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Design Student Sews Up A Bag Win

In an end-of-the-year international competition in France, University of Cincinnati fashion senior Mary Wolf handily won a Paris award for her unusual handbag design.

Date: 1/6/2005 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Dottie Stover

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During the recent International Competition of Young Fashion Designers in Paris, University of Cincinnati fashion design senior Mary Wolf had no need to “knock on wood” to come home a winner.  With the handbag entry she’d crafted from a walnut-tree branch that fell at her grandparents’ home, the 22-year-old from Xenia, Ohio, was named the top U.S. winner in the accessories category of the competition.  (As the most prestigious undergraduate competition for fashion students in the world, the end-of-the-year event in Paris draws the best young designers from the United States, Europe, South America and Asia.)

“I didn’t even recognize my own name when they called it,” admits Wolf.  “Because the emcee was French, my name came out sounding like ‘ari oof.’  It took me a minute to recognize my own name, and then I ran around to the back of the runway because the winning designers walk the runway with their model.”

Wolf adds that her win came as a complete surprise.  “I went to Paris not necessarily expecting to win but very happy to have made it through the national competitions to the international level,” she explained.  “I was just happy to be part of events.  There was a reception for all the competitors at the Swedish Embassy, and the Musee de la Mode had a large handbag exhibit detailing the history of the handbag, with examples dating back centuries.  That was right up my alley.”

The day before the final competition, judges came to view garment fittings and to take pictures of the accessories.  Even then, Wolf didn’t expect to win.  She said, “I received nice comments and compliments from people on the purse, and people who knew woodwork noticed the work and the details, like how it’s made from a single, hollowed log, but I still didn’t expect to win.”

Wolf’s handbag design represents a few months of work for her.  She had to hollow out a log, cut it into halves, put it on a lathe to round out the purse and then, sand and polish the grain.  She’s planning to make a smaller version of her winning handbag for her senior collection to be exhibited at the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning's traditional end-of-the-school-year fashion show.  “I’ll make the new bag from cypress because it’s such a beautiful wood.  I also plan to make some wooden-soled shoes.  I’ll also make these from a tree that came down at my grandparents’ home.  A big storm took out some big trees on their property so I’ve got plenty of material.”

Upon coming home from Paris in late December, Wolf almost immediately got back to work – not in the classroom this time but on a cooperative education quarter.  She’s  working for Tandy Brands Accessories in Dallas, Texas.  She is, appropriately enough, working in the small leather goods department focusing on wallets and mini bags.

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