Interview: Michael Yale on the SDCC Her Universe Fashion Show
The Her Universe fashion show at San Diego Comic Con is quickly becoming a staple event for the convention. In its third year, the fashion show took new heights featured as a show on Comic Con HQ, the convention’s online channel. I found out that my old high school friend, Michael Yale, was one of the participants in this year’s show. I sat down and interviewed him about the process of being a designer, the experience of the Her Universe fashion show, and working with the company’s founder, Ashley Eckstein.
Me: How long have you been a fashion designer and freelancing?
Michael: I started sewing when I was fourteen which gives me about sixteen years of sewing experience. I went to college for fashion design, and I have been doing fashion design professionally for about five or six years now.
Me: I’ve known you since high school, and you were always making clothes then. I remember you made your prom outfit, and I have a photo of you somewhere in my storage dressed in a Gandalf costume you made.
Me: I wish I could find it so I could send it to you!
Michael: I no longer have that outfit. I put it up on Etsy about a year ago, and sold it in about an hour.
Me: So what do you love about being a fashion designer?
Michael: I really enjoy being able to envision an outfit and make it myself, having something that no one else has. It’s all about the creative process for me.
Me: How do you even get into the Her Universe fashion show? Is there an application process? Do you audition?
Michael: Anyone can get into the show. It just helps that I’ve been sewing for about half my life. There is an application process on HerUniverse.com. They will be doing this next year as well, so anybody listening to this right now, feel free to enter in next year. It was a fantastic experience for me. What they ask you to do is to design three outfits. You submit them, and they ask you to do a little bio about yourself, about your outfits, what you plan to use as materials, what your inspirations are. They basically get back to you and ask some questions. If they like your outfit enough, they put you into the show. This year I had three designs based on Scarlet Witch, which is the outfit that got into the show, the Punisher, and Captain Phasma from Star Wars. They actually called me asking me questions, because they couldn’t decide on my Punisher outfit and my Scarlet Witch outfit. They let me choose. I think I was the only contestant that got to choose their own outfit. Otherwise, they tell you which they like better than the rest, and that’s the one you make for the show.
Me: I did not know you had a Punisher and Captain Phasma design, and I really want to see them!
I might can show you the Phasma, but I have to keep Punisher underwraps for the moment. You might see why next year.
(At the time this post was written, I still haven’t seen his Captain Phasma design.)
Me: Quick follow up question. I can’t sew for the life of me. If I design an outfit, can I have someone else make it for me?
Michael: I believe that they want the contestants to make the outfits themselves, but you are definitely able to have help. The fan winner this year, Camille Falciola, had help with her dress. It was based on the Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter. She had her dress lined with some special fabric that heated up to make the dress change color so the Marauder’s Map appear. It’s very cool. If you can find a video on youtube, you should definitely check it out (Click here!). Her friend helped her getting the carbon fiber tape to heat up to make her dress work. I know some people had help with some very advanced sewing or screenprinting. I did my dress myself. That’s just how I am. I don’t design anything I can’t make and produce completely on my own.
Me: You sent me a couple photos of you with Ashley Eckstein weeks before the show. After you’re accepted, what happens in that time period up until the fashion show? I know part of this answer is “You make a garment.”
Michael: (Laughs) That is the easiest part of it! This year they filmed us working and had a video camera crew come out to the studios to interview us for the Comic Con HQ Her Universe TV show.
Me: Was there an extra level of stress having a camera crew there?
Michael: Absolutely! It was only one day, but it was getting my studio set up, having people come when I’m not used to having people there. My studio is set up right outside of Hollywood. It was about ten camera crew people who showed up including Ashley Eckstein. They did not tell me Ashley was coming. It was cool to have her show up and sit in my studio with me. I’m on episode number five of the show. It was really fun. She was very personable and very nice. This isn’t the first time I met Ashley. I’ve actually met her a handful of times, so we caught up on old times and talked about how things were going since the last time we saw each other. It was really good but a little challenging.
