Renee chats with PACIFIC about designing a collection for Warner Bros. and how she’s adjusted to WFH fashion
Escondido native Adria Renee has always loved fashion — particularly fashion in film. At a young age, she was drawn to period films for their costuming and would spend hours researching and recreating her favorite looks, filling binders and sketchbooks.
In addition to fashion, film piqued her interest in fandom and history; the latter she studied at San Diego State University. Renee is also a self-described “huge geek” and five-year San Diego Comic-Con veteran.
When Renee stumbled upon the Her Universe Fashion Show (HUFS) during her first Comic-Con in 2014, her love of fashion and fandom collided. HUFS is a competition event at Comic-Con that invites designers to create unique looks inspired by films, television, comics and the like.
Renee was inspired and decided to enter the competition the following year ... even though she didn’t know how to sew. But she was determined — and in 2015, the novice seamstress debuted her work at HUFS with a design inspired by the TARDIS in “Doctor Who” (the iconic, blue structure that serves as a fictional time machine and spacecraft).
The experience got Renee hooked, and she has participated in every HUFS competition since. And last year, she walked away as the Judge’s Winner for her “Destination: Isla Nublar,” an ensemble inspired by “Jurassic Park.”
The win gave her the opportunity to design a collection for Warner Bros. and Her Universe in honor of the upcoming “Wonder Woman 1984" movie. Her line, which ranges from t-shirt dresses to track jackets, launched at Hot Topic last month. (Items from the collection are also available to purchase on Her Universe’s website at heruniverse.com.)
The young designer and SDSU alum now splits her time between Escondido and Lincoln, Nebraska, where she is a graduate student in the Textiles, Merchandising, and Fashion Design Department, studying Material Culture with a focus on Costume History.
PACIFIC got a chance to catch up with Renee to discuss her 2019 HUFS win, the intersections between fashion and fandom, and designing a collection for Warner Bros.
[Note: Some of the answers in this interview have been edited for length and clarity.]
Q: Fashion is often seen as frivolous. How do you feel about that characterization? What does fashion mean to you?
A: I think that fashion is hugely important. I think at some level or another, I’ve always kind of known that, even when people around me didn’t always see it that way. Thinking back to grade school, I feel like it was constantly being dismissed as girly or frivolous, which can be really hard to navigate when you are a young impressionable person who likes pretty things! And I think that’s maybe a struggle that a lot of people have to deal with; it was definitely something I saw constantly while I was working in retail. How often do those ideas get internalized, and we’re left resigning ourselves to “not really caring” about fashion so that we don’t come off as vain or superficial?
But as I got older, I came to recognize its significance when it comes to self-expression and identity. Going into high school, fashion was always the anchor that I used to stay true to myself in the face of the social pressures and stress of growing up, and its continued to be the primary way I share who I am and communicate with the world. Fashion is FUN! It lets us be creative! It can help us feel more confident and empowered when properly wielded! It’s deeply personal, and is, at the end of the day, an innate part of the human experience. I think it will always be an incredibly visceral thing for those reasons, and why fandom and fashion work so well together.
Q: Many of your projects, including the “Wonder Woman 1984" collection, explore the intersections between fashion and fandom. Tell us why that crossover is important to you and what you hope others can take from it.
A: Fandom is certainly another area that people can tend to minimize their interest or keep hidden in general settings, but like fashion, it’s also something that is deeply significant to many and can help us to define ourselves, find community, empowerment or inspiration. That is certainly something to be celebrated and something that I constantly find myself wanting to carry with me whenever I can. All this to say, I think fandom fashion and geek couture have really changed the game when it comes to finding empowerment in celebrating your interests, connecting with others, and expressing yourself.
Q: After participating in the Her Universe Fashion Show for five years, how did it feel to win the competition in 2019?
A: Like a dream come true. Just getting to participate in the show is always such a wonderful and fulfilling experience, because we get to put on an incredible show surrounded by a ton of amazing and talented artists and just being amongst that kind of artistry is a win in of itself. It sounds cheesy, but I’ve absolutely loved having such an incredible creative outlet to challenge myself with each year.
That said, winning was unbelievable and certainly incredibly exciting and fulfilling, but also very peaceful in a weird way. It was like everything I had been working towards over the past year, deciding to pursue fashion full-time in graduate school, and really finding my voice as a designer was all coming to fruition in the wildest way, which was incredibly gratifying. This show and the community around it have been such a huge part of my life and growth for the past five years, it’s strange and exciting to think about what will come next.
