Maia Norman Talks Mother of Pearl, London Fashion and Surfing

Mother of Pearl Fall 2012

Photos courtesy of Mother of Pearl

Looks from the Mother of Pearl Fall 2012 collection.

A Chelsea gallery, with workmen installing sculptures and curators clacking away on their Macbooks, isn't the typical setting for a market preview. However, it was appropriate for designer Maia Norman, who is equally comfortable in the art and fashion worlds. Each season, Norman, the longtime partner of Damien Hirst, collaborates with a different artist on her Mother of Pearl line. For Fall 2012, painter Fred Tomaselli got the nod, so it made sense that she would bring her wares to his gallery, James Cohan.

Tanned and relaxed from a surf excursion in Fiji, and sporting laboratory-chic neon spectacles, the designer said it was "quite a shock to be back in the big bad city after not having worn shoes for a week." We chatted with Norman as she walked us through the fall collection. Among the wares on offer: intricately painted dresses, twee-meets-Gothic prints of bleeding birds, Swarovski-embellished unisex T-shirts and a line of luxe sneakers made in collaboration with Pierre Hardy.

You work with a different artist every season. How did you link up with Fred?

We go way back. I had asked Fred initially. He was one of the first artists I had ever asked to do a collaboration with, and he actually refused me. He didn't refuse me—he said, "No, Maia," and I said "Please, Fred," and he said "No." He explained that he had done something for a soap opera once, and it was disastrous. So he kept refusing, and then five seasons later, he accepted. And he seemed to be very happy with the collection. All of the artists have been really pleased, I must say.

How did you work with him to come up with the ideas for the prints?

We usually choose from existing work, just so as not to blur that creative question of what they're going to come up with. We just handpicked a few pieces and we worked them in, and then basically he kind of approves them.

Do you have someone lined up that you're working with next season yet?

We're in talks with Thomas Scheibitz, the German painter, and we have our eye on Wangechi Mutu. Fingers crossed. We haven't confirmed anything yet though.

Who do you see as your customer? A woman in the art world, who's art-savvy?

Yes, and then there are people like Lily Cole, who's a big fan of our clothing. What is great about it is, you can be 23 [or] you can be 55. The pieces can also go from high to low, from day to evening, quite easily. We're not really limited to a certain demographic of woman. Although I think they have to have a sense of humor, really. A curious mind.

Peter Pilotto told us that the London fashion scene is like a "village." Do you find that to be the case, that there is a community of designers there? What do you like about being based there?

London is, culturally, so vibrant. I do think it's a kind of nourishing place to be working from. I wouldn't say that the designers really stick together much. But it's such a fantastic melting pot of all different sorts, from music to art to fashion. Everything merges together. They don't stay in their own worlds, which I think is great. I love that.

Does Damien have any input into the line?


He's not involved.

No, he's not. He has a completely different way of working. He's working with smaller pieces. I think as a duo, it's always better to keep them separate.

How did you come up with the name Mother of Pearl?

I thought long and hard; it took me about seven months to come up with the name. Because I think a name's so important. I wanted something that was not too referential, that's still pliable. Because I'm a girl of the sea, I thought it worked really well. Mother of pearl itself is such a timeless, beautiful thing. And just the word "mother" in there, there's something strangely reassuring about that.