Another thing they asked us to do this year was to send in selfies and videos of us working throughout the entire process. That was also fun! I set up a camera on a tripod and recorded myself working. I got some cool time lapse photos of me working on the pleats of my garment, doing some draping, and fitting my model.
Me: That’s right! You did tell me you helped with the Her Universe fashion show last year!
Michael: Yeah! I’ve actually interviewed to work with Her Universe on a professional level. I got to meet her during that, but I had met her before at Dragon Con, Star Wars Celebration, and Comic Con last year. I’ve had the pleasure of running into Ashley many times.
Me: Tell me about your model. What’s her name? How was it working with her?
Michael: Jennifer Lynn Larsen was my model. She is a professional model based out of Austin, Texas. I did have a first model based out of Los Angeles who kind of dropped out on me. The day she dropped out on me, I had Her Universe production reach out to me and say, “Hey, we noticed you haven’t confirmed your model yet. Do you need one? We have somebody looking to model.” And I said, “YES! I do!” They put me in touch with Jennifer. She was actually flying out to Los Angeles for E3 and I fitted her while she was there. That all worked out very well.
She was able to fly in for our last fitting before Comic Con, and she drove to San Diego with me. She was a very great model, and ended up being a very good friend as well. She really helped me get through the home stretch of sewing, designing, and creating. I stayed up all night before Comic Con, and she drove my car all night for me so I could sleep in the car.
Me: I want to talk about your process as a designer. You said they chose Scarlet Witch. What sort of research or source material did you use while developing the design?
Michael: My design was mostly based off her MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) look. I actually got a pre-screening of Captain America: Civil War-
Michael: Yeah, I got to see it about a month and a half before it came out. I was just blown away by Scarlet Witch in Civil War, and I came home and designed my outfit based right after seeing that movie. I also used some of her look from Avengers 2 (Age of Ultron). So, my research basically was what can I do to embody an evening wear dress based off the details of her look. Because her look is kind of rough. She wears boots. Her jacket in Avengers is kind of dirty. I don’t know if that’s an hombre or supposed to be a fade to dirty look. But I wanted to take her look and turn it into an evening wear dress that I thought would embody her. I also have a ton of pictures printed out of just her.
I came up with about seven or eight different kinds of dresses. One was a big ball gown with lights all over it, but I decided to avoid the light up aspect of the gown. Last year, one or two people did the wearable technology on their dresses. This year, I thought it would be a bit too gimmicky. Turns out this year there was even more of that. I kind of wish I had gone a little bit more innovated with the technology. I kept mine strictly fashion based. So, I had about six to eight designs for Scarlet Witch. I kept changing out details and saw what worked, what didn’t. The back of my design that’s pretty hard to see on the runway laces up very similar to how her Civil War outfit laces up. I added small details here and there.
Me: So you’re at Comic Con. What are the rehearsals like? And what kind of set up goes into the shows?
Michael: The show was on Thursday evening. The Wednesday before Comic Con, we had to arrive around noon, and all the designers and their models had to check in. About half or maybe more of the designers modeled their own outfits. I was one of the few people who had a model. It’s kind of funny. They kept asking me if I was going to model as a joke. I was the only male designer this year. They did have a male model last year. He was in drag, and, you know, that’s not really my thing. I think having a model wearing my dress was much more appropriate.
The Wednesday before the show, we got in. We got to meet all the other designers. We had a Facebook group with all the designers, and a lot of us had talked to each other before. Not all of us had met each other, but I felt I had already known all the other designers. It was good to meet them all in person.
We had two non-dress rehearsals the night before the show, and then two rehearsals before the show. That was really all the prep we had.
Me: Did you get to choose the hair and makeup that went with your design?
Michael: Absolutely! It was all up to me. I ended up hiring a makeup artist to come do my model’s hair and makeup. I got to know my model well enough, and she knew my design well enough. I said, “Why don’t you tell the makeup artist what to do. I have other things to focus on right now.” I had an issue with the lining of my dress falling out, and I was busy repairing my dress right before the show. Makeup is not my forte. My forte is design construction. So, my model and the makeup artist came up with a really good look, and I was thrilled with what they came up with. My model ended up wearing a wig, which she brought with her. Her hair is all sorts of different colors right now, and it would have clashed with the red. She did a professional hair modeling gig a few weeks ago.
