You are what you wear…
If the theme of this year’s HighBall Halloween (10.21-10.22) applies to the annual Costume Couture contest, then we’re about have plenty of interesting detail revealed about this year’s contestants.
If you are what you wear, than the last time we saw three of our designers, they would have been a Poké Ball, a giant insect and a human chandelier.
What started nine years ago as a fun fashion component to an October block party has now become the cornerstone of the event, drawing crowds by the thousands and design and fashion talent from all over the map.
While we here at (614) will likely be throwing something together at the last minute, we wanted to take the time we’re saving by cracking open the creative minds of three of our returning designers.
Juan Jose Saenz-Ferreyros • @ferreyroscouture
Past Design Experience: Miss Universe pageant
HighBall Experience: 2 years
Just like the globe he’s traveled to make Columbus home, Juan Jose Saenz-Ferreyros is a well-rounded resource of diverse fashion experience, education, and history.
In his home country of Peru, the designer was exposed early on to the fashion of the ’60s—the Jackie Onassis era, as he calls it—growing up in an American area of Peru, where his grandfather and father had settled before him. It was one of the first countries to see the fashion, music, and art of the states. For years the most famous designers, like Coco Chanel, had stores in Lima, which he said was known as “the Paris of South America.”
“Fashion around the world has many commonalities,” he said. “The famous women in the U.S. inspired the fashion so, in this time, in my country, the women wore their hair tall and bouffant with the same square heeled shoes and gloves. The fabrics were chiffons, Chantilly, organza—and the shoes were the same colors as the bags. The jewelry also matched and many women wore tiaras and other adornments in their hair.”
Cut to decades later, and it’s hard not to see that influence in Saenz-Ferreyros, a designer who has spent a large portion of his career designing Miss Universe pageant dresses, and last year made his HighBall debut with a stunning chandelier-based design line.
“I wanted to prepare something spectacular,” he said. “I love chandeliers and crystals, so I thought about how I could bring these together in one costume—and turn a person into a chandelier. But I wanted it to be a real chandelier with lights—that dim just like they do in your house. And I wanted it to have sconces, just like you might have in your home.”
Not only was he able to accomplish his vision, but throughout the process he kept increasing it’s wattage by adding a little more to the basic chandelier skeleton day after day, eventually pushing it to over five feet wide.
“It turned out to be everything I imagined it to be,” he said. “When I looked and listened to the reactions people had, I was so gratified. Just as when I’m making a dress for a customer, I put everything into it—my ideas, my vision, all my effort—and it paid off.”
He is quick to credit his models, Darci Joy, Hunter Swackhammer, and Mark Adamek -as requiring someone to walk around as an elaborate human chandelier begs for some shared executive credit. This no doubt comes from the fact that well before his designer days, Saenz-Ferreyros walked the runway himself, working for companies in South America.
“When you enter in runway modeling, you are part of the fashion,” he said. “When you are modeling clothes, you are really modeling ideas. You are an important part of interpreting the vision.”
One year later, and people still remember his creation vividly.
“People will come up and say, ‘Oh, you are the designer of the Chandelier! It was fantastic!’” he said.
No doubt they’ll be waiting to see if he can top his first creation with his follow-up at HighBall 2016.
Shiree Houf • shireehouf.com
First Halloween costume: Minnie Mouse
HighBall experience: 5 years
You could say that Shiree Houf has grown up along with HighBall.
As a student protégé in 2009, her Queen Elizabeth-inspired queen bee costume took home top honors, and she’s proved to be no fluke, taking home wins in 2013 and 2014, and third in last year’s event.
Houf, who has an MFA in design from OSU and a BA in theatre from Miami University, is back for a fifth competition, one that could place her among HighBall royalty.
Whether it’s bees or broken dolls, Houf’s creative satisfaction lies in the little “coincidences” she happens upon in the design process. For example, that first big project as a student:
“So many choices were made in order to either evoke the insect or the historical figure—honeycomb fishnet stockings, a red curly wig with antennae, shoes that miraculously looked Renaissance-esque yet also kind of wispy-wasp-ish. The more of these I can make happen the more content I am as a designer,” she said.
