Iconic designer Norma Kamali talks brand storytelling, the current wellness craze and how to snag a really good mentor
Everyone’s talking lately about fashion retail. It’s hard to ignore when you’re reading headlines about store closings, empty malls and the “retail apocalypse.” We thought it was the perfect time to quiz the queen of fashion, Norma Kamali, since she’s been in the business for over 50 years. Kamali needs no introduction. She has won numerous CFDA awards, was an early pioneer of the current athleisure and wellness trend, and is still releasing of-the-moment essentials for strong, modern women of all ages. Basically, she’s been there, done that and remains a major player in the world of fashion, wellness and female empowerment. Read on to hear her wisdom about staying relevant in an ever-changing landscape and more. But prepare to feel guilty: at 72, we guarantee she hits the gym way more than you do.
We can all clearly see that fashion is moving away from traditional season-based collections towards more of a wear-now mentality. What is your thought process in creating collections in 2017?
Norma Kamali: Information moves quickly through our mobile devices and fashion does as well. It makes sense to show what you are selling since you see it and you want to buy it right now. The department stores still control the flow of merchandise off-season for a lot of brands. This surely will change since department stores need to change to meet the needs of the customer.
You practice wellness in all aspects of your life, and have been doing so long before it became a huge trend. What does it feel like to see your preferred lifestyle becoming part of the mainstream?
NK: It is a dream come true. It’s not fun having mostly everyone think you are weird. Now there is open discussion about health and wellness with lots of options to choose from. In addition, healthy competition challenges everyone to feel their best—and everyone benefits.
“Everything I have done throughout my career has been to provide women with information about fitness, health, beauty and style—so they can have the tools to reach their potential.”
Encouraging women’s self confidence is a driving force in your life’s mission, specifically with your #stopobjectification campaign. Can you share an example of how you’ve directly seen your influence when it comes to women’s empowerment? We’d love to hear!
NK: When a woman feels good about herself she is invincible. The power behind a woman who is fit, strong, and looks good is immeasurable. Everything I have done throughout my career has been to provide women with information about fitness, health, beauty and style—so they can have the tools to reach their potential. Another part of our lives as women that is impactful on behavior is undoing the negative effects of objectification. The first step is awareness.
You’ve launched so many amazing products over the years: the athleisure trend, iconic swimwear, the sleeping bag coat, bodysuits. How important was storytelling when you launched these products? Do you recall having a narrative for each one?
NK: Storytelling personalizes the experience for the customer. The authenticity of a brand works wonderfully with storytelling; for example, my Sleeping Bag Coat was first made from my actual sleeping bag. In terms of marketing, you have to know your audience. This is a huge challenge for me because of the number of years I have been in business—my brand means different things to different people. Millennials may not have any reference to what I have done in the past, only to who is wearing my clothes now. As an authentic brand we have to share our stories to connect with who I am, what I do and why. Fitness, health, beauty and style mean different things to women at different times of their lives. I can help provide perspective and tips or recommendations. Also, images should relay the aesthetic of the brand by telling stories through photos and video.
“As an authentic brand we have to share our stories to connect with who I am, what I do and why.”
What’s the best way someone can mentor another? Did you have a mentor when you started out in the business? What did you learn from him/her?
NK: Mentors are everywhere! They don’t find you—you find them. I remember looking at folks in the fashion industry I admired and I just called to see if I could meet them for advice. Most people said yes! There should be no limit to how many people you ask, but there should be a limit to your expectations. Don’t expect to be hired, funded or handheld. Just have a limited amount of great questions and play it by ear on how much time to expect. Keep this door open with selected updates and be sure to show gratitude for time and advice.
You’re a lifelong New Yorker. Can you share with us a few of your favorite weekend haunts? Are there any other activities you do that ignite your (seemingly endless!) creative spark)?
NK: I love New York. A born and raised New Yorker is a rare bird and that’s me. New York is the place to walk. Break up the map of Manhattan into neighborhoods and do each by foot. Spend the day or weekend exploring the restaurants, shops, sites and entertainment of that neighborhood. Then hit the boroughs: Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx! This is the best way to experience New York. Look up current happenings in each area and just engage!
Favorite workout: Physique 57, I do it every day!
Restaurants you love: Nobu and En
Best day spa: The Japanese spa at the Greenwich Hotel in Soho
Rooftop bar of choice: Christie Street Public Hotel. Every hotel Ian Schrager does is amazing.