Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Blight

Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Blight

As leaves fall and the chilly autumn air rustles the now-bare branches of the trees, the stage is set for an annual Columbus tradition. For eight years, HighBall has melded the ghoulish and supernatural aspects of Halloween with the world of high fashion. The event draws thousands of fashion aficionados to Ohio’s capital each year, including three Ohio State alumni who are all vying to take the top prize in the festival’s signature Costume Couture Fashion Show.

The Costume Couture Fashion Show is set to feature the designs of eight individuals or teams and has been the signature event of HighBall since “the nation’s fiercest costume party” began in 2008. Each team or individual designer is tasked with creating four looks to be presented during the show, which is set to take place Saturday at 10 p.m., said Betsy Pandora, the executive director of the Short North Alliance, which hosts HighBall each year.

“They create one couture-style costume, which is just an over-the-top, Halloween-inspired costume, and then three … a little bit simpler in style and construction, but always equally as impressive, ready-to-wear looks,” Pandora said. “They are literally some of the most spectacular things that you will see.”

Designers are given complete creative freedom when designing the pieces for the Costume Couture Fashion Show, Pandora said. The collections are judged by a panel of HighBall judges, and the winning designer or team receives a cash prize of $1,000. The second- and third-place teams are awarded $500 and $250, respectively.

Ashley Wills, a freelance multimedia designer, is competing with her design partner, Shiree Houf, a window display artist and freelance costume designer, for the second year in a row. Prior to entering the competition together, both designers had participated individually for two years.

“We knew that if we joined forces as a team, we could really make a cohesive story … With a theatrical background, it is all about telling the story,” said Houf, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in theater from Miami University before receiving her Master of Fine Arts in design with a concentration in costume design from OSU in 2011.

Last year, Wills and Houf won first place in the Costume Couture Fashion Show with their collection inspired by broken dolls.

“It was very, very vintage-inspired and spooky a little bit,” said Wills, who received her Bachelor of Science in fashion and retail studies and a Bachelor of Arts in theater from OSU in 2011, of the winning 2014 collection. “But this year, we are going a much different direction, really really colorful, modern, graphics. It is a lot more fun, I would say.”

Although Houf and Wills will not reveal their final design concept until their pieces officially debut on Saturday, both designers said they hope the audience draws inspiration from what they see on the runway.

“This collection should make you smile and maybe make you tilt your head a little and go, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’ I hope. That would be amazing,” Houf said. “We’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears, very literally, into the work that we have done and I think we are excited to see how it looks on the runway and, obviously, hope to win again.”

But Wills and Houf aren’t the only former OSU students putting their design skills to the test at HighBall this year. Ira V. Tecson, who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture in 2007, also has her sights set on the top prize at HighBall.

Tecson has entered this year’s Costume Couture Fashion Show with her design partner, Lauren Primm, with whom she has worked for the past three years of competitions.

“The first year we participated (2013) we were paired with Kelli Martin (local designer and former Project Runway contestant) and used the Black Plague as our inspiration … which placed third that year,” Tecson said in an email. “Last year, we placed second with an Alice in Wonderland meets the Carnival, complete with a hand-balancing act (Marston Bender and Nick Theobald) that later became the facade of a circus tent.”

This year, Tecson said she and Primm have decided to take a more light-hearted approach.

“Originally for this year Lauren and I were going to go with a darker theme, but we’ve since done a 180,” she said. “The idea this year is based on a retro-future idea (kind of like what the 1960s thought the future would be like).  We’re indulging in kitsch and the nostalgia of old Halloween costumes.”

Tecson said she thinks HighBall provides an opportunity for designers to stretch their creative muscles in a fun way.

Credit: Courtesy of Randall Schieber

Credit: Courtesy of Randall Schieber

“What inspires me to keep on participating in HighBall is that I don’t want to be an adult … HighBall is an amazing venue where Lauren and I can let our imaginations go and then make whatever we want,” she said. “I hope the people who see our final creations react with a sense of joy and feel like they experienced something exciting. Maybe they will be inspired to make something themselves.”

In addition to the Costume Couture Fashion Show, HighBall will also include Michael Jackson-inspired musical performances from Who’s Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band, as well as some local bands, two public costume contests and a new grand entryway.

VIP ticket packages are available for both nights for $53.49 per night, fees included, and general admission for each night is $11.49, fees included. Advance tickets are available online at the HighBall website until Thursday at 11:59 p.m. After Thursday, tickets will only be available for purchase at the gate day-of.

HighBall begins on Friday at 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. and continues on Saturday from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.