Meet The D.C. Fashion Powerhouse You've Never Heard Of — Til Now!

If you thought you knew all the fashion industry's power players, think again — we can guarantee you missed one. Meet Norine Fuller, an exec with L.A.'s renowned Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, who regularly marches up the Hill to make Congress pay more attention to fashion. (And no, she’s not confiscating seersucker suits and dragging House members to Bottega Veneta — though some could use it.)
As the Executive Director of Student Financial Services for FIDM, she’s influencing the fashion business in a major way: Thanks to her work, brilliant, budding designers have the resources they need to become successful, full-time creatives. So, what does she do, exactly? Based here in Washington, Norine represents our right-brained friends who've chosen creative career paths, and ensures their equal access to federal education funding. Twice appointed to advisory committees by the Speaker of the House, she’s stirring the policy pot and helping to improve funding programs and simplify access to design training. Recently, we sat down with her to talk FIDM, new designers, her take on D.C. style, and more.
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norine-3slideTell us a little bit more about FIDM.
“It’s a private college with four locations in California. There’s about 7,000 students working towards associate's or bachelor’s degrees in the fashion design and entertainment industries. It’s a top 50 associate degree-producer in the country.”
FIDM has some famous graduates like Monique Lhuillier and Karen Kane. Who are some of your favorites?
Nick Verreos, from Project Runway, is a grad — he makes fabulous evening wear that I love. Kevan Hall does amazing red-carpet outfits — he was actually just in D.C. for a bridal trunk show. I’ve discovered great designers at the FIDM gallery, a student showcase at the college. My necklace was made by Thai jewelry designer Joe Polthakorn, a FIDM graduate who has a beautiful line called Vilaiwan.”
Why did you decide it was important to get L.A.-based FIDM on the radar in D.C.?
“I was working in marketing for FIDM, and volunteered to help the organization grow the financial aid program. I learned that so many students don’t know what loans and grants are out there to help them pay for their education — and lots of them don’t have access to it. When I moved to D.C., my passion was, and still is, to help creative students access the same taxpayer education dollars available to other students pursuing traditional degrees.”
Describe D.C. style.
“D.C. is fabulous because the demographics are so diverse. There is so much going on in such a contained space. It’s a city driven by issues and policy, yet it’s open to students clad in Juicy Couture (co-founder Pamela Skaist-Levy is a FIDM grad), business-attired attorneys, trendy entrepreneurs, uniformed everything, embassy officials in traditional garments, and anything else — even tourists!”
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What style elements would you like to see D.C. women embrace?
“Much of the subject matter here is serious, so it’s sometimes hard to put a little whimsy or imagination into your style. I’d like to see D.C. women bring a little ‘after 5’ into the daylight — pick up a fancy tanktop or something made with ornate evening fabrics like lace [or] sequins, and pair it with something more conservative. A gold lamé blouse under a black suit really bumps it up!”
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Jewelry designed by FIDM students from Norine's personal collection.
What’s changed about D.C. in the 20 years since you moved here?
“A lot of great neighborhoods are picking up here, like U and 14th streets. Now, I see more young people come here purposefully. There’s a sense of entrepreneurship here that I haven’t seen in a long time. They aren’t coming here for the government necessarily, but because it’s a cool place.”
What are your closet staples?
“Metallic silver and gold separates! They are key for me to make a warm look for winter. Gold really warms up dark winter colors, and I love a metallic silver top with white jeans for summer.”
What do you miss about L.A.?
“The great weather means you only need one wardrobe — I miss that! I have to have D.C. and L.A. wardrobes! I also really miss the unique beach communities — Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo.”
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Has moving to D.C. changed your style?
“I like to say that I have my California clothes and my D.C. clothes, my California conversations and my D.C. conversations! Here in D.C., it’s a badge of honor to know what’s going on. Knowledge is really important, and it’s part of the scene. It’s more serious. Every morning, I look at my day’s appointments — if it involves a Hill visit, I am very conservative. I don’t want my message to get lost in my clothes! In California, it’s much more casual day-to-day. People here notice when I’ve taken a long trip home because my style is more relaxed. And if you want to talk politics in California, there is enough going on in the state to never move off that subject!”
What trend are you loving right now?
“Patterned and textured hosiery — there is nothing like lace stockings! You can wear them with something really simple and it’s a subtle way to show some personality.”
Ever had a fashion disaster?
“There’s still plenty of time for that! But luckily, not yet!”
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