This year, not merely content to find a design that executes to perfection, she’s upping the ante. But that’s part of the fun, she says. “One of my greatest strengths as a designer is that I feel I can almost always accomplish what I put on paper. It may be because, as I’m designing, I’m already thinking of how to make it happen in reality,” she said. “This year, I am actually attempting one of my biggest “dream pieces”—something that lives beautifully in my mind and I hope/pray that it comes out just as good in real life.”
For Houf, her HighBall work is a natural extension of her long-time creative streak.“I’ve always been making things,” she said. “My mom would get so angry because I wanted to keep everything! Cereal boxes and scrap fabric were used to make a pair of slippers, egg cartons made little dolls or beads—in my mind everything has potential to be used to make something else.”
Now, she’s passing that on to her own little girl -a new inspiration for “making things.” “On a higher level though, now that I am a mom, I want to create to inspire my daughter,” she said. “I want her to grow up thinking that her mom is pretty cool.”
Alter Ego: Drag Queen Gretta Goodbottom
HighBall experience: 2 years
He may not have placed at the 2015 HighBall, but Que Jones did take the unofficial award for most prescient design, filling the runway with world of Pokemon—draped on colorful drag queens—long before it took over the world.
The second-year competitor hopes to change that in 2016, representing what truly makes HighBall a special event: a showcase for designers that has very little to do with formal training or resumes in the couture world.
“When I was 8, all I wanted for Christmas was a sewing machine,” he said. “My grandmother graciously got me one and the rest is history.”
And he’s been sewing like a madman ever since. Although last year was his first fully designed line, he’s got trunks and bins full of things he’s sewed and stowed, ones “that won’t fit anyone without serious alterations.” Now, he considers his lack of formal training his advantage.
“I design purely on aesthetic and concept, and figure out how I am actually going to do it after the fact,” he said. “I was completely self taught as a seamster, which means while I may not do things the technically correct way, there is a practicality to what I make and how I make it. It allows me to try new things without even realizing they are new.”
Jones loves more than anything to be scared, and his second year contribution will carry the theme “Straight Outta Hell.” He’s also ready to correct mistakes from a huge first-year learning curve.
“I learned a ton—mostly, when designing for outdoor shows you have to be aware of wind,” he laughed. “I used a lightweight foam for the ball, and the vicious wind was not kind. I thought at one point my poor model was going to be blown off the stage.”
Meet the Designers
These five will be competing against Saenz-Ferreyros, Houf, and Jones at this year’s Highball:
First Costume Created: Turned sister into a mermaid
Previous Design Experience: Studied Bra Design in London
Highball Experience: Debut
Born in Detroit and raised in Columbus; studied fashion in London at UCA Epsom, ranked 17th in the world for fashion design.
Previous Design Experience: First runner-up, Cotco Fashion Fair Competition
HighBall Experience: Debut
Born in Zimbabwe; has showcased her award-winning designs at the New York Africa Fashion Week (Jul. 2011), Virgin Islands Fashion Week (Oct. 2011), and Louisville Waterfront Fashion Week (2012).
First Costume Created: Human Christmas tree
HighBall Experience: 4 years
Graduate of CCAD with a BFA in fashion design; has worked as an accessories designer for Bath & Body Works and Life is Good; owns Black Cat Made, which designs competition suits for bodybuilders.
Horst & Steamy
First Costume Worn: Army soldier, cat
First Costume Designed: Vivi (Final Fantasy 9) cosplay
HighBall Experience: Debut
Horst: world-renowned felter that has revolutionized the centuries-old craft by incorporating new processes with a keen sense of color and form. Ms. Steamy: designing all manner of clothing. Together: combine the intricacies of fabric with bold wool embellishments.
For more about this year’s HighBall festivities, visit highballcolumbus.org.