The volatile economy forced Mary Norton to shutter her namesake brand last week, but the designer is eyeing a future in the footwear industry.
“I’m still reeling a bit from the last few months,” Norton told Footwear News in the days after Mary Norton Inc. filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. “[But] I’m waiting with great optimism to see what adventure God has in store for me out of this heartbreaking event.”
Court filings show Mary Norton Inc. has debts exceeding $5.3 million and assets of about $131,000. Atelier Fund, the firm’s chief investor with 80 percent stake in the company, holds a promissory note for $5.1 million. The designer held the remaining 20 percent stake.
The bankruptcy, filed July 17, comes in the midst of a recession that has crippled the luxury goods market and forced Norton to liquidate her business through surprise clearance sales earlier this month at her Charleston, S.C., and Los Angeles boutiques, as well as online. The Italian-made collection of embellished handbags retailed for between $395 and $1,995.
“The economic climate is dire, and young designers are especially hard hit,” said Marty Wilkstrom of Atelier, which is backed by Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, the Swiss luxury goods conglomerate that owns Cartier, Chloé and Montblanc, among other major brands. “The [Mary Norton] brand is in a high-end category, and there is a buying hiatus for those consumers right now.”
Norton, the brand’s charismatic president and sole designer, initially launched her handbag business under the Moo Roo name in 1998 from her dining room table in Charleston. She quickly found a following among A-listers, from Halle Berry to Catherine Zeta Jones, and signed a host of high-end accounts that included Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrods in London. In 2006, the designer changed the brand name to Mary Norton after partnering with Atelier. Two stores, a New York showroom and a shoe collection, which was honored as FN’s “Launch of the Year” in 2007, quickly followed.
“She’s an amazing person, and there is no one who has more energy and passion for what she does,” said Todd Hanshaw, DMM of fashion at Wynn Las Vegas, which carried Norton’s shoes and bags at its Shoe In shop. “We’ll absolutely miss the individuality she put into her product.”
Though Norton would not discuss the details surrounding the closing of her brand or her long-term business prospects (court documents show she has retained the rights to the Moo Roo name), she said she hopes to find a new role in the footwear industry.