NEW YORK — Without question Maia Norman and Damien Hirst are a power couple, but when it comes to fashion, she stands on her own.
After a few years of selling her artistically infused Mother of Pearl sportswear internationally, the U.K.-based California native is targeting the U.S. with a line inspired by Fred Tomaselli, the first American artist she has worked with.
During a telephone interview from Fiji last week, Norman discussed her business plans and home life with Hirst and their three sons. Mother of Pearl items are for sale on Hirst’s Web site, which relaunched last week, but the pair prefer to work independently. Hirst also sells clothing under his Other Criteria label. “Damien throws in his two cents now and again. But he has such a different way of doing things that I keep that to a minimum,” Norman said.
Keith Tyson, Jim Lambie, Matt Collishaw and Carsten Holler are among the artists she has collaborated with for her collection. An intrepid traveler whose travels are often swayed by the chance to surf, Norman divides her time between London and the southwest coast of England. When not in the design studio, Norman can often be found blasting down the Thames on her powerboat or cruising along in a 25-foot Zodiac looking for a spot to fish near their Devon home. She also rides motorcycles on trails and dabbles in motocross. Wherever she may be, Norman is visually tuned in to her surroundings. A visit to the Guggenheim Bilbao introduced her to the work of Wangechi Mutu, whom she hopes will agree to a collaboration at some point.
Norman and Tomaselli, who became friends when they were teens on the punk rock scene, will be showing her fall collection today and Tuesday at the James Cohan Gallery here. Even though they have known each other for years, he turned her down a few times until eventually approving the use of his prints.
“He told me, ‘I did something like this once but it wasn’t very good,’” said Norman, who then persuaded him to let her make her own interpretations of his work. After seeing the end result, he agreed to do the honors himself the next time she asked. The collection has been so well-received that fall sales have doubled to nearly $286,000 compared to spring sales, said Norman, noting the designs are “way beyond prints on clothing. There is embroidery, embellishment and placement prints.”
Trained as a silversmith, Norman designed jewelry before deciding she wanted a larger palette in fashion. She first got into fashion at the age of 17, working as an assistant for the L.A.-based designer James Reva. “I was more like an intern and a muse. It was so exciting to have a hand in design and being part of a team when a new collection launched. The clothing business is great when things are good,” she said. “The economy is feeling a little better today than it was two years ago. We needed to get the word out about Mother of Pearl [before really pursuing the U.S. market] Buyers are so fickle.”
Rather than tap Hirst’s fame to further her business, Norman plans to hold off on teaming up with him for a Mother of Pearl collection until the label has greater recognition. That said, she already has envisioned the designs — evening pieces with solid gold brocade butterflies.
And even though Hirst’s personal wealth has been pegged at nearly $373 million — or as “a dollar billionaire” by his business manager’s summation — he and Norman are instilling a strong work ethic in their sons. “Our boys are just really normal. We don’t have any attention problems with them at all. When they have chores to do, I tell them, ‘Get the worst ones over first,’” Norman said. “It’s just a matter of pointing out how things work. We really don’t want them to end up when they are old not knowing how to work hard because (a) you wind up looking like a fool and (b) you compromise yourself.”
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