- Associated Press - Sunday, September 3, 2017

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) - It’s likely not often a young Texarkana man grows up to design wedding gowns for a living.

But that’s the dream of one young Texarkana native, Brandon Norman, who tapped into his considerable artistic talents to design formal wear that’s both classic and sexy.

Lately, he’s focused on wedding gowns, but this year saw him design more than a closet full of striking prom dresses.

The Texarkana Gazette reports that Norman, just 24, always flashed artistic talent with a love for drawing animals. These days, he puts his creativity into fashioning another sort of beautiful form, having first learned the craft of design out west.

It was in San Francisco that he studied at the Academy of Art, majoring in fashion design. Formal education there didn’t work out for him, but while working several jobs at Gap, he started making custom clothing for others, building up a portfolio and experience.

Norman’s lived back at home recently - after several years in California and a couple in Dallas - to focus on evolving his own fashions, but he’s now poised to venture to Las Vegas and work in fashion with celebrity clientele.

After all, he prefers working with people where he’s at. He doesn’t like sending work.

“I’d rather work hands-on with those same people,” he says. With people like the Las Vegas clientele reaching out to him, he knows it’s time to head back out west.

Looking at his recent dresses, he can talk about what he strives to do with each one. One he made this past week in just six hours. The woman who gave him the job was thinking about a dress that was out of her price range, but she also wanted it to have a split and other details.

“A halter, high split in the middle, deep back. It has an illusion with the sweetheart neckline and it’s also a halter top,” Norman described it. “But you can’t really tell because of the applique that I put over. It’s an applique over then I also put an overlay.”

He creates fashion that’s a statement - they’re once-in-a-lifetime pieces.

“Like you wear it and it’s going to be remembered type thing,” Norman said. People tell him it’s kind of ironic that he creates this type of work, considering he sports tattoos and piercings. He may not look the type to make classy, elegant formal dresses, but that’s what he’s doing.

“They would think I make shorts and leather jackets or something like that, and I’m making wedding gowns,” Norman said with a laugh.

It’s perhaps no surprise, looking at his style, that Oscar de la Renta was an inspiration.

“He started everything for me,” the young designer recalled.

How did his dreams lead him here? From the third grade onward, he painted. He took lessons from local art teacher Nancy Martin.

“I’ve been with her forever,” he said about her lessons. In his award-winning art, he enjoyed capturing the eyes of animals, giving that perspective.

Norman started fashion illustration in junior high, and that was his in for fashion. He took sewing lessons in high school, simply sewing pillows, and began working with the sewing machine. He later applied for fashion school. He didn’t know exactly what he’d do, but he knew it would be something artsy.

While at the Academy of Art, he didn’t feel like he received the education he expected. He was only 19 but felt he needed more. So he left school and worked on his connections. He was featured in San Francisco Fashion Week one year. He sewed in his apartment, learning by trial-and-error, making simple dresses and T-shirts.

“I always kind of knew that I wanted to do wedding gowns, but I didn’t have the skills that I have now to do it,” he reflected.

Norman was part of a fashion show for the first time in 2013. A college friend asked him to join a show at the last minute. She asked him to make 23 pieces in two weeks. He got to work and did it.

“They were dresses, but more clubby risque. Less fabric,” he said.

He didn’t really know what he was doing, but it gave him exposure and he put the word out that he had a clothing line. Called Duhbuhlyoo, it’s named after his grandmother (her name is Wilola).

Connections helped him grow the business.

“As long as you know people, you’re good,” Norman said. “Everything I know is basically self-taught.” Everything he’s done has given him a lesson. He doesn’t pay too much attention to trends but says that it works out that he is trendy.

“I kind of consider this as my college,” he said. “And I’m working, making money.” He’s ambitious. In 10 years, he’d love to have a fashion house with his work overseas. Everywhere but low-key, that’s how he puts it.

“I want to be known worldwide for what I do,” Norman said.

When it comes down to the work itself, Norman sits down for a consultation meeting to go over a design. He sketches as the client talks. “We kind of work hand-in-hand in person,” he says. It’s tougher to get a sense of it all through email and social media, but Facebook does bring him lots of business.

He has two main questions to explore in any consultation.

“What they want the most and what they could do without the least,” he says. After all, people may not know what’s too much for a dress. He tries to find a balance that will make it work and make it classy.

Wedding gowns are a relatively new passion for him, and it was all prom dresses before that. His little sister’s prom dress got everyone’s attention, he said, and he estimates he created between 15 and 18 prom dresses this past spring. “They were all over,” he said.

Does he have advice for young people who want to pursue fashion design? People have told him it won’t work out for him and he’ll have to change his mind about his career. But he’s succeeding. He wakes up and does it, and he goes to sleep thinking about it. It’s a passion, and he doesn’t know what he’d be doing if not for this.

Norman’s parents have been supportive, too, seeing art his as an investment. His grandma lives next door and she’s been his main supporter. Her house has become a museum of all his art, he says.

“If this is really something you want to do, then no matter what anyone says, do it,” Norman said.


Information from: Texarkana Gazette, https://www.texarkanagazette.com

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