After Hours: Norma Kamali

Text and interview by Laura McLaws Helms

Continuing our ‘After Hours’ podcast series, our second conversation is with Norma Kamali. A fashion designer with a career spanning fifty years, she is the perfect example of someone who has molded a life of intention and beauty, which are central tenets of our Lady vision.

Her career in fashion is quite remarkable—in an industry where brands are bought up by conglomerates or completely funded by investors, Kamali is still sole owner of her company. She opened her first store with her then-husband on East 53rd street in Manhattan in 1968, importing clothes from London, but soon began designing and producing her own line. Following her divorce in the mid 70s, she relaunched her company in 1978 under the emblematic “OMO Norma Kamali”, which stands for “on my own.” As a single divorcee going it alone without a business partner or investors to fall back on, Kamali was groundbreaking—a true feminist designer at a time when women were still having difficulty breaking into the workforce, let alone founding the companies themselves.

In a 1978 interview—given to WWD before the opening of her OMO store—she laid out her design ethos: “My clothes are for women who have their own strong identity, which becomes more and more apparent through the things they choose to do, as well as what they wear and how they put it all together. Whatever a woman’s look, it should not consumer her or be influenced by anyone else—or even a season.” Norma is truly a woman’s designer—completely engaged with designing clothes that make women feel beautiful yet that also work with how they live. As an active, busy career woman, her designs evolved as solutions for the missing links in her own wardrobe. By not engaging with trends, Kamali has instead defined them—throughout her career, she has sought to stay ahead of the curve in both fashion and technology. Her forays into activewear, sweatshirting and swimwear in the late 1970s and early 1980s were the precursors of today’s multi-billion dollar athleisure industry, while she established one of the first web stores in the early days of the Internet.  It's hard not to be inspired when one takes in the breadth of her career and the surety of her vision. Still designing and producing, visit her website to view and purchase one of her easy-to-wear, comfortable and chic pieces.

Listen to the podcast to learn more about her design process, business path and how she has created her ideal life while dealing with the ups and downs of the fashion industry.

The photographs in the slideshow above include a selection of Kamali’s designs throughout her long career. 

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A few vintage Norma Kamali pieces we would buy right now: