of her process and I gleamed a bit of her massive knowledge! 

What are some of the challenges of cosplay costuming?

I find that a lot of cosplayers are not ready for the prices I charge for costumes. I've stepped away from costuming as my everyday wear pieces are just so much more fun for me to make, and are a lot more lucrative. To make a single piece means patterning, several fittings, sourcing normally only a few yards of fabric... to be able to make a handful of the same dress means I can get more fabric, which helps drop the price a bit, I only need to pattern the piece once but I'll get a million uses out of it, and I don't have to problem solve construction as I just know it. 

Describe some of your favourite projects?

When I was costuming for web projects, I did a Game of Thrones/House of Cards mashup parody for Quiznos that I loved, because I made several pieces for it and Game of Thrones is one of my favorite shows. I only had a few days to make and rent everything, so I did a Joffrey Red wedding costume in four hours, a Margaery Red Wedding look in a few minutes (attached some flowers to a dress that I altered a neckline on), and created a Khaleesi gown in under a half hour. 

Galactic Knight Dress
Sandy Burbano
Photo: Brian Kim
Which costumers can we see wearing some of your work?

Who would you love to make a costume for?

I love making haute couture pieces, and I'd love to make a red carpet look for someone gorgeous and geeky like JLaw.

Have you always had a design/costume type in your head that you would like to fulfil?

I have a lot of designs in my head that I haven't made yet. When potential clients reach out to me for new pieces, they normally offer a character as a starting point. If I know the character, I normally get an idea right then of what I think would be a cool piece. I've got a sketchbook full of unmade couture pieces, and another sketchbook full of everyday Geek Bounding pieces. 

What aspect of costume making do you enjoy the most?

I love seeing the piece come to life. Turning cut pieces of flat fabrics into a dress just brings me suck happiness. I just finished some vests, and I was terrified as I've only made a few vests in my lifetime, and I'm not incredibly well versed in menswear. But as I was sewing them up and problem solving things like 'How do I sew up the lining and the self fabric to hide all raw edges', I was thrilled to see it come to life. I love the time just before the piece is completely finished, when you can see exactly what it's going to become. 

If a new cosplayer was looking to get a costume commissioned/constructed, what should they consider?

Kylo Cosplay
Ivy Doomkitty
Photo: Geri Kramer Photography
They're going to be spending a good chunk of money. Handmade pieces are not cheap; you're asking someone to spend a few days making something for you, from searching for all the fabrics that will be required to recreate a character, to figuring out how something like a crazy anime costume would be constructed, to all the internal pieces necessary to hold up skirts (horsehair braid, often) or costume elements... it's busy, it's a lot of work. Not to mention the years of experience, decades for me and some of my friends that we've studied and worked on perfecting our craft. If you see a costume on someplace like Ali Express for $100, it's probably going to be ten times that to have someone local hand make it. 

They should also help supply photos of what they want, and understand that most seamstresses won't learn to craft armour or create every accessory for the cosplay, they'll probably have to work with a few people to create the entire look. 

What difference would a new performer find from off the rack to commissioned pieces?

Off the rack pieces are often made for generic sizes, with cheap and easily sourced fabrics, and just look common. Commissioned, handmade pieces are going to look more unique, have the possibility to have even nicer and interesting fabrics, and should have phenomenal fit. Lots of my clients have parts of their body that make it hard to buy off the rack: super long torsos, broad shoulders, plus sized, super tall, etc. 

All costumiers tend to have a style of costume/way of making or presenting their work. Can you describe what you think makes an obvious Elhoffer Design piece?

Gwen Merc Dress
Model: Maid of Might
Photo: J.Haas Photography
So for my everyday wear, I've narrowed down what makes a piece look like an Elhoffer Design versus other brands. I combine lines, colors, and textures together to tell the story of the character I'm inspired by, and I try to keep the look subtle. While I don't always follow this, I try to make pieces that a non-geek fashionista like my mom would like to wear it. 

I try to make pieces to help us witches and wizards to fit in amongst the muggles. It's a phrase I've used for a while now, but it's so true. I want to help everyone fit in but stand out to those who know. Some friends were wearing pieces of mine they'd commissioned at Wondercon, everyday dresses, and they both told me after the con that they had dozens of people running up to them asking if they were wearing an Elhoffer Design. I was floored. I was being recognized for my designs? It's incredibly surreal. 

What would you consider important cosplay must have items?

I know shapewear and corsets are crucial. And insoles. Shoes get super uncomfortable. And makeup setting spray. Don't want your face melting off at a con! 

How long on average does it take to make a costume?

My everyday pieces normally only take a few hours. Costumes take anywhere from a day to... weeks. I spent weeks putting together Ashley Eckstein's Totoro Gown, probably 40-50 hours total on that dress, as I was hand removing sequins, hand sewing tulle, lots of hand sewing actually.... Made a mock up, remade the skirt like three times because it just wasn't perfect... lots of work. 

What are you most asked for/popular items?
Maid of Might
Craig McNelley Photography

My grey Rey inspired dress, inspired by her vest at the end of The Force Awakens, is incredibly popular and is coming soon to my Etsy store.

What price do your pieces tend to range between?

My pieces made by my local factory tend to be much more economical, because they're more mass produced. They're around $165-200+. My handmade creations tend to start around $275 and go up. My Loki inspired dress, which was also very popular, starts around $425. Men’s vests start around $350. Couture gowns start at $1,200. 

How should a cosplayer care for their costumes?

Most of my everyday wear pieces are able to be washed in cold water, but you should avoid the dryer for custom made pieces, as they're often using a variety of fabrics that may not like heat. Dry flat or hang dry. For costumes, normally they're dry clean only... You have to be super careful when caring for clothing, often dry cleaners can talk with you about the garment and what they think would be best, too. Dry cleaners offer other cleaning services. 

What are your long term plans for Elhoffer Design?

I would love to be able to team with licenses to do specialty, higher end collections. I'm also working with my factory on a few new pieces that I haven't posted about yet. Geek fashion has made great strides but there is lots more needed in order to be taken seriously. I'm slowly building my empire, and with every new follower I jump for joy; while not everyone is going to buy my handmade pieces, they're all helping me grow and inspire me to keep making even better pieces and more interesting looks. I've got friends that tell me how excited they get when their friends who don't know me share my work, because it means I'm growing. I want world domination, it just takes time. :)

Bravery Caped PeplumModel: Maid of Might
Photo: J.Haas Photography
I would like to thank Catherine for her time with this interview. If you want to see more from Catherine and check out her work further here is all you need:  Site l Twitter l Facebook l Etsy l InstagramStay tuned for further cosplay posts!


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