News & Runway

Norma Kamali One on One: a tFS Exclusive

Norma kamaliNK sleeping bag coat

Norma Kamali in her Wellness Cafe; a Fall 2011 jacket (right)

My first job in the fashion industry was a decade ago when I interned as a High School student at Norma Kamali, so you can imagine my delight when I was invited to meet the designer for an interview.

Not only are Kamali’s designs timeless – as evidenced by the fact that some of her current bestsellers were actually designed in the 70s – but they’re incredibly innovative (think clothing made out of parachute fabric and her signature sleeping bag coat), and she’s long been at the forefront when it comes to incorporating social media into her business. One of the first to offer e-commerce on her website, Kamali also teamed-up with Walmart for an affordable range of limited edition designs well before it was de rigueur for designers to do so. What I find most inspiring about the designer, however, is that she wants to make women feel great from the inside out, making it fitting that we met in her Wellness Café.

Eight-foot high paper cutouts of models in the Fall 2011 Norma Kamali collection.

Located on the ground floor of Kamali’s sprawling Manhattan boutique, the Norma Kamali Wellness Café stocks everything from Organic Avenue juices and soups to Hurraw! Balms and healthy-minded books like Clean Plates. Interestingly enough, the wellness component of Kamali’s business all began with her olive oils, which were in the works back when I began my internship with the designer. Now, not only has Kamali transformed what was once her swimwear section into an invitingly serene café, but she’s expanded her offerings and hosts a slew of events in her multi-level store.

Where did this interest stem from? “My job is to make women feel good about themselves and help build their self esteem,” remarked the designer who continued by explaining that via fashion, fitness, health, and nutrition, she feels like she can empower women and help create an emotional shift. “After you take off all the outer layers – clothes, makeup – you’re left with yourself,” and the designer strongly feels that by giving women more mindful and healthful options, she can help them feel better about themselves just as they are and in turn, feel better when they approach fashion.

That said, the Wellness Café is not about radical choices. “It’s not about going religious,” Kamali explains, “it’s about little steps like choosing coconut water instead of a soda.” To help people in that regard and to combine her passions for wellness and fashion, the designer has hosted a slew of incredibly successful open-to-the-public events including a karaoke party that drew 400 people to her store. During the event which was promoted via Facebook and other social media platforms, guests were invited to sing their hearts out (and soothe their souls in the process!) on the mirrored stage, while noshing on the designer’s ever-popular olive oil popcorn and organic beer. A slew of $98 Kamali buys were set up for guilt-free shopping. Further, just this week the designer hosted a dance party where for $35 to $135, shoppers could get their hands on specially designed pieces, enter contests, and work out Beyonce-style while having fun. 

Kamali swim

The swimsuit mis-credited to Halston; a Fall 2011 piece that sadly will only be available for editorial use.

The fact that Kamali has come out with special designs for her event is especially noteworthy because, while there are always new designs offered from season to season in her collection, a great number of the pieces remain constant with only slight updates in color and material. One of those constants are her parachute dresses and separates, and when I asked how working with parachutes came about, she explained that back in the 70s, Halson was located near her boutique and his staff would always hang out in her store. One day, she saw one of her swimsuits on the cover of Time magazine  – only the designer credited was Halston. The man responsible for the mistaken credit was Halston’s then designer Victor Hugo who apologized to Kamali by inviting her over and dropping a parachute on her. He told her that with the material she could create amazing things, and the rest is history. Ironically, the swimsuit credited to Halston has become, in the last few years, one of her most requested styles. 

What's next for Norma Kamali? Though her three year partnership with Walmart has run its course, Kamali told me to stay tuned because there is more to come in the area of a lower priced line.