they seem cool

The Fashion Designer Who Understands the Power of Words

Meet Willie Norris.

Photo: Lia Clay Miller
Photo: Lia Clay Miller

Willie Norris is a Brooklyn-based fashion designer with a thing for words. Norris, who is the Willie in WILLIENORRISWORKSHOP, has created T-shirts with text like “Promote Homosexuality” and “the Words Are Right in Front of You,” and his team distributed “Black Trans Lives Matter” shirts for free during the Brooklyn Liberation march at Brooklyn Museum in June. “I’m a queer person interested in decentering static and stable conceptions of business structures, particularly how queer principles can exist at the core of a business operating within the apparel industry,” he says. In addition to being the design director for Outlier, a Brooklyn-based menswear brand, Norris has collaborated with Helmut Lang to design graphic tees and jeans for the brand’s HelmutLanguage collection. The Cut spoke with him about flossing, the joy of wearing more color, and the advice he’ll always remember from his third-grade teacher.

What does cool mean to you? 
Right place, right time, right people, right vibe.

What three fictional characters do you relate to most?
Bugs Bunny, Jean des Esseintes from Joris-Karl Huysmans’s Against Nature, and Dr. Addison Montgomery from Grey’s Anatomy.

What kind of animal would you be and why?
Giant squid, because they are massive and elusive.

What superpower would you have and why?
I would really love the superpower of my clothes never getting dirty or smelly. Doing laundry has never brought me a single ounce of joy in my life, and I spill stuff on myself all the time.

If you could master any skill (that isn’t related to your current job), what would it be and why?
The ability to dance like Yanis Marshall in heels, so I could dance like Yanis Marshall in heels.

What does your Saturday night look like during the pandemic? 
Some combination of a roast chicken, Biologique Recherche Masque Vivant for 20 minutes, and a YouTube K-hole about MLMs or beauty-world drama.

Has how you dressed changed during quarantine? If so, what are you wearing now? 
I’m wearing a lot more color. I’m thinking less about personal dressing as a conceptual pursuit and more of a joyful, instinctive one. I am, on my grave, wearing what I was photographed in, dyed Dickies by @Eddie.3dm and a shirt by @__joolz. I love nothing more than wearing clothes that my friends have had their hands on.

Are there any causes or organizations you are supporting right now?
I love Activation Residency and everything they do. It’s is a Black trans–led artist residency and cooperative fund, and they’ve recently started fundraising for their Farming Futurity initiative. @Forthegworls does amazing work raising money to assist with Black trans folks with rent and affirmative surgery. Also, we are all forever indebted to Tourmaline’s endless contributions to our lives, our trans and queer culture, our magic, our ability to dream, and I would love nothing more to see her in a pink Benz for her birthday.

What Black-owned local (or not) businesses are you supporting? 
Locally, I love getting to-go cocktails from Dick and Jane, coffee from Sincerely Tommy, and takeout from Cafe Rue Dix. I’m never without the hair vitamins from Briogeo or the Break-Out stick from Rosen Skincare.

What goals are you working toward at the moment?
Personally, I am really trying to examine (and cut back significantly) my alcohol consumption.

What do you do for self-care?
Floss twice a day.

What piece of advice has had the biggest impact on you and why?
My third-grade teacher always used to say, “Do it now.” I have a tendency to procrastinate and think that somehow things will be better if I do them “later,” and I find myself being my most honest when I remember Ms. Foye saying, “Do it now.”

What is one item that has made your life better?
My Kindle.

Photo: Lia Clay Miller
A Fashion Designer With a Thing for Words