Fashion Rethinkers: Norma Kamali

Innovation is the quality that defines success in any medium or profession. And here at JC Report, we’ve always promoted designers, artists, entrepreneurs and aesthetes who are breaking down boundaries in the name of creativity. With this in mind, we’re excited to introduce “Fashion Rethinkers,” a new series in which we will interview individuals who aren’t afraid to go against the standard modes of business in search of revolutionary breakthroughs.

We kick off our initial installment with Norma Kamali, a designer whose unrestricted and visionary approach to fashion has made her an institution of individuality since she began her career in the late ’60s. Her products shirk fleeting trends in favor of enduring utility—for evidence, look no further than the still-ubiquitous sleeping bag jacket—and she emphasizes sustainability by reclaiming materials for designs such as dresses made of real parachutes. Kamali also manages to

balance accessibility with intimacy, having collaborated with retail giants like Wal-Mart while still opting for intimate presentations rather than large-scale fashion shows and many of her pieces are wrinkle free and can be worn multiple ways. She uses Skype as a medium for customer service, the pieces from her most recent collection, which was shown in February, will hit her store in just a few weeks (compared to the normal delivery  of a few months) thanks to local production, and if  a client wants to test out her clothes, they can do so for 48 hours. In other words, Kamali has never played by the rules, and for that we consider her a revolutionary thinker.

JC Report: What has been the central tenet or tenets of your work?

Norma Kamali Be true to your convictions. Have fun even if there are problems. And look ahead.

JCR: How has this evolved throughout the years?

NK: It’s truly organic. There was no plan, just to live through the experiences—all of the good and the not so good are all meaningful.

JCR: What was the environment like at the beginning of your career?

NK: The ’60s was the most revolutionary time. Everything was changing and everything was brand new—never done or seen before. I was at the start of my career and this was a perfect fit for my personality. There were no limits or restrictions. The more individual and inventive you were, the better it was.

JCR: What did you want to change in the fashion system then?

NK: I was happy to be part of the change from the very controlled ’50s.

JCR: What do you want to change today in your work?

NK: Everything. This is an even more revolutionary time than the ’60s. This is global, and the new technology is forcing radical change in all industries.

JCR: What aspects of the fashion system today needs to change?

NK: Every experience with change is personal, so it would not be my place to tell anyone how to change at this time. Maybe not changing will create another opportunity.

JCR: What is the benefit of change?

NK: I can speak only for myself, but I thrive on change. Even when it is painful or a loss. You tend to come out the other side better for it.

JCR: What’s your advice to young upstarts?

NK: Have fun. It took me 14 years before anyone knew my name outside of a very underground fashion circle. It took longer before I actually made any money to feel a sense of security.

JCR: Where does your iconoclastic approach stem from?

NK: You never think you are iconoclastic, so, if you mean what was I thinking when I designed some of the styles associated with my name, all I can say is it’s just part of the design process when invention is part of the creative spirit. Everyone has a different approach. I love to hear designers speak about their inspiration. I always wonder if I would approach collections the same way if I had studied fashion.

There is one comment on Fashion Rethinkers: Norma Kamali:

    • you’re right. error corrected. thank you. jc

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  1. What a visionary. I scrolled thru NK’s celebrity press images and felt like I was time-traveling! And how brilliant to let everyone “try it for 48 hours” — Isn’t that how we all shop online anyhow? Now she’s put a time limit on it and worked it like a benefit.
    Let’s not forget the timeless/modern cut of the clothes. GENIUS!

  2. Agreed – she is a great innovator who works change to her benefit which is why she stays relevant. Her customer service is superb – and you can’t beat try before you buy. Bravo!

  3. I have always LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Norma Kamali!!!!! She has always been a TRUE inspiration to me and I love that she is embracing today’s technology in her business!!! BRAVA!!!!




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