Catherine Elhoffer is the goddess behind the geeky clothes you’ve been drooling over. I’m not just saying that because her brain is always designing something breathtaking. She’s an absolute delight to talk to about anything and everything fandom related. We went into a million tangents during this interview because you can’t just mention Harry Potter or Marvel casually. She’s a strong supporter in positive body images and refuses to have any of her models photoshopped. She’s someone you wish was your best friend because she’s hilarious and will make you feel at ease even though she’s only just met you.
After talking to her, I’m delighted that I purchased her Jedi dress because I know it was designed with heart. And now I want to purchase everything she designs because I can trust a fellow fan would want me to be out and about in the world looking as fabulous as I am.
Yeaaaaah!!! My @thinkgeekco #startrek bag came in and IT IS EVERYTHING IN LIFE!!! High five, medical!!! #Trekkie #welovefine #thinkgeek @thinkgeek (getting attacked by #starwars in the background. I’m not as excited about #forceawakens as I am about this #tng #starfleet bag!!!!!) #geekchic #geeklife #geekbound #geekfashion #geek
How did you start with fashion/costume design?
I started at the Ren Faire when I was 15. I had some friends that brought me with them and I thought it was awesome. They told me you can actually be a part of the fair and I was like “whoa, hold up…are you kidding me?!” I loved dressing up and making my own costumes. So I went and bought my first sewing machine at Walmart and started making my own costumes. I auditioned and got into the fairy guild, which was the best thing ever because it was the fantasy part of it. I was in it for 3 years and got better and better at sewing.
Then I went off to college & took a fashion class. My professor told her me I was too talented to be in this program and sent me to the theater department. I got sucked into that program and started theater costuming at Washington University. My professor did costuming for theaters all over and even took me to the German Opera House to work on costumes. When I was close to graduating my professor asked what my plan was. I loved the costumes from Star Wars and Harry Potter and thought it would be fun to get into film costuming so she told me I had to go to Hollywood.
I moved to LA with my friend 2 weeks after graduating. I had no path to work in costume but my professor told me to start with student films move to short films and then get on feature films. I did my first feature within a year of being out here, Yellow Rock.
Are you still designing for TV/Youtube/Web?
I still do a lot of that. YouTube where was it was at and where I really found my calling. I did so much with Nerdist because they did a lot of geeky parodies. I stepped on set and was speaking with one of the heads of Nerdist, and was having a HUGE conversation about Star Wars and he was like, “whoa, what are you?” “I’m a huge geek.” “Obviously.” So he just kept calling me back for more stuff. They knew I wouldn’t half-ass the costumes. I was truly passionate about being true to the characters they were creating (Author Note* especially when it comes to Geoffrey from Game of Thrones!), which helped producers recognize my work and keep bringing me back to work on projects.
How did you get into designing clothes?
Through Nerdist I met Ashley Eckstein of HerUniverse. I started working freelance for them and designed her dress for the fashion show. I ran into a fellow Washington U alumni and we caught up and stayed connected. WeLoveFine offered her a job but she couldn’t take it. She offered my name & within an hour I was offered a job. It was this whirlwind. It’s really hard to find someone who would design something and not just slap an image on a shirt or legging. I had no real fashion background but costuming is just fashion with intent. I did a small little mock up for them of something I would like to do with some of their licenses and they took me. When fans reach out and say they would love to see something, I work something out. For me, I design to make the fashion make sense. I want to take pride in it and it be something that I would wear.
I would hate to say that’s lucky but things really seemed to line up for you…
I’m a huge Jeffersonian fan as well as the Founding Fathers. They believed in hard work leading to great things happening. So I hate to say lucky but it was nice to have these circumstances line up in a positive way.
What is a license that you would love to design for?
I would lose my mind to design Harry Potter!
Didn’t you struggle with identifying as a Hufflepuff?
Oh my god, I love talking Potter. Most kids when the books came out, everyone wanted to be in Gryfinndor. When I was in college, more fan fiction was out and knowledge about the universe. I was joking around when the 4th movie came out that I’ll be a Hufflepuff. Cedric Diggory is hot as f*ck! I’ll take one for the team. [Laughs] But looking more into it Hufflepuffs were welcoming, practiced tolerance, practiced justice and were about working hard for your goals. This was my house. This was already everything I already stood for. Hufflepuff is where I belong. It’s where a lot of people should belong. They take them all, everyone is important. It’s really nice, especially in our society when everyone is treating each other like garbage.
I also loved the idea of Hobbit sized dorms. I’ve taken it now as a badge of complete honor. I recently went to Harry Potter world for vacation and wore yellow & black everything and even designed my own robes. I had so many Slytherin cast members go, “ugh, Hufflepuffs” to me and I stopped them and convinced them they would get along with Hufflepuffs because they would tolerate their bullshit.
Cast members were also obsessed with the sleeveless robes that she created for herself. So hey, J.K. Rowling and the merchandise folks of Harry Potter, please, please, please give Catherine Elhoffer a chance to create some amazing clothing!
I would totally spend the money to attend the wizarding LARP school that’s happening here in America. The houses already have stories behind them. It’s phenomenal. I love us geeks.
We launched into a serious discussion about greatly disliking the Ron & Hermione relationship. This piece would scroll forever if I left it in here. We could talk Potter for days.
What’s it like designing geeky fashion?
It’s a lot to take into account; designing for the web, what’s doable with the licenses I get my hands on. I’ve been doing some stuff that’s a little more out there like Spider-Gwen.
I actually get worried about if I ever have to design for a mass retailer because I couldn’t do it. I’m all about the little details. I could never not be passionate about it. I read through my social feeds and take everything into account and use it for ideas.
That was one of the great things about working for WeLoveFine. I got to work on these things that are out there, like Spider Verse. But what’s nice about it is that representation matters. Marvel has such a diverse cast of characters and we want to represent all of them. I want anyone out there to love it. My husband is Latino and he was so excited about the Miles Morales piece I designed.
“I’m an artist. I’m a designer. I can’t help but be inspired by the world around me.”
I do receive a lot of criticism from guys that I design a lot for women but it’s harder for women to find fashionable geeky pieces.
Absolutely! I want to represent my fandom but graphic prints look a little weird on me since I’m curvier.
There’s really not a market for curvier girls. So I made it my own personal goal to put more fashion out there for women of every size.
It really makes me happy when I do get the comments from plus sized girls who are excited about the clothing I design and finally feel happy in what they are wearing.
Are there any projects on the horizon that you can talk about?
Were doing some cool stuff for the holidays. It’s a Star Fleet jacket, which I’m really excited about because I’m a huge Star Trek fan. I can’t wait for it to come out because I want to buy it and wear it every day. We’re also doing some Avenger dolmans, which are coming out very very soon. One of them is a Black Widow one, which I’m excited about because I love Black Widow.
Be sure to keep your eyes on Catherine Elhoffer to scoop up the latest amazing clothes that are designed for us geeks!