Expression through fashion: A profile on student designer Claire Wilms

Claire Wilms selling items for Effie's Heart

Photo courtesy of Claire Wilms
Claire Wilms selling items for Effie’s Heart

Assistant fashion designer for clothing company Effie’s Heart, sophomore Claire Wilms, has taken over the costume design for the department of theatre.

The only theatre technology major with an emphasis in costume construction and design, Wilms has created her own major. She is currently working with the department to offer more higher-division classes on costume design. After gaining experience in the theatre world at Chapman, she wishes to complete a graduate degree from an art school to gain knowledge of fashion construction.

“In order to be an artist and be a creative person you need to have a lot of experience,” said Wilms.

Wilms first realized she wanted to do costume design during her sophomore year in high school. She gained experience as an intern at the American Musical Theatre in San Jose, Calif. starting the summer before her senior year. Here, she met a woman named Kimo, who was starting her own fashion line. When Kimo asked the crew for help, Wilms volunteered and has been with her ever since. Wilms started as an intern for Kimo in fall 2006 and the first line of clothing for Effie’s Heart was released in spring 2007.

Wilms is currently the assistant fashion designer for Effie’s Heart, a clothing company “for all modern women who yearn for the true glamour of yesteryear,” according to the company’s Web site. She assists with everything from selling products at tradeshows to marking inventory to helping draft designs. Chapman students got a glimpse of the clothing when she sold it at her sorority’s philanthropy event Alpha Gamma Delta Boutique. She also sells the clothing directly to people at Chapman.

Student Nicole Carroll bought one of the Harvest Totes from the fall collection at the sorority’s boutique.

“[The style is] really creative and unique. I have never seen it in stores,” said Carroll.

For Carroll, the products stood the tests of price and quality. The prices for merchandise range from $8 to $200, depending on the fabrics and details. A simple scarf would be on the cheaper end while an elegant silk jacket would be closer to $200, said Wilms. According to Carroll, the purses were cheaper than those found in stores for the same style and quality.

“I put textbooks in it and it stood strong,” said Carroll.

Effie’s Heart clothing is sold in over 100 high-end boutiques across the U.S. and Canada, said Wilms.

The company has offered her contacts and experience that she could never get from another company, said Wilms. It is a very collaborative effort that feels like a family.

“It is an amazing company with amazing people,” said Wilms.

Wilms says she is guaranteed a continued job with Effie’s Heart after college. Right now she makes $10 per press release she writes as well as a minimum of $75-$100 per tradeshow she attends. Besides Wilms, all other workers are volunteers who are paid in clothes.

“Kimo always says I should just drop out of college and come work for her,” said Wilms.

Her professionalism and talent makes students in the theatre department grateful for her continued stay at Chapman, they said.

“Claire is so easy to get along with, yet so professional,” said junior theatre major Kendall Mauvezin. “I just have so many good things to say about her.”

This semester Wilms designed 28 costumes for the student production of “A My Name is Alice.” The performance was an ensemble of six women directed by sophomore Ceisley Jefferson. The play portrayed women throughout different stages of their lives. Various scenes included one on sex therapy, a painful song about a mother, and one of a 50-60 year old woman looking through the mirror at the teenage version of herself getting ready for a date, said Mauvezin, actress in the production.

Mauvezin says Wilms was at the rehearsals from day one. She watched the actors build their characters and was spot-on in portraying them through costumes.

“She’s amazing because she just sees it in her head,” said Mauvezin.

Wilms had an incredibly positive attitude and worked very well with the actors to ensure they had a shared vision for the character, conveyed Mauvezin.

During performances, Wilms stayed backstage and showed her dedication to the success of the show.

“[She was] there with a needle and thread in case anything broke,” said Mauvezin. “She would stand there with my necklace ready to go.”

For the past two years, Wilms also served as the assistant stage manager to Annelih Holganza, senior theatre major, for “From the Ground Up,” a series of one-act scenes completely produced by students.

“She helped me not lose my mind throughout last year’s and this year’s productions,” said Holganza. “I am passing along the Stage Manager position to her and I believe she will do a great job.”

A part from student productions, Wilms has also served as the head of wardrobe crew for “The Tempest” and “School for Scandal,” two main stage productions from the theatre department.

“[The wardrobe crew] makes sure actors don’t go on stage naked,” said Wilms.

They are in charge of costume maintenance and making sure the costumes are visually appealing for the audience.

Holganza commends Wilms for finding so many opportunities at Chapman and hopes she will work on bigger projects in the future.

“There is always a demand for designers in this industry,” said Holganza. “As long as she keeps practicing, there is no doubt in my mind she will continue to work at what she loves.”

Wilms plans to attend Parsons Paris School of Art and Design after Chapman to explore European fashion, which she believes to be more expressive and less safe than American fashion.

Mauvezin has hope for her and Wilms holding careers in the theatre business.

“I would love to one day walk into an audition in New York and see her and know that if I got the show I would be costumed so well,” said Mauvezin.

Wilms is unsure exactly where fashion and costume design will take her, but her greatest aspiration is “to be remembered for the things that I’ve done for other people.”

From the sound of her colleagues, she already is.

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