Most fashion design students can only dream of spending time with the head of a major fashion brand. But this summer Bermudian C’era Wolffe will get a chance to pitch her fashion designs to Levi Strauss & Co CEO Chip Bergh.
Last month, she was named one of the winners of the 2018 Levi’s x Arts Thread design competition. The prize includes a five-week summer internship at Levi’s in San Francisco, California and culminates in a meeting with Mr Bergh. “I’m really nervous about meeting Mr Bergh,” the 24-year-old admitted. A second year student at Salford University in Manchester, England, Miss Wolffe was one of four winners chosen from 500 entries worldwide.
To win the competition, she was tasked with redesigning Levi’s Engineered Jeans, which have twisted leg seams.
“You could do whatever you wanted with these jeans,” she said. “We had about three months to come up with a concept and concept design, full collection, six to eight outfits, accessories and make one of the four outfits.”
She started working on her entry last October and finished up in December. “In mid March they notified me that I made the top twenty,” she said. “I thought ‘okay, I’m getting there’. When they said I was in the final eight I said ‘what?’. Then I had to do a Skype interview with Jonathan Cheung, head of design at Levi Strauss.
She was nervous, at first, but Mr Cheung was very approachable. “He was really easy to talk to,” she said. “He asked me what kind of design aesthetic I had, and when did I become interested in fashion.
“He asked what kind of person I was, and what my background was. They were really personal questions, not too much about how I am as a design student. I think my portfolio already spoke for itself.”
After the interview, it was three weeks before Ms Wolffe got an e-mail saying to expect a call. “I thought, ‘oh, I am going to get turned down over the phone?’,” she said.
At the time, she was doing a seven-week internship in London with luxury sportswear brand Fyodor Golan. The call from Levi’s came when she was out running an errand for the company. “I was in a trimming store looking for zips, trying to tell this guy what kind of zip I wanted,” she said. “In the middle of that conversation I took the call. I got really excited. The sales person got a little confused about what was going on.”
She got the inspiration for her competition entry while on a university trip to Italy in October.
Students on the trip were told the photographs they took would become the basis for class projects during the school year. Her classmates snapped endless photos of churches and monuments, but try as she might she couldn’t work up the same enthusiasm for architecture.
Instead, was fascinated by the street dancers.
“Wherever you go, you will always find break dancers, and a crowd of different people watching,” Ms Wolffe said. “The street dancers really bring the community together.”
When she started working on her jeans, she looked at what breakdancers were wearing back in the 1980s. “They were wearing running shorts,” she said. “I developed the design from there. I elongated the running shorts so that the ankles were curved. “I did a bit of patching. I paired them with over-sized jackets, panelling, colourful prints and vinyl printing of records that were playing at that time.”
It was her grandmother, Lucille Stovell, who first got her interested in fashion design.
“She is a seamstress,” Ms Wolffe said. “I picked up on her talents really. I was seven when she first taught me how to start sewing. I was fascinated by how she could take a simple piece of fabric and turn it into a dress or a skirt.”
Ms Wolffe decided at 15 that she wanted to become a fashion designer. “At 17, I started selling things for myself,” she said. “I started a little business doing flower crowns. I made a lot of money with that. I did tie-dye hats for summer. I sold a bit of those. I made beaded anklets for beach weddings and stuff like that.”
She went to high school in New York City where her mother, Toni Pavilus, lived.
Then, when her mother moved to England, she asked her to come with her. “At first I didn’t really want to because it is cold and rainy there,” she said. “But I ended up going with her.”
After doing a year of an art foundation class where she tried everything from art and photography to painting, she was accepted into the University of Salford to study fashion design.
Today, she’s very grateful for supportive parents.
“When I said I wanted to go into fashion design, my father, Dave Wolffe, said ‘are you sure?’. And that was it. As long as I am into it, my parents are very supportive.”
She said the best thing about being in the fashion design programme at her university is being around like-minded people.
“Sometimes, when you are creative and trying to talk to people who aren’t as creative, the conversation doesn’t go anywhere,” she said. “It’s exciting to be in an environment where everyone is trying to go to the same places.
“It is super competitive. I have 50 students in my class. There were ten of us picked for the Levi’s competition and only two of us made it to the finals. Our tutors were responsible for picking who would be in the competition.”