Q: What was the experience like designing a collection for Warner Bros. and Her Universe? Do you have a favorite piece from the line?
A: Designing for retail was definitely a different beast than designing the kind of couture pieces we create for the Her Universe Fashion Show, but I had a really great time. In recent years, my design aesthetic has calibrated to focus on wearability and things that I would essentially want in my closet, and because my own personal style tends to focus on timeless silhouettes and funky twists on classic looks, that put me in a great place to transition easily to retail design. The fact that we were also designing for Wonder Woman was also an incredible treat. One of my best-known pieces from the Her Universe show was my 2016 Transforming Wonder Woman gown. She is certainly a character I’ve long had a special connection to, so finding out that we were designing for this property really felt like the perfect capstone on my fashion show experience and like I had come full circle.
Most of the items I was playing are with those 80s silhouettes — ringer tees, off the shoulder cuts, and that pop-art graphic look with the strong style lines and saturated colors. The T-shirt dress is one of my favorites and I’m absolutely thrilled that it has pockets!! I love how well they captured the asymmetric look I was going for and the extra detailing we were able to get on the graphic W, that nod to both the modern Wonder Woman and the classic comics. One of my other favorites is the Cheetah sweater I designed based on an early outfit Barbara [Minerva] wears. I wanted to play with her kind of shy girl look, but also hit at the cheetah hiding beneath the surface; it was just a lot of fun to play with that kind of symbolism. Honestly, every item will be featured on heavy rotation in my closet and I can’t wait to see them out in the wild!
Q: You’ve mentioned that sustainability in fashion is important to you. How do you implement that concept into your work?
A: Through thoughtful purchasing and classic design. There are so many ways to practice sustainability, but one of the most simple and effective ways for me is to simply purchase less. That means the items I do purchase and design, I want to be physically long wearing, practical, and aesthetically timeless — investment pieces, essentially. In my own work, that means keeping the “geek” simultaneously subtle and elevated. I’m very much about capturing the kind of essence of a property and I feel I do that best working with silhouettes and details that ring more classic and timeless. I want my garments to be wearable and long wearing without ever feeling dated, and I want them to be practical and versatile across many situations.
Q: Your portfolio is extensive for a young designer. Aside from the award-winning “Destination: Isla Nublar” ensemble and “Wonder Woman 1984" collection, what is one of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?
A: Truthfully it feels like a little like trying to pick a favorite child (LOL). Each piece has taught me important lessons and I’m so thankful for that. But I think with designing “Rebellion Reborn” [from HUFS 2018] it the first time I really felt like I had found my true voice as a designer and the reactions to that coat were just so visceral that I knew I had found in a real way. It was also the first project that I felt like I had really started to unlock and really flesh out my design process. What are the overarching themes? What is the overall aesthetic? Major color stories? Stand-out quotes? Where is the strongest emotional resonance?
Q: As a self-described “girly-girl who likes to dress up,” has your approach to style changed during the pandemic? Do you have a go-to outfit when staying at home?
A: Dressing up during the quarantine has definitely been an adjustment! I’ve always enjoyed dressing up and I’ve long been the type of person to always have red lipstick on at a bare minimum. With working from home, especially over the summer, I had very little opportunity or reason to dress up. Even so, I found getting “dressed up” still went a long way in making me feel prepared for the day and does wonders for my energy level and mindset. I invested in or made quite a few comfortable dress items — elevated sweats and joggers, comfortable wrap and t-shirt dresses, and the like for my WFH uniform. I haven’t necessarily had a go-to outfit, but anything paired with a swipe of my regular red lippy and combed eyebrows, I usually feel quite “ready” to take on the day.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received on your journey to becoming a fashion designer?
A: Just DO IT. When we are new to things, we absolutely have the tendency to look at what other people are doing and doubt ourselves — imposter syndrome is totally a thing, and I know I deal with it a lot. Learning to push past that has been one of the greatest pieces of life advice that has come from this process. Another valuable piece of advice I’ve received was to learn to really embrace the process. One reason I’ve loved participating in the show is because of the learning opportunities it has provided and I’ve gotten the most out of it when approaching everything ready to learn and push myself. Don’t be afraid to learn new things, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, don’t be afraid to keep workshopping, and practicing, and failing, and working, and growing: it’s all a part of the process.