Haute couture: the very phrase conjures up images of rich fabrics, intricate embroidery, fine beadwork and painstaking workmanship (mostly of the old couture houses in Paris). A visit to Maggie Norris Couture, whose client list includes Mischa Barton, Diane Keaton and Nicole Kidman to name a few, proves that there is one designer who is still bringing the skills of the couturier to life in New York. A wedding gown from Maggie Norris is like stepping back to a bygone era that is nearly nonexistent, especially nowadays when just about everything is readymade, off the rack or sized for its wearer.

Norris is passionate about anything that is beautiful and finely crafted, studying and appreciating art in all its forms. She draws inspiration from flea markets, old movies, photographs, vintage clothing, books, fabric—anything and everything. Her studio is a haven from the hustle and bustle associated with the garment district in the City, from silk-printed de Gournay wallpaper to tasteful antique furnishings. Even the windows are draped in a bounty of ivory silk taffeta, stunning enough to make use of for someone’s gown. There are hatboxes, sketches, photographs of clients (in their couture), fabric-draped mannequins, racks of custom creations intermingling with vintage pieces, and veils and hair accessories all appropriately cluttering her small boudoir-like studio adding to the creative energy of the space. It’s a feast for the eyes and all part of the process when working with Norris.

In the initial consultation, Norris brings out sketches, color swatches, finished garments, snippets of beading, pieces of fabric and more, to help the client visualize what the finished garment will look like. In addition to designing the gown, she also helps her clients create their entire ensemble, working with other rare artisans like herself. If a bride is looking for a coordinating hand-made veil she calls upon Lynn Kiracofe to design one; if she desires a matching confection of a hat she requests the services of milliner Albertus; for a matching pair of gloves she has Shaneen Huxham stitch up a pair.

Once the design is decided upon, Norris’ expert patternmaker takes precise measurements and makes all necessary notations. The client then comes back for a toile fitting (the garment made in muslin fabric so that the client can be fitted further before the gown is cut), which affords the opportunity to make the fit more accurate, as well as give an idea of what the gown will look like before proceeding any further—any adjustments are made at this time. Next are the basted fittings. These are done on the actual garment in stages before the final stitch is set. At the final fitting, the client tries on the finished piece and any last details are addressed. This entire process can take between two and six months depending on the complexity of the piece. When the bride arrives for her last appointment, her gown is presented to her in a special garment bag tied with ribbon alongside a sketch of herself in the custom creation, illustrated by Anna Kiper.

What makes this experience incredibly unique and special is the unseen work done by Norris’ skilled hands and a feeling of being pampered throughout the making of a one-of-a-kind gown. When asked why she chose to work in this area of fashion Norris said: “I want to create the ultimate, the most beautiful, the best, for my clients.”  

> Written by Mindy Woon

Location and Couture: Maggie Norris Couture, New York, NY; Hair: Seiji Yamader for JaPerm, New York, NY; Makeup: Viktorija Bowers for NARS, New York, NY; Millinery: Albertus Swanepoel; Photography: Mike Colón Photographers, Newport Beach, CA