The Women’s Journal Coverage – Teen Designer: From Barbies to Beauty Queens

The Woman’s Journal (Oregon), May 1999

Teen Designer: From Barbies to Beauty Queens
By Peggy Padgett

A woman who finds her true vocation- whether by luck, application, or process of elimination- is lucky. A woman who finds her true vocation at an early age, like Marie Routhier, is perhaps even luckier.

Routhier, owner of Marie Routhier Designs in St.John’s, Newfoundland (Canada), remembers making extravagent ball gowns for her Barie dolls when she was a small child in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This is perhaps not so remarkable- many an amateur seamstress has gotten her start making outfits for Mattel’s dream queen. But Routhier has never stopped.

When she took up figure skating as a schoolgirl, she began to design skating outfits, both because she wanted better-looking outfits than her family could afford, and because she could design outfits that were more comfortable and flattering than ones she could buy. Her success did not go unnoticed. Routhier says that by the time she was 11, “People around the rink really liked what they saw and started ordering. Between the ages of 12 and 15, I was taking orders from all over Manitoba.” As well as elsewhere in Canada and the U.S.

When Routhier quit skating at 15, she quit making skating outfits as well. But some of the women who had bought her skating outfits were graduating from high school, and Routhier began designing their prom gowns. Again, the excellence of her designs caught others’ notice.

“Design was something I’d always done,” she says. “Everyone I sewed for would be impressed with what I’d do, and would subsequently tell me so. It was just the natural choice for a career.”

It’s a career that shows every sign of success. Since Routhier moved to St. John’s last year, a local bridal salon has picked up her design line, and other salons are expected ot follow suit. One of her bridal gowns was recently featured on the cover of the Newfoundland Herald’s spring bridal supplement. This would be an achievment for any designer, it’s especially impressive for a woman who will turn 20 at the end of May.

Routhier credits part of her success to Isabelle Fry, owner of a modelling agency in St. John’s. Fry has mentored Routhier, and introduced her to the Canadian beauty pageant industry. Routhier’s designs have found enthusiastic acceptance there as well. This year, she will be the official eveningwear designerfor the Miss Teen Newfoundland and Labrador pageant. For the teen pageant, Routhier is custom-making gowns for the 32 contestants (using the same style but a different colour for each), as well as others in the pageant.

“It’s an exciting industry,” she says, adding, “I’m hoping that the pageants will lead up to doing gowns for awards shows [such as the Oscars], because that is partially the reason I started.”

Looking at Routhier’s designs (which you can do by visiting her website at, it’s easy to see why people are so enthusiastic about her work. Routhier says she’s been told that her gowns make the wearer “feel like a princess”, and that is certainly what these beautiful, extravagent designs suggest. Even better, Routhier’s designs work for those of us who don’t have perfect size-6 bodies. She understands how to create designs that flatter a wide range of shapes and sizes.

Routhier’s success, like all successes, has had its price. To acheive so much at such a young age, Routhier admits that she “never really got to be a teenager.” But given Routhier’s family background (which includes an abusive step father and an unsupportive mother), it’s possible that her teen years would have been problematic in any case. It’s to Routhier’s great credit that she has managed to use her gift and her ingenuity to transcend the barriers that lay between her and her dreams.

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