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Norma Kamali

When a designer is still alive and contributing to the fashion world, their earlier work is often overlooked and it is not till they pass on that they are really paid attention to by collectors. Not that I want Ms Kamali to leave us anytime soon, but fashion like art can be fickle this way. Norma Kamali is an extraordinary designer and because a lot of what catapulted her to fame and into the public eye back in 1981 had a more sportswear bent - it was her sweatshirt and fleece fabric line that really gave her the fist big push into the spotlight - she sometimes gets overlooked even more. Many girls who buy vintage tend to do so