A conversation with OSU grad and HighBall Designer Shiree Houf

It happens every year and to almost everyone: you put off making your costume to the last minute. Well, this year, don’t! HighBall Halloween, which takes place October 21 and 22, will hold a public costume contest each night, as well as the Battelle Costume Couture Fashion Show for fashion designers. Shiree Houf, the designer whose team won the contest in 2014, said their winning design easily took at least 100 hours to make. “It really depends on if there is a time constraint and how elaborate the design. But if it is a very simple design, easy to make, etc… I might be able to pull off a look in an afternoon.”

And that’s a big might. During my own time in fashion design school, I was always racing against deadlines, staying up most nights to make sure the project was done. With costumes, a lot of people don’t realize all the time, money, and hard work it takes to make an idea a reality. But Halloween is all about improvising, so don’t be afraid to work with what you’ve got. Shiree’s team used dyed chenille queen-sized bedspreads for the skirt of their winning conjoined twins design, on top of an additional 20 yards of fabric. The understructure was made out of PVC pipe and wire, then covered in pillows and tulle.

“The actual stage was velvet-covered cardboard and was suspended by the fabric and fishing line,” Shiree said. “The models carried it on their bodies with heavy duty padded straps (almost like suspenders) and a waist belt.” The design ended up being six feet wide.

Remember: raw materials are your friends. You’ve probably got some cardboard, pillows, and extra bedsheets laying around your house that could be turned into a fabulous (or terrifying) costume. Other household items to consider are shower curtains, drapes, spray paint, and trash bags. Even those ugly mini-blinds that came with your apartment could be used for something. Don’t have a sewing machine? See how far you can get with superglue.

Shiree Houf holds her MFA in Design from Ohio State and a bachelor’s in Theater from Miami University. She took time out of building her costume collection for this year’s competition to give us the inside scoop on the madness of HighBall and what’s it’s like to win.

You won the Highball Halloween Couture Costume Contest in 2014 in collaboration with Ashley Willis. What was that like? Has it impacted your life in any ways?

It was amazing and I just remember us both being so honored! The competition is extremely tough every year. The designers that compete are incredibly talented and it is amazing to see what we all come up with! For me personally, because I have taken time away from my career to stay home with my daughter, it is immeasurably validating and encouraging.

How long have you been competing at Highball?
I first competed and won a student competition while I was getting my MFA from OSU in 2009. I then came back in 2013 and competed in the Couture Contest, creating the costume only. In 2014, Ashley and I won, and last year we placed third. This is my first year doing the whole Couture show­—ready wear and costume—by myself.

Do you have any big surprises planned for this year? Can we get a hint about what you’ve got up your sleeves?
I hope people are surprised! I like to incorporate many costume effects/surprises in not only the large costume but also my three “ready wear” looks. This year each ready wear look definitely has its own story.
The only hint I’m divulging is that it all is very “painterly” – which I don’t even know if that’s a word?

What sets Highball apart from other costume fashion shows?

It is the only costume fashion show I know of! I’ve seen shows that have been loosely influenced by certain time periods or styled more theatrically but HighBall is supposed to be larger than life.

Highball is THE Halloween party to be at in Columbus. What is your favorite part of it?

I’m biased, but this show. Otherwise, Nina West, and then seeing what the public comes up with for their costumes!

Any pointers for people looking to make their own costume?

Pinterest? Seriously though, start thinking earlier than later. Even crazy, huge, impossible costumes can be figured out if you give yourself the time to research, look up tutorials and just dream about them a little. Plus, when you decide that you just don’t want to mess with it, you can either have more time for Plan B, or contact your local costume designer during the summer instead of the month before Halloween, when she may or may not be a little overwhelmed because Halloween has a lot to do with dressing up in costumes and she’s a costume designer. Just sayin’.

See Shiree and the other designers’ fantastic work – and show off your own Halloween costume creation – at HighBall on October 21 and 22.

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