NORMA COHEN – THE QUEEN OF DESIGN
She’s as “New York” as it gets. With nearly three decades of event planning experience, Norma Cohen has become a household name in the world of luxury wedding planning and event design. As a fully self-taught and self-made businesswoman from Brooklyn, she has developed the uncanny ability to reimagine the same event spaces time and time again. No two weddings are ever alike, simply because no two brides are alike; and she has a knack for connecting with her clients in a way that always brings their personal style to the forefront. With her impeccable eye for design, laser focus, and deceivingly tough exterior that houses an ultra-sensitive spirit, Norma embodies everything a couple could want in an NYC wedding planner.
It All Started in Brooklyn
Norma’s passion for planning began before she was even a teenager. As a young girl, she was doing charity work and volunteering on the committee of the Sephardic Community Center in Brooklyn. While serving others, Norma also stepped into her own little world that gave her a sense of fulfillment she wasn’t getting from other areas of her life.
“I was around 12,” she shares, “and I wasn’t that girl who wanted to be with her friends all the time. I was very sensitive, and girls are not that nice at 12. It was an escape for me. I started going there after school and planning events, organizing fashion shows and plays, and started building my skills.”
By the age of 16, Norma opened her first business – Party Expressions – and was planning all types of events, from birthday parties to corporate. She had also moved up to become a member of the board at the community center. A few years later, a friend gave her the opportunity to plan her first engagement party and wedding.
Wedding Planning with Norma Cohen Productions
In the early days of Norma’s wedding planning business, she worked almost exclusively with the bride’s parents. Since then, she has collaborated with almost every type of client imaginable, lending her expertise to countless design visions.
“There’s three types of clients,” she states. “There’s one that tells you to do whatever you want; there’s another that gives a small seed of their vision; and then there’s a particular micromanager. I always stress that they have to give me something so the wedding can be about them.”
One of Norma’s favorite success stories in terms of accurately matching her client’s vision happened about 15 years ago. A woman told her she didn’t care about any of the design details – she just wanted to show up to a party that was “dark and sexy,” and gave her carte blanche to fill in the rest. After Norma put together a design scheme and the event was underway, the client walked in wearing a gray organza gown that was an identical match to the luxury chair covers Norma chose. Of course, Norma offered to swap out the chair covers; but the client was more than happy with the final result and how the décor was the perfect reflection of her style.
Today, couples who have the privilidge of working with Norma Cohen Productions can look forward to a turnkey experience.
“I do everything,” Norma says. “You’re getting a full service.”
The first step is getting the budget and location approved, followed by invitations. While designing their invitation suite, Norma takes note of what type of calligraphy, paper, ink colors, embellishments, and any other small details her couples choose. This gives her some insight to their design preferences before moving on to create a floor plan. From there, it’s all about whittling down and refining the details.
The Design Process and Inspiration
What’s most remarkable about Norma being a top wedding designer is that she never had any formal training. In fact, she shares that “design wasn’t an original skill” of hers. She was entirely self-taught through personal experience over the years.
Although she is adamant about each wedding being a representation of her couple’s tastes and not hers, Norma’s innate sense of style and fashion undoubtedly gives her an advantage. Even when she attended the wedding of her friends Colin Cowie and Danny Peuscovich in South Africa, Colin raved about how Norma was the reigning fashion queen during their “Glamoflauge Safari Party.”
“I always love to dress up and be over-the-top,” Norma states. “I started looking at jewelry pieces and seeing them as design applications. Now with social media, you can’t do anything twice.”
Like most artists, Norma can draw inspiration and fresh ideas from anywhere. Fashion is always readily accessible, but the thrill of seeing all the components of a wedding come together can be its own type of inspiration as well.
“My favorite part of the design process is connecting the dots from the day they give me their vision, and where it goes back to them,” she says. “We had a humungous wedding at a New Jersey house, and the client wanted a large structure that was in the middle of the garden. One thing led to the next, which led to this first-of-its-kind tent that looked like it was always there. I love the opportunity to always be better. I approach every party like it’s my last party, so it has to be amazing.”
Although Norma has planned and designed weddings around the world, she honed her talents by creating multiple events in the same spaces.
“Most of my career was in the same two rooms and I had to renovate every time,” she explains. “The brides are different, so they’re feeding me different elements. Every party looks like my couple – it doesn’t look like me.”
To create a beautiful wedding in a new and exciting destination is one thing. To consistently produce fully bespoke events in the same venue is the sign of a true expert.
Words of Wisdom
Looking back at how she and her business have evolved over the decades, one of Norma’s greatest takeaways is that people need to be given a chance to show what they can do.
While she was mastering her planning and design skills in Brooklyn, Norma’s “big break” came when her friend Preston Bailey called and invited her to be a guest at a summit in Puglia. Norma didn’t know anyone initially. By the time she left, she knew everybody at the summit and came away with a priceless new network.
“I always say people need the opportunity,” she says. “I got the opportunity, and I’m very thankful. I didn’t know the industry and the industry didn’t know me. I grew in my own bubble. I’m very grateful for where I am and I don’t take anything for granted.”
Now, after solidifying her spot as a leading luxury wedding planner and designer in NYC, Norma has a wealth of advice for newer planners hoping to tap into the luxury end of the wedding industry.
“Don’t get discouraged,” she says. “Obstacles make you better. Do it because you love it, and make sure you stay on top of it because this is somebody’s wedding. Never change your price and never negotiate, because one day it’ll hit you in the back. Always stay straight and focused. I never take kickbacks from anybody, so I can always choose vendors based on how they perform. Honesty is very important. Keep your team happy – I used to be a screamer, and now I’m not. You want everyone around you to love working with you. And always stay loyal.”
Norma’s life and career are like night and day compared to where she started. From being a teenager in Brooklyn volunteering at a community center after school, to jet setting around the world in designer gowns and designing luxury events, she’s the epitome of the New York City dream. Yet even with all her career accolades and credits, some of her most meaningful achievements have been the multiple awards for community service that she has received over the years. Simply maintaining that connection to her roots speaks volumes about her character and the type of energy she brings to her clients and their celebrations.
“You never forget where you came from,” Norma says. “This is number one.”
>Written By: Lauren Malamala