Norma Kamali

Text by Michael Cohen


Norma Kamali has been innovating American fashion for more than four decades, and she continues to thrive by challenging the status quo. Her first boutique opened in 1968, importing leading European fashions and merchandising them alongside vintage finds. By the early 1970s, she debuted her own Norma Kamali label, relaunched as (On My Own) Norma Kamali in 1978. Unbound by traditional expectations, her innumerable achievements include inventing the sleeping bag coat, the parachute apparel line, Farrah Fawcett’s infamous Charlie’s Angels bathing suit, high-heeled sneakers, and multiple Coty and CFDA awards. Kamali was also among the first to merge technology with her business practices, pioneering the use of e-commerce, QR Codes, iPhone and iPad apps, and presenting a 3-D fashion show. Embracing a broader sense of health and beauty, the Norma Kamali boutique on 56th St. in Manhattan features an NK Wellness Café for beauty products, olive oils, and organic foods. Her most recent collection of slow fashion, Kamali Kulture, offers classic styles, all under $100.

What do you mean that fashion is superficial? I always felt fashion was not a requirement and as my career, I felt unsure about its value. I have learned through the years that fashion has an impact and can literally change the way you feel and perform. Clothing that enhances our self image is empowering.

How has your design aesthetic evolved over your career? It changes all the time. I think constantly about what is relevant in this time and space and I try to balance design as innovation and art that can be worn to affordable timeless designs, all under 100 dollars.

Which past and present designers most inspire you? The designers for Hollywood movies of the ’30s and ’40s.

How does New York shape your design perspective? It’s the microcosm of the world, perfect for inspiration from all walks of life.

What would your employees say about you as a boss? They come away with an experience that is never boring, always challenging  their skills, and they hate Mondays because I come in with 20 more new ideas.

As a CFDA board member, which initiatives do you see as priority for American design? To tell the story of our unique ability to translate fashion into real style opportunities.

What is your advice for aspiring designers? There are so many choices… Why your designs? Then, define what makes you unique and not like anyone else. If you can answer that honestly, stick to it!

As a noted dog enthusiast, how do choose a good dog name? I love dachshunds. They have very dynamic personalities and their behavior tells you what name they should be. I love ‘Z’ names, and Zeke, Zaylie, and Ziggy are three of my favorite [dachshund] names.

Write your own question (and answer it). What would you like to do to change the world? Help women become empowered more often in a day and start to reduce and eliminate objectification.

If Norma Kamali from 1969 could see you today, what would she think?
Not surprised.

What is the difference between fashion and style? You can’t buy style.