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Columbus Makes Art Presents HighBall Halloween Costume Couture Designer Shiree Houf on Design Inspiration & A 2020 Sneak Peek

Michelle Gibson Michelle Gibson Columbus Makes Art Presents HighBall Halloween Costume Couture Designer Shiree Houf on Design Inspiration & A 2020 Sneak PeekA design by Designer Shiree Houf for HighBall Halloween. Photo by Treasured Foto Photography.
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From Saturday, Oct. 31 through Saturday, Nov. 8, Virtual HighBall Halloween celebrates costumes and creativity as the show goes on virtually for 2020. Designer Shiree Houf is back for her ninth HighBall Halloween, with more incredible couture looks for the White Castle Costume Couture Fashion Show. Shiree sat down to talk about design inspiration, why she keeps coming back to HighBall Halloween and the upcoming virtual show.

Michelle: You have competed in (and won!) the Costume Couture Fashion Show several times; why did you originally apply, and why did you keep coming back each year?
Shiree: My first year with HighBall Halloween was in 2009, when I was an OSU MFA student competitor, and it was so inspiring to see the amazing pieces that went on that stage. It was another year, when I attended as a spectator, that really made me think I HAD to be a part of it again. There was a mind-blowing beautiful pink Marie Antoinette dress that Kevin Kerr designed. When it appeared onstage, there was an audible gasp from the audience. It was the clear winner that year, and I remember thinking I wanted to create something that would elicit that kind of reaction. It’s that pursuit of wanting to create something visually powerful and memorable that keeps me coming back.

Michelle: How does your background in theater help you tell stories in your HighBall Halloween couture designs?
Shiree: My background in theater COMPLETELY affects how I tell stories at HighBall Halloween; I approach all my looks as characters in a mini play. I think about how these characters move and interact with each other, the physical stage and, ultimately, the audience. Generally, I want the audience to be able to recognize the characters and stories I tell; I hope I enrich those stories with the design choices I make. For instance, the year I created all famous painting-inspired looks and the couture costume was “Starry Night,” I painted A TON on the garments and I think that connection between the story and materials was part of what made that particular collection successful.

Designer Shiree Houf. Photo by Spyroll Studios.

Michelle: Where do you find inspiration for your amazing over-the-top designs?
Shiree: I find inspiration from TONS of places! It just depends on what sticks out to me or what feels the most relevant to me when I choose a theme. Sometimes it’s a song, like my “Monster Mash” collection; sometimes it’s a movie, like for my “Under The Sea” collection; sometimes it’s other art forms, like for my “Starry Night” collection; and sometimes it’s wanting to work with a certain material and then finding a story I think would be a good fit, such as my “Ele-mental” collection, which was the four elements with All The Yarn.

Michelle: What is your process like when creating new designs?
Shiree: My process is normally pretty linear. I’m a planner, so I’ll think of my theme/story, do some research, think about materials, do some sketching and launch off from there. This year, though, was the first year I REALLY went on a journey. Everything changed drastically. The central idea didn’t change, but whoa, did the structure and materials change. I made big mistakes in materials for my original plan and COMPLETELY overhauled the whole look. I’ve begun sharing process albums for my projects on my Facebook page and on Instagram; I think this year people will be surprised to see what my original sketches looked like versus what ended up on the runway.

Michelle: What are some of your favorite Costume Couture designs you’ve created over the years?
Shiree: The first will probably always be “Starry Night.” Van Gogh and his art will always be irreplaceably inspiring to me, and it was my first year doing the big show all by myself, without a co-designer. That first-place win was incredibly significant to me because it came at a time when I had so very little confidence in my abilities. 

I’m also very happy with the “Monster Mash” collection and costume I did last year, which took second place. It was a mash-up of traditional silver screen Halloween monsters connected to various sciences/technologies associated with them. It was a very tight design; all the garments were silver, black and white, except for the costume which had purple because it was a “One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater” technology monster. I was beyond pleased I was able to find a super creepy techno version of the song to play on the runway, which made it an awesome presentation, in my opinion.

A design by Designer Shiree Houf for HighBall Halloween. Photo by Treasured Foto Photography.
A design by Designer Shiree Houf for HighBall Halloween. Photo by Treasured Foto Photography.

Michelle: What can viewers expect to see from you at Virtual HighBall Halloween 2020?
Shiree: Viewers can expect to see one of my top three favorite things I’ve created for HighBall Halloween in nine years! The couture costume is the most original thing I’ve done. When I search for similar things like it online, I can’t really find anything, so I think it’s pretty good! Also, I put so much detail into making all the garments, accessories and pieces. I leaned into my untapped rebellious teenager side. I used to LOVE going to live music shows and seeing how bands and their crowds would dress; I always wanted to be way cooler/edgier than I was. I hope what you see will rock your world; I’m really excited for them to be seen!

A design by Designer Shiree Houf for HighBall Halloween. Photo by Andrew Blight Photography.
A design by Designer Shiree Houf for HighBall Halloween. Photo by Andrew Blight Photography.

Virtual HighBall Halloween 2020 will feature hosts Nina West of RuPaul’s Drag Race and NBC4’s Monica Day and Matt Barnes, as well as virtual performances by local band MojoFlo and Virginia West and The West Family, the Out of the Closet Virtual Public Costume Contest, and the White Castle Costume Couture Fashion Show with five returning HighBall Halloween designers. Tickets are available online. For more information, visit highballcolumbus.org.

Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting and advancing the arts and cultural fabric of Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art. Learn more about local artists, organizations and events at ColumbusMakesArt.com.

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