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Lady AVA Designs (Baltimore, MD)

I stumbled upon Otakon 2001 through an ad in Animerica Magazine. With anticipation and a lot of begging, I convinced my parents to embark on this anime-filled adventure. Little did I know that this journey would ignite a passion that would shape my life for over two decades. As I excitedly picked up my badge, I encountered my first cosplayer who was portraying Sakura from Cardcaptor Sakura. It was a weird kind of revelation – people dressing up as anime characters! Intrigued, I learned that day that many fans crafted their costumes. Keep in mind, this was 2001 when you couldn’t purchase a pre-made cosplay online. Inspired, I resolved to attend Otakon the following year with a handmade cosplay of my own. The only hiccup in this plan? I had zero sewing skills.

I dove headfirst into cosplay for Otakon 2002, fueled by the recent release of Final Fantasy X and my determination to dress as Yuna in her summoner outfit. My first costume was a testament to perseverance  – hand-sewn with guidance from my mother and did a commission for the pleated skirt due to my lack of sewing knowledge and sewing machine. My sister helped handpaint the skirt and obi, and I even experimented with dyeing sleeves using Pepto Bismol, a move that surprisingly paid off, though I was minty for a few days after.

The day of Otakon 2002 arrived after months of learning, sewing, and countless trials. Standing in the convention bathroom, nerves crept in. “What if my cosplay wasn’t well-received?” “What if I faced ridicule for choosing Yuna?” I had kept my cosplay endeavors mostly under wraps, fearing judgment for “playing dress up.” For a moment, I hesitated to step out. But the hours of hard work and collaboration with my sister and mother demanded that I give it a shot.

Walking onto the convention floor, uncertainty lingered. Yet, within minutes, someone asked for my photo – my first-ever cosplay snapshot. From there, an incredible journey unfolded. Cosplay became an escape for me, especially during my high school years when expressing my love for fandoms was often met with bullying. I cherished my passion for Anime, Disney, Star Wars, and video games but kept it hidden to avoid scrutiny. Cosplay taught me a valuable lesson – the opinions of others shouldn’t dictate self-expression. It’s an important part of who I am.

Gravity Falls as a show was some of the best animation and storytelling to come out of the Disney Channel since the Disney Afternoon when I was a kid. I just loved the show so much and I wanted to create something that paid tribute to the show as a whole, but also had a nod to one of the best villains Disney created: Bill Cipher.. But after 5 years of sketching, tossing out ideas, and trying again, I finally settled on an idea based on a pun: I wanted a book jacket, so let’s make it happen.

Using real leather, pleather, and a lot of cricut work, I was able to create a jacket where the outside mimic the book cover, and the inside was filled with codes, ciphers, and codex, along with the Bill Cipher symbol. My goal is to make this dress durable and long lasting, so using real paper was off the table. Therefore, I digitized my own copy of the official Journal 3, printed the pages out on a heat transfer paper, and created fabric pages” This allowed for the dress to have a bit more movement and be far sturdier than using actual paper. Because I will be transferring the pages to fabric, I opted to use an unbleached muslin to make the pages keep their coloring and proper aged appearance.

However, nothing in Gravity Falls is ever as it seems. That most definitely includes Journal 3. During the season 2 premiere, Dipper and Mable discover that the Journal is a whole new level of secrets when they find invisible ink notes and images written all throughout the pages of the book. Using a UV reactive ink, all of the pages of the dress have hidden messages, writing, and codes throughout.

Overall, this dress represents all the fun and mysteries of this amazing show. And to quote the creator of the show, Alex Hirsch: “Stay curious, stay weird, stay kind and don’t let anyone ever tell you that you aren’t smart or brave or worthy enough.”

Over two decades in the cosplay community brought out a passion for fashion design. The fusion of high fashion with geek culture fascinated me, opening avenues of creativity I had never explored. Opportunities like the Her Universe Fashion Show presented a chance for myself and so many talented designers to embrace high-end looks inspired by the fandoms that shape our lives. It’s a reminder that even in a professional setting, celebrating your true selves and your loves should never be sacrificed. My journey from a nervous Otakon attendee to someone passionate about geek couture has been humbling. It’s a testament to the transformative power of self-expression and the acceptance of one’s true passions.

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