Just off McCarren Park in Brooklyn are the offices of Outlier and Willie Norris, its design director of seven years. Since establishing her Ideas series four season ago, Norris has expanded Outlier’s lexicon to subtly encompass her own intrinsically queer verbiage. Ideas 4: “New Math” sees her blur this line further.
A starting point for her this season was Bernard Rudofsky’s 1947 essay “Are Clothes Modern?” and a twist on the title of his 1964 book “Architecture Without Architects.” “I’ve been trying to think about what fashion design is without fashion designers, or without the rules made up for us by us,” Norris says. This season, rather than projecting ideas for a collection into the future, she took it day by day, operating as a designer without the often self-imposed mania that comes with the job. But the exercise, healthy as it sounds, doesn’t enlighten us on the tangible tools she built her collection on. The answer is more straightforward, but just as sensible. Norris is a scrapbooker: she tends to write down words as they come to her rather than draw or sketch. By mixing loose concepts like “long blazer” and “skin” with cultural references like a tear out that reads “cheap chic homo,” she found her foundation. A concept she repeats that immediately takes prominence is “quotidian glamour.”
Where all of this comes into play is in a lineup for spring that reimagines wardrobe staples with the technical Outlier treatment and the subversive Norris touch. In the tailoring space, the season’s hero is an ankle length blazer cut in injected linen, an Outlier signature. Offered in solid and a trompe l’oeil that evokes a jacket-over-dress louche silhouette, it is unlined and surprisingly light. More out-there are a hoodie dress (the skirt is composed of double rib knit, with a traditional sweatshirt waistband elongated to the floor); a bodycon dress in Outlier “overkill” mesh; and extra long T-shirts. The tees have a strip of magnets on each side seam, which allows you to open or drape them as you wish (Norris transformed one from extra long tee to goddess gown by way of demonstration). They were also applied on other pieces as straightforward closures. What Norris has found here in terms of accessibility is quite remarkable; that it looks cool as a design signature is merely a positive side-effect. This balance between playfulness and purpose is where Norris thrives, and it’s a space she should continue to explore.
Outlier is known for exact, technical menswear. Its cult status derives from the time its fans spend on Reddit or Discord assessing its fabrics, cut, and fit. But how do you visually refresh a world built on a quiet exterior that is all about subtle details? “Novelty in a smart, technical way,” is the answer conjured by Norris, who says she used to grapple with the concept of function in the past, “but now I see it differently, that function can just be visual.” This is Norris’s way of pushing the Outlier universe past what it usually encompasses in terms of clothing, of finding glamour in its everydayness. “I’ve realized what my job is,” Norris says eagerly, “to make people who like fashion want to get on a plane in their head, to want to travel.” For this same reason, she collaborated with the artist Zak Krevitt to transform her lookbook—shot in runway format with each model becoming a guest after their runway strut—into an extraterrestrial fashion show, which you can discover on the brand’s Instagram. “My dream fashion show is on a fucking different planet,” she says, “and these are my characters.”