When you come across Norma Kamali‘s vintage pieces, you can’t help but to be struck by the innovation and relevance of her designs that span over three decades. The sleeping-bag coat, the pull bikini, parachute clothing, the hot pant, and other wardrobe staples owe the designer for finding their way into our closets. As a business pioneer, Kamali was the first to venture into licensee agreements, promote her look book on video, and embrace the Internet as a one-stop destination. The designer was recently presented with a Board of Directors special tribute award by the CFDA and also cleared out her entire archive, selling it exclusively to Resurrection in Los Angeles and New York. As a result of these activities, Kamali is being rediscovered by the young fashion community, with her pieces increasingly turning up in magazine profiles and as sources of design inspiration. As her legendary contribution comes more into focus, we feel now is the time for an interview. In yet another busy restructuring period, Kamali weighs in on her legacy, the hamstrung fashion industry, and the importance of trends.
JCR: Were you aware at the time of how alternative so many of your career and business choices were?
NK: I had a mother who could do anything and everything really well. I assumed this was the way everyone should behave. So it was my destiny to do whatever interested me and not think of it as extraordinary.
JCR: Clearing out your archive is one of the boldest fashion moves of recent times. Is this your personal commentary on the disposability of clothes, or are you simply OK with moving on?
NK: In order to move forward you need to release the past. For me, holding on to my history kept me too much a part of it. I have new ideas and feel other people would enjoy the opportunity to play and invent with my vintage collections.
JCR: Why is it so difficult for fashion to embrace technology? Your résumé shows an instinctive response to technological innovations and their fashion applications.
NK: Change is difficult for most people — even in an industry governed by change.
JCR: For a designer who practices a mantra of originality, where do trends fit in?
NK: They are important. It keeps fashion in line with style. Style is so much an expression; fashion is a momentary glimpse of a time through how people dress.
JCR: Is your response to globalization simply a total embrace of the online world?
NK: The Internet changed everything. There is no more a fashion elite group who knows more than everyone else about what is new or the latest fashion. We know it all at the same time; everyone of all lifestyles in every corner of the world does, as a result of the Internet. You must think in a new way. This is the biggest change in fashion.
JCR: Tell us about the radical sales program you’ve adopted.
NK: Not radical as much as in harmony with the computer mentality that is now a part of all of our lives. Convenience and super service, a perfect fit…
JCR: What does wellness mean to you?
NK: Anything that makes you feel good and is good for you.
JCR: Which contemporary designers hold mettle in pushing the envelope of design forward?
NK: I am the worst judge. It is so hard to be a designer; [there is] so much work and courage of conviction — deadlines every season. Very few other industries have the same demands as fashion, so that in itself is pushing the envelope.
JCR: Is being copied a form of flattery or a source of discontent?
JCR: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the fashion industry paradigm?
NK: Courage and passion vs. new technology.
JCR: You’re teaching the next generation of fashion designers. Do you tell them the real deal about the business, that creativity is only one part and that politics and social contacts are the others?
NK: So much so — every day. This is very important — but not in a way that will scare them out of creativity.
JCR: What fashion contribution are you most proud of?
NK: I will let you know as soon as I do it.
This interview was conducted by Jason Campbell