Me: I want to talk about the show itself. What was it like to see your garment walk in front of so many people? What were you feeling in those moments?
Michael: Because they were filming for the Her Universe TV show this year, they actually pulled me aside, put me in front of a giant TV, and put a camera on me to record my reactions.
Me: That’s very Project Runway of them!
Michael: Yes, exactly! I actually haven’t seen the episode that aired. I’m not even sure if it’s aired yet. I don’t actually know how it looked on camera or if it even made the cut. It’s funny! They were guiding me on what to say like, “How does the color look? Are you happy? You smiled! Say something! How does your model’s hair look? Did she turn right?” They were goading me to say things, so I kinda had a more vocal response than I would have if I were in the audience watching. It was thrilling to see it. It was pretty surreal. All this work had gone into it. Because someone else was modeling my outfit and not me, it was really out of my hands. At that point, there was nothing I could do. Jennifer did a fantastic job.
Me: I bet there was a heck of an after party! Were there any festivities after the show?
Michael: You know what, there wasn’t really. Everyone was so exhausted! There was a hotel restaurant about a hundred yards from the actual show. We all headed down there, got a cocktail, and had some appetizers. It was a very low key thing. I was exhausted from days and days and days of work, and the other designers were as well. It was kind of a relief. For the after party, we had planned a big one, but it just didn’t happen. It was really funny.
Me: I have to ask a fangirly question, because Ashley Eckstein is a personal hero of mine. What was it like working so closely with Miss Eckstein?
Michael: She was fantastic. She was one of the nicest people I have ever met, and I’m not just saying that. She is such a nice and friendly, bubbly personality. I have never seen her frown or be upset or have anything negative to say about anybody. When she walks into a room, she brings energy with her. It’s very amazing. I had a very positive experience in the show this year. All the other contestants were very positive. [Miss Eckstein] is the same way. When she came to my studio, she kept the camera crew happy. When she was talking with me, everything was just very happy. She’s just a pleasant person. I hope I get to work with her again at some point.
Me: I met her one time, and I can totally agree. She was just so wonderful.
Michael: It’s just a genuine happiness. It’s not a TV put on, fake thing. She’s a genuinely happy, cheery person. It’s fantastic.
Me: When I met her, I didn’t realize it was her. She was being nice to me just as another person. When I realized who she was, I was like, “Oh my God!”
Michael: She came into my studio, and we started talking. She asked about my brother and his daughter. When I interviewed with her a few years ago, he was just about to have his daughter. I was actually going to Atlanta for their wedding. She followed up with that even though I hadn’t brought up my brother or his daughter to her in like two years. She was like, “How is he doing? How’s the baby?” She remembered personal things like that from years ago. That’s really, really something.
Me: What is your advice to other designers who are getting started or wants to participate in the Her Universe fashion show?
Michael: The Her Universe fashion show is a great way to get started. I would recommend doing it even if you think you’re not very good at sewing or haven’t been sewing for very long. There are two winners every year: the judges winner and the audience favorite winner. This year, there’s a third winner for the TV winner. But the judges winner this year was based off of Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road. The audience winner was the Marauder’s Map which I mentioned earlier. Camille, who won the fan favorite, has only been sewing for a little over a year. Just because I’ve been sewing for a very long time doesn’t mean that you have any more or less reason to enter or not. Camille just started sewing. She’s still on her first sewing machine to get her through the first contest, and she’s already winning to go on and do more things. As a starting out designer, entering in this contest can be great for you. It will really help you focus and really help you with your design. It’s something that anybody can enter as long as you the drive. I wouldn’t let lack of experience stop you. If you have an interest in doing cosplay or sewing, you can do this contest.
You can see more of Michael’s work at his website YaleDesigns.com!
You can hear the full interview here!
Check out all the entries here! Michael and his Scarlet Witch design are second!