Columbus already ranks as the third city in the U.S. with the largest number of fashion designers, and now, Shiree Houf, a local costume designer, is helping Columbus gain world recognition.
Shiree is making waves in the fashion world as a finalist in the prestigious and world renowned World of Wearable Art (WOW) competition, an international wearable art and design event held in New Zealand this fall. She’s 1 of 120 carefully selected, hand-picked finalists from 22 different countries.
Her passion for design dates back to her childhood, where she spent her past time creating shoes out of cereal boxes. She’d go out to the garage, visualize how to transform the pile of discarded materials into an imaginative costume, and voilà – a work of wearable art made entirely of scraps.
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Now, Shiree still sources materials for high-end costumes in other people’s trash; she frequents thrift stores and yard sales to find materials that she can repurpose. “One year, I used old neck ties that I sourced from the thrift store to create a mermaid tale,” she said.
Known for her “over the top” costumes designed for drag performers and pageant queens, Shiree’s creativity, playfulness, and unique pieces stand out. She prefers crafting elaborate, high-art costumes that are distinct from mass produced clothing, and her background and Masters of Fine Arts from OSU all helped her make a name for herself. “I’m definitely most well known for my Highball Halloween costumes,” Shiree said.
Her favorite piece she’s ever made for Highball is named Mary Shelley – a wooden turtle structure that moves on wheels, with color changing, light-up mushroom caps.
When her past Highball costumes started selling to drag performers, including Drag King Riley Poppyseed, who was featured on a TV show, Camp Wannakiki, Shiree realized that it could be time for the next step – applying to WOW after 5 years of constantly thinking about it.
“WOW seemed to be the next thing to strive for,” explained Shiree. “I completely geeked out hearing about it, and other designers encouraged me to go ahead and apply. It took 5 full years to make a plan though.”
The process wasn’t easy – although Shiree has been designing costume-wear since she was a young girl, to even enter into this international costume contest, Shiree had to go through a rigorous process. She created the garments on her own budget, wrote a professional artist statement, photographed the costume, then submitted the application for a chance to compete. And that was just round one. After she made it through the first round, she had to pack up her costume and take a day trip to Chicago to drop them off in hopes of making it to the second round.
After WOW judges received the garments, picked models, and judged them in-person, they selected 1 out of 3 of Shiree’s costumes as a finalist to go ahead to New Zealand.
Although Mary Shelley is her favorite, it’s not the costume that will be flying all the way across the world with her. The costume that made it to the finals was in the “Gold” category – every single thing on the outfit had to be gold.
The WOW show takes place September 22 this year. It’s a three-week extravaganza featuring 60,000 guests, wearable art, dancers, aerialists, and of course, Shiree’s “Gold” outfit!
While in New Zealand, even if she doesn’t win the competition, Shiree still looks forward to networking and meeting with other designers around the world. Hopefully, this exposure propels her towards her goals of designing for Broadway, The Met Gala, or RuPaul’s Drag Race.
And if she does win any of the prizes? “Cobbling school!” laughed Shiree. But the prize of an internship with WĒTĀ, the design team who created the costumes, special effects, and props for movies like The Lord of the Rings, would be amazing too, she noted.
You can explore more of Shiree’s remarkable work by checking out her website!
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