Norma Kamali is a New York-based fashion designer born in 1945. Kamali is credited with inventing many popular designs including the sleeping bag coat, a collection of styles created from actual silk parachutes, high heeled sneakers, and the popular packable, multi-use poly jersey clothing that can be worn in up to thirty variations per design. She also popularized the use of cotton jerseys in daywear in the 1980s.
As a child, Norma Kamali wanted to be a painter, but her mother was firmly against the idea. She wanted her daughter to go into a more traditional profession. Undaunted, Norma studied fashion illustration at Fashion Institute of Technology in her native New York City and got her BFA degree in 1964. After graduation, Kamali realized that the opportunities for work in fashion illustration were few and far between, so she instead took a job for an international airline. This new job allowed Kamali to get discount airline tickets. She took the opportunity to fly to London every weekend from 1965-1967 to experience the famous swinging London lifestyle. It was in London that Kamali first saw wild mod fashions and extreme hairstyles from Europe. She started to wear short skirts and go-go boots, false eyelashes and mod wigs. She even went so far as to shave off her eyebrows to better draw them on in a more fashionable style.
Kamali quickly got the idea to take all the great European fashions she had seen back to New York and open a small shop. Her first store opened in 1968 at 229 East 53rd St., between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. It was a crowded basement shop that sold clothes from popular British designers and the Salvation Army. Things moved quickly after that. A feature article about the shop in Harper's Bazaar magazine spurred on Kamali's popularity with the fashion elite in New York. Magazine editors made Kamali's boutique a must-stop shopping experince.
At about this time, Norma Kamali decided to start her own clothing line. Even though she had no prior experience in pattern drafting or sewing, she set to work making a collection. The popularity of her label forced her to expand her store. In 1974 Kamali moved her store to Madison Avenue in uptown New York City. At this time Kamali also designed the now famous "parachute" collection. Using real silk parachutes bought from the army surplus store, Kamali fashioned a punk-infused line that featured excessive volume controlled by drawstrings.
In 1975 Norma came up with her most famous design, the "sleeping bag" coat. While on a camping trip she realized how comfortable it was to wrap a huge sleeping bag around her at all times. She quickly got to work making a large quilted jacket of a similar design to her sleeping bag and the outcome was a fashionable success.
Kamali's swimwear has influenced an entire industry each season since her first collection in 1974. After Christie Brinkley appeared on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine in 1977 in a custom-made Norma Kamali "pull bikini", the public demand for the swimsuit was so much that Kamali's swimwear collections became among the most popular in the industry. Many of her swimsuit designs remain as popular as they were when they were originally introduced.
Kamali was invited to design the costumes for the citizens of the Emerald City in the 1978 film version of the musical The Wiz. That same year Kamali divorced her husband, opened a new store at 6 West 56th Street in New York City, and started her OMO (standing for On My Own) line of clothing. Around this time Kamali created her famous sweat suit collection and her high-heeled sneakers, both of which have been often copied.
In the early and mid-1980s Norma Kamali began to be recognized more and more for her effect on modern fashion and her consistent support of education and the arts. Diana Vreeland added Kamali's parachute clothing to the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In 1981 Kamali was awarded the Coty award for 'Design Innovation', and in 1982 she won the Coty for 'Best Womenswear Designer'. The following year the Coty committee decided to elect Norma Kamali into the Coty Hall of Fame for outstanding achievement in women's fashion. In 1984 the FIDM fashion college in Los Angeles, California gave their annual achievement award to Kamali. Kamali has received numerous awards for fashion design, architectural design, interior design, the creation of fashion video short stories, and community service. She also was one of the first to receive a plaque on New York's 7th Avenue Fashion Walk of Fame.
Kamali began to sell her designs in Asia in 1982 and in Europe in 1987.
Norma Kamali continued to innovate through the 1980s. She launched fragrance lines for both women and men. She designed costumes for many of Twyla Tharp's dance performances and launched a line of furniture and home furnishings, followed by an eyewear collection in 1992 and a cosmetics line in 1994. Her fashions of this period took inspiration from gym clothing, Victorian garments and wild African designs (the famous "Mudd Print").
More recently, Kamali launched her "Wellness Collection" in 2003, comprising personal care, gourmet, and wellness products for all ages. She renovated her corporate headquarters at 11 West 56th Street in New York City to fit her wellness products.
For more than 2 decades, Norma Kamali has dedicated time in the New York City public schools, teaching students how to bring art together with commerce and establish job opportunities for students who are artistic and creative.
In Spring 2006, Norma Kamali and Everlast presented a contemporary sportswear collection. Kamali is well known for her reworked sweat suits from the 1980s and her collection with Everlast will carry this concept forward throughout the seasons.
In 2006, Norma received a special tribute award from the Board of Directors of the CFDA. She continues to innovate in the fashion industry, from her newly re-energized swimwear collection to her successful online shop, launched in 1996. Kamali developed the "Shop like a Celebrity" service, to allow all her customers buying via the internet to receive clothes on approval and have 48 hours in which to try them on at home and keep and pay for only those they like.
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