Haute-couture, a French term for “high-fashion,” refers to custom clothing sewn with an extreme attention to detail. In an industry where ready-to-wear collections dominate the runways, the art of couture design is hard to come by. Maggie Norris, a well-established American couturier based out of New York City, sat down with District and shared why couture is still a prominent aspect of the fashion industry.
Born in New Orleans, Norris attended the School of the New Orleans Museum of Art. After graduating, she moved to New York to study at Parsons School of Design and soon became the creative designer for American company, Ralph Lauren. Quickly gaining success within the company, she became senior design director. In 1998, Norris left Ralph Lauren and ventured over to Europe to work as chief designer for Mondi, a womenswear company. It wasn’t long before Norris returned back to the states and founded Maggie Norris Couture in New York City. Toting an impressive resume, and an even more impressive devotion to her craft, Norris had much to say about her career experiences.
District: What was your experience with being a SCAD fashion mentor and working with the current senior designers?
Maggie Norris: I think it was really great … to see the progression, the interest and the willing to learn. With every person you meet, in fashion or not, you always learn something. To hear their story about what they were thinking and their passion was great.
District: What would your advice be for designers interested in couture work?
Norris: I think, now more than ever, it’s about your personality and your design skills. It’s also about being able to look at women and see what would be really great for them. There’s a mix of being really creative. So not only is it about the attention to detail in each piece, but you also have to be aware of who you’re working with.
District: How long does a couture piece take to make?
Norris: It could be anywhere from one week to six months, depending on if we’re not busy. There’s steps involved with the client to see what we have, to sketching, to the muslin piece and then the final couture piece.
District: What made you branch off from Ralph Lauren, and starting your own company?
Norris: It’s about the couture. It’s the highest level of art in our history. It’s the ability to work with the best craftspeople in the world. I know what it’s like to create something and have the best people in the world make it. Couture is a big definition. It’s like having Pablo Picasso make a painting for you.
District: What has been your favorite place to travel?
Norris: Definitely Paris. And London. Everywhere is a new experience. You come to Savannah and take a walk and you’ll see the most beautiful garden. For me, it doesn’t have to be a very distant place or a very hard to get to place, it’s really about what your eyes see and that you’re looking all the time for ideas.
District: What do you draw inspiration from?
Norris: Movies … definitely paintings, and architecture. There are so many amazing paintings. Photography, too. The important thing for students to understand is that everything does come back. It’s important to learn many of the iconic images.
District: What advice can you give for aspiring designers wanting to get into the industry?
Norris: It’s about finding a style. When I first came to New York, I went to Parsons for a semester, and there I spent six months preparing a portfolio for Ralph Lauren. I hired an illustrator and literally did a photoshoot, but in illustration. I love his work. If you focus on what you love, you have a better chance at getting a job. You have to create your own style and show how much you’re willing to work. You have to love it.Contact Katie Schliep .