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Corny couture: Inspiration for dress came from Corn Palace

Fashion designer Jennifer Hausmann, left, walks with model Jody Carlson, who is wearing Hausmann's corn dress inspired by the Corn Palace. (Photo Courtesy Jennifer Hausmann)

MITCHELL -- Corny? No, it's couture.

A dress inspired by the Corn Palace is getting attention from the fashion world. Jennifer Hausmann, a Butte, Neb., native who is now operating a fashion design business in Los Angeles, created the dress entirely out of corn as an homage to the Mitchell tourism icon.

"That's our latest design that's gotten a lot of attention," Hausmann said. "It was actually featured in LA Style Fashion Week."

Her firm is called JHaus and is in downtown Los Angeles in the Fashion District. That's a long way from the small town on the Nebraska-South Dakota border where she grew up.

"Nobody had ever seen anything like it," Hausmann said of the full-length gown. "It got a lot of people talking. The inspiration was the Corn Palace and all the beautiful kernels of corn."

The dress contains various shades of black, red, orange and yellow kernels. Hausmann got the yellow kernels from her father, who is a farmer and rancher.

Her parents, Terry and Donna Hausmann, obtained the colored corn from Wade Strand, the rural Mitchell farmer who grows the corn for the Corn Palace.

"My parents tracked it down and got it for me," Jennifer Hausmann said in a telephone interview. "I could not believe all the different colors.

"My parents went twice to the person that provides the kernels of corn for the Corn Palace," she said. "The first time they got samples from the farmer and I picked out the colors I wanted to use on the dress, and then they went back and got the colors of corn that I picked out and mailed it to me in LA."

Donna Hausmann said Strand was "gracious" and donated kernels for her daughter to examine. After Jennifer selected what colors she wanted, her parents returned to Strand's farm and bought some of the colored corn at a reasonable price, Donna Hausmann said.

"He was very kind," she said.

Strand said he met with the Hausmanns last fall. He was aware the corn was to be used to make a dress. That's the first time any of his colorful corn has been used for such a purpose, he said.

Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said he was aware the dress was being created and has seen photos of it.

Schilling called it "amazing," and said he felt it was a very attractive gown. Hausmann said perhaps her creation will one day come to Mitchell.

"I don't know if it will ever be shown at the Corn Palace, but we are definitely open to that," she said.

Donna Hausmann said she was impressed with her daughter's creation.

"I love it. I think it's beautiful," she said. "I think she did a great job with the colors. Pretty exciting stuff."

Hausmann said the dress is "just a showpiece" and copies of will not actually be sold. But she said stylists and magazines "are calling to pull it for photo shoots" and an art museum has asked to display it.

The idea behind the dress was to help boost her visibility, as well as traffic to her website.

"Hopefully, that's the goal," she said. "Brand awareness."

The kernels of corn were glued on one by one, Hausmann said.

"We had to use a special formula for the glue so that the kernels would stay on and not pop off," she said in an email response to more questions. "Oh my gosh, the dress took so long to make, about a month, lots of sleepless nights and we were running out of time, so at the very end I had eight people helping me."

Hausmann said she has no idea how many kernels of corn make up the dress. It weighs 32.7 pounds and is lined with denim, which is durable enough to hold the weight, she said.

Hausmann, who declined to disclose her age, said a fascination in clothing and fashion has always been with her.

"I had an interest, but I wasn't really exposed to the fashion industry, living in Nebraska," she said. "I spent a lot of time in South Dakota as well."

Butte is 100 miles from Mitchell. Donna Hausmann, a registered nurse, said the family spent a lot of time across the border in Fairfax, Bonesteel, Burke and Gregory, and came to Mitchell fairly often.

While her daughter was raised on a farm, and loved to play softball, she also showed an artistic side early on.

"She always did," Donna Hausmann said. "She always was free-spirited and very creative."

After studying at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Jennifer Hausmann took part in a summer study abroad program that involved time in London and Paris.

"That's where I really got exposed to the fashion industry and got my feet wet," Hausmann said.

She earned a bachelor's degree in fashion design from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Hausmann continued her studies through the University of Phoenix, where she obtained a master's degree in business before relocating to LA a year ago.

While the corn dress has received the lion's share of attention, denim is the primary fabric she works with, Hausmann said.

She has employees at her shop and does castings to hire models to show her work. Hausmann did some hair modeling when she was younger, but is now content to be on the other end of the runway.

Hausmann said she loves the challenge of becoming a well-known designer.

"It's been nothing but work," she said. "It's a lot of fun to get to do what I love every day. I'm really blessed."