Life & Love

This Woman’s Work” is an ongoing series meant to highlight how women in different industries are living their lives. We hope to show that there’s no one “right” way to succeed. There are so many ways, and so many different experiences.

Norma Kamali is celebrating her 50th anniversary this year and as that particular milestone would attest, oh what a career it’s been. The designer opened her New York City shop in 1967 selling vintage pieces and her own samples, and the decades’ style icons wore styles she designed (like Bianca Jagger and Grace Jones). She changed the way people thought about fashion and what we could wear, championing athleisure before the word was a twinkle in any wordsmith’s eye.

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Kamali at the opening of her What Goes Around Comes Around retrospective

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In honor of the big five-oh, Kamali teamed up with What Goes Around Comes Around for a retrospective and sale. The luxe vintage retailer acquired 70+ pieces spanning the designer’s career; shown together, it’s a curated body of work that presents the designer as artist. Like a painter’s gallery opening, you can spot consistent and ever-present themes and directions. The retrospective opened at WGACA’s SoHo store in mid-February and is also shoppable online; the photos seen here are of the pieces contained in the collection.

Courtesy of What Goes Around Comes Around

To celebrate, Kamali reflected on her career and the lessons she’s learned.

What’s an average day like in your life right now?

“I wake up early and am at work doing design and idea development when no one is in. The day is mixed with fittings, new projects and work on a mile-long list. I love doing different projects at the same time. They inspire and stimulate creativity and excitement.

“Just like everyone else, [the company is] moving faster and doing more at the same time. Throughout my career, the easier it became to communicate, the more productive and successful I became. There also needed to be more repeated travel because there was less in-depth communication.”

When you feel you’ve arrived, it may mean it’s over.

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What’s been the most challenging part of your career? The most fulfilling?

“I am blessed with a creative life. I think of new ideas all the time, and I can see the results rather quickly. This is so exciting! The most challenging part is managing people because interaction with human beings, especially everyone in your company, is a relationship. The relationship is a daily interaction, and it is based on how they are feeling in and out of work. The unpredictable nature of people and events is part of life, but it is challenging.”

Looking at the retrospective, are there new things that have struck you about your work?

“Great question—yes, I can see how intrinsically my DNA is evident in everything I do. I have evolved and reinvented myself so much throughout the years, and those changes are evident.”

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(Rihanna in a Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat)

Was there a moment when you felt like you “arrived”?

“When you feel you’ve arrived, it may mean it’s over. Awards and iconic references will never make me feel I have arrived.”

If you could change anything about your journey, what would it be?

“I used to think having a huge advertising budget or the power of a large company behind me would be great, but in the end, [not having that allows] creative freedom. There are responsibilities with that, but it was worthwhile for me.”

What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give people looking to take the next step in their career?

“You must be passionate, driven, courageous, and willing to work more than you thought imaginable. This must be sustainable for longer than you expect. If you do [all that], you’ll have accomplished something special. Even if in the end it all falls apart, that life experience is the most valuable thing you can do for yourself.”

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