CONTACT: Kelley Coffeen, 575-646-1183, kcoffeen
Savannah Willingham has long dreamed of designing wardrobes destined for the silver screen or Broadway, so the Albuquerque native enrolled at New Mexico State University to major in clothing, textiles and fashion merchandising, a program offered by the NMSU College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ Family and Consumer Sciences department.
Willingham, a sophomore, didn’t think she would get a rare opportunity so early in her education at NMSU. Thanks to her professor, Kelley Coffeen, Willingham was able to shadow and assist the costume designer for the film, “Walking With Herb,” a local production starring George Lopez and Edward James Olmos and directed by Ross Marks. Marks is also a professor at NMSU’s Creative Media Institute. The film recently wrapped principal photography.
“It was pretty incredible,” Willingham said about working with the film’s costume designer Greg LaVoi, who has also worked as the costume designer for the TV series, “Major Crimes.” “Greg is very talented and was dedicated to helping me learn.”
Willingham decided on NMSU because it is the only public university in the state to offer a fashion program. Willingham said she took fashion courses in high school because she has always wanted to study art, and fashion provides several career opportunities. With her work on “Walking With Herb,” Willingham was able to expand her education while making important connections that may help advance her career.
LaVoi “taught me about everything in the industry. I did a little bit of everything, like organizing and prepping the clothes, setting them in the actors’ trailers, making sure the costumes looked alright,” Willingham said. “He also has a lot of connections in the industry, so this has helped me get my foot in the door.”
Willingham also had the opportunity to work as the film’s set costumer for the last day of filming, since many of the production crew left earlier due to a delayed production schedule caused by the weather. She started working on set Sept. 17, sometimes working 30 hours a week while juggling her classes, most of which were online. She managed to keep up with her schoolwork on weekends and whenever she wasn’t on set.
“I got to meet the actors and interact with them. It was a pretty small set,” Willingham said. The film, based on a novel by Las Cruces resident Joe Bullock, tells the story of a banker who meets God and embarks on a spiritual journey that leads him to play in a golf tournament. Mark Medoff, an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, filmmaker, and longtime faculty member at NMSU, wrote the movie adaptation.
Because of her work on the film and her new friendship with LaVoi, Willingham is planning to spend the summer in Los Angeles working on other productions while earning credits to continue her education.
“I enjoy collaborating with other departments across campus and to getting students connected to the fashion industry in various ways,” said Coffeen, assistant professor in the Clothing, Textiles & Fashion Merchandising program. “When I reached out to Ross Marks about getting our students involved in the clothing design part of his upcoming film he connected us with Greg LaVoi. Savannah was able to fully support their efforts while earning internship credits for our program. It was a win/win situation.”
“Dr. Coffeen’s effort to connect Savannah with this unique opportunity is one great example of how the faculty in the Family and Consumer Sciences department go out of their way to support students in achieving their career goals,” said Priscilla Bloomquist, interim head of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences and Extension Family and Consumer Sciences.