From the Runway

Q&A: Fashion design student draws inspiration from her surroundings

Connor Bahng | Staff Photographer

Helena Elston likes pairing crazy and out-there pieces with simple black t-shirts, creating a high-style look.

Almost every day, Helena Elston walks into the Nancy Cantor Warehouse that overlooks downtown Syracuse, takes out her design kit, and gets to work. The junior fashion design major took some time out of her busy, hectic day to talk fashion, her inspirations and thrift shopping.

The Daily Orange: So how did you get into fashion design?

Helena Elston: I was always into clothes. In high school I was always about self-expression and I loved putting funky outfits together. And then, my senior year, there was a Project Runway competition where we all made a dress and used the same pattern, but we could design it however we wanted. I think there were like 20-something people that did it and there was a big fashion show at the end where they had judges come in. I won the competition. They put my dress in a store window back where I’m from and I was like, “yeah I want to do fashion, I want to be in the industry.”

D.O: Where do you shop now?

H.E.: I love Urban Outfitters and Free People, but I really try and limit myself because I feel like a lot of people have the same clothes. I’ll go out and buy like a plain black shirt and then I can match it with anything. Then I’ll buy really random things that are really funky and you’re like “where would I ever wear this?” I like to match that stuff up, like things that people wouldn’t expect.

D.O.: What about thrift shopping?

H.E.: Oh yeah, absolutely. I actually just bought the best jacket. It’s this really awesome suede jacket with all of this fur inside. It’s beautiful and it’s a Lord & Taylor jacket and I bought it at Goodwill here in Syracuse for like $15.

D.O.: How has the fashion design program here at SU influenced you as a designer?

H.E.: I think what’s really important about the program in itself that makes me a better designer is the fact that we’re one of the first schools to do plus-sized dress forms. Emme is a plus sized model and she paired up with Syracuse and had Wolf Form donate $50,000 worth of plus sized dress forms. I think it’s really interesting because we’re going to get so much press this year, especially from Women’s Wear Daily and other designers might come in and see the work.

D.O.: And now you’re in the Fashion & Beauty Communications Milestone Program. How’s that?

H.E.: The fashion design program is great here but I think if I didn’t have the Milestone program I would have taken up a minor or something else. I want other classes that are more than just design. Like I’m in a class right now in the program called the Social Psychology of Clothing and we talk about other cultures, like what they do, what they wear, certain rituals they do that involve clothing. It’s just completely changed my perspective.

D.O.: Where do you draw inspiration on campus?

H.E.: Honestly I think what has most changed my style and overall fashion is the people I’m surrounded by. I have some of my best friends in the fashion program and we bounce ideas off each other. We don’t all dress the same, but I think that we give each other so much inspiration and we help each other along the way.

D.O: Who are your biggest inspirations in the fashion world?

H.E.: I love Gucci. I don’t know if I would buy anything because it’s so expensive. I’m not sure how I feel about high couture but I think their designs are really beautiful. I think since their new creative director stepped in, I really love everything I think it’s all new and trendy. Another sole designer that I love obviously is Alexander McQueen. If you ask any designer, I feel like they love him no matter what. It’s very natural to love him — his stuff was just so revolutionary.

D.O.: You said you’re not sure about high couture. So what level do you want your clothing to be on?

H.E.: See, I don’t even really know if I want to be a fashion designer yet. I don’t really love sewing so I definitely don’t want to be a seamstress. I don’t really know where I’m going to be. I don’t know if I’m going to do like high fashion or ready-to-wear. I don’t know if I want to necessarily design or if I want to be a buyer. I think I just have to explore my options.

D.O.: What about internships?  

H.E.: Well actually two summers ago I worked for a woman who created the company called NYC Sex Trash — it sounds kind of crazy — but I just worked with her one-on-one and she makes custom lingerie. Like she’s made it for Lady Gaga, Madonna, Britney Spears, so that was really, really cool. That was hands-on design work. I was sewing there, learning a lot about the industry. Then this past summer I was working for a PR company called Siren as a social media intern so I saw it from a different angle, like what goes into getting your products and everything out there. But I think next summer I’m definitely going to do something where I’m working in the fashion house being hands-on with a bigger company.

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