By Alex Joseph, Fashion and Textile Studies MA '15, Portrait by Quentin Bacon.
For Norma Kamali, the best things in fashion are eternal.
I wanted Norma Kamali, Fashion Illustration ’65, to tell me about her stuff. The original concept for this article was to go her studio and have this iconic designer of American sportswear talk about her favorite possessions—souvenirs of the past, gadgets, and snapshots. The idea was for readers to learn about Kamali by looking at her things.
There was, as it turned out, only one problem. She doesn’t have any things. Well, hardly any. About 15 years ago, she gave up all rituals of accumulation and began to concentrate on letting go. “One day, I just looked around me and I said, ‘I’ve got to get out of here!’ I had a warehouse full of stuff, and I learned to let go of all of it. Everybody thought I’d lost my mind, but I’m happy to say, it’s great.” At the same time, she stopped smoking and gave up eating meat. Sitting in the all-white, futuristic boutique of her headquarters on busy West 56th Street while a recording of soothing ambient sounds plays, Kamali adds that seeking inspiration in objects can be a trap for designers. “If you have a possession that inspires you and you look at it for 20 years, you’re not going to grow. To survive in this business, you have to design in the context of the times you live in.” Antonio, who was the year ahead of me and already working for The New York Times. We became friends. He was super talented, a really good guy, the best. He had that energy of the ’70s, when it was easier to get excited about everything. Adrian. Adrian was Adrian; what I was doing was a fun thing. I know I can be held responsible for the ugliness of those big ’80s shoulders. One girl in my workroom actually created the Velcro shoulder pad. We used to make sculptures out of them. Uh-oh: I believe there’s a shoulder pad silhouette that’s due now. It looks fresh again. I did it in activewear recently and people told me, ‘I want to kill you.’ On the ’30s and ’40s: The classic American concepts of beauty and style were put in place. [Vogue illustrators] Eric and RBW drew the gestures and attitudes of the time. Everyone held a cigarette then, the way everyone holds a cell phone now. Favorite color: None, really. Color comes and goes, but I’m a very black-and white person. Spirituality: I believe in astrology and the evolution of the spirit, and that we can re-morph into another lifetime.