Greta Ohaus ’16 is a senior in the College of Human Ecology. She — along with the seven other seniors in the program — studies Fiber Science and Apparel Design (FSAD), which, come graduation in May, will get her Cornell’s version of a fashion degree. Each year for the past three decades, the major, year-long project for FSAD seniors has been preparing a collection for the Cornell Fashion Collective’s Annual Runway Show. In looking forward to the 32nd show this Saturday, the Sun has been sitting down with FSAD Senior designers to talk about their experiences in the program here, their fashion philosophies and what might be in store for them once they leave the hill. These designer spotlights will be running every day this week. For today’s, the Sun sat down with Greta to learn more about her process and what might be in store for us for Saturday’s show.
The Sun: First off, what got you into designing and what brought you to Cornell?
Greta Ohaus: I guess I’ve always had a pull towards fashion in general. It really started in high school with my personal style: I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of putting on something that makes me feel really beautiful. It’s a great feeling and I always wanted to be able to make other people feel that way. I guess that’s where it started. I’ve always had a thing for art as well. Fashion is where my love for shopping and my love for art met. As far as Cornell, my grandmother and grandfather went here. When I mentioned I was interested in fashion, my grandmother sneakily sent me some information on the fashion program here and was like, “You have to go see it. I’m not gonna force it on you, but you should really go look at it.” I ended up coming here because I wanted to be at a place where I could take fashion design classes but also take other courses beyond that.
Sun: That seems to be a big thing for designers here, to have the opportunity to take great classes in any discipline. Do you think getting a broader view on education has influenced the way you’ve designed here at Cornell?
G.O.: I think it makes everything more dynamic. This is probably the biggest collection and concept I’ve worked on, but part of the reason it got to be so big and complex is because I was able to pull from all of the different perspectives I get from all of the different things I’m learning about. My major feels like the place where I can bring everything else I learn here into one. If I were just at a fashion school I might have just gotten one vantage point—what’s trendy, what’s fashion, what’s fashion history. Being at Cornell you can look into other areas and it’s all part of your education.
Sun: Do you have any overarching, governing aesthetic for what you like to reach towards in what you design? What do you do when you design?
G.O.: Most people that know me would say that I like to be a little over the top and dramatic, and I love storytelling. I like to bring that into my collections and my designs. I like to come up with a girl and her story, and something that’s happening to her and what’s happening around her. Fantasy isn’t the right word, but I like to make things that are out of this world.
Sun: Kind of narrative, in a way?
G.O.: Definitely narrative. Especially the past two collections that I’ve worked on have been really narrative, and I think that’s because they’ve been bigger than what I’ve worked on before. I guess that’s because once you get further in the program here, you get more freedom to get more complex with your designs, and for me the girl’s story just gets deeper.
Sun: What have you done as far as different collections in the past before the show this Saturday? Is this show the biggest thing you’ve been working on so far?
G.O.: Definitely. All of us started working on concept at the beginning of last semester, so pretty much our whole senior year is dedicated to this. It’s definitely my baby. This is the biggest thing I’ve worked on. Last year I did a collection for the show as well, which was a little more separate from classes, and it had anarrative element too. That collection and this have been my biggest adventures.
Sun: You mentioned you like art too. What kind of visual art—painting or sculpture—do you draw on for your designs?
G.O.: I’m a big fan of modern art. I like to go on gallery websites and just look through random paintings and pictures. For this collection I actually started with these paintings by Alma Thomas I think that her paintings have an interesting movement to them; the brushstrokes and the use of color is very exciting. I like to look to modern art like that for inspiration.
Sun: Are those paintings something that played into this specific line for the show?
G.O.: Yea, so this collection actually started when I went to the fine arts library and was just walking around. I pulled out a few really big books trying to get random inspiration. I ended up pulling out some book about the sea in Russia. It just has a bunch of really cool photographs of the ocean. There are so many really beautiful pictures, and so I kind of started here, obsessing. I have a very weird relationship with the ocean. The water freaks me out but it’s also fascinating, so it’s kind of funny that this book is what I pulled out. After that I decided I couldn’t just pull from one source, so I decided to branch out into all aspects of my life and pull from a bunch of different resources. I looked to a lot of paintings. This collection story is about the journey to where the sky and the ocean meet; not necessarily the horizon itself, but that point that doesn’t actually exist, but we’re always looking at it and we’re always trying to get to it. My theory in this collection is that that’s the end of the world: your personal end of the world and the actual end of the world, and your obsession with getting there. This collection is about that journey but also about what it’s like once you’ve gotten there. I saw Thomas’s painting and I was looking at these pictures of the ocean and I was like, “I feel like that might be what the end of the world looks like.”
Sun: That’s fantastic. For someone like me who doesn’t engage much in fashion, let alone designing, how do you condense all of those lofty ideas and such an articulated, almost philosophical point into clothes?
G.O.: It’s funny; a lot of people ask why I chose fashion out of all of the art forms. My parents make fun of me because they think I don’t ever do anything [laughs]; this is gonna sound so pretentious, but I spend a lot of time just thinking. I’ve spent so much time thinking about this collection; it pretty much consumes all of my thoughts right now. The easiest way for me to articulate some things to other people is through fashion. It’s always how I think my ideas come out clearest. I’m not the most articulate person in the world, and I can’t just draw something and have it make sense. Through clothes is how I articulate all that’s going on in my brain. As far as the process itself, I’m drawn to color first, and for this collection I definitely started with color. I like to start with a body and add ideas onto it step by step. My journal is filled with so many trials; it’s pretty messy. My system is to choose an image that’s particularly compelling, paste it down and search online to find “the girl” that I think suits the mood. I cut down a couple pictures of her, paint over that a bunch of ideas and hope for something to come together. I do that with a couple different images and just try to put a bunch of things together. Personally, I don’t think you can design by saying, “Okay I want a long dress, I want a skirt, I want a sweater.” I think you kind of have to start from a more abstract angle and let it become concrete as you go. If you start out so concrete it’s almost like you already know what you’re looking for, and part of the fun of designing is when you discover something on the way that you didn’t know you were looking for. And then it’s like, “Wow, that’s my finale dress or that’s gonna be the opener.” That’s personally how I work; I don’t think that’s how it works for everyone, nor do I think it matters.
Sun: Final question: what happens after you graduate? Do you have any idea what you’re doing?
G.O.: I haven’t quite figured that out. It’s really hard when you realize that your dream job might exist but it’s not the job you’re going to get once you graduate. So, what I really want to go to is styling and editing and curating. I think my skills in design research and concepts are much stronger than my technical skills. Hopefully I’ll be in New York City, hopefully working in a publication or in a fashion closet, hopefully doing something artistic.
Tickets for the Cornell fashion Collective’s Annual Runway Show are still available online or from Collective members. The show will be held Saturday, March 12 in Bailey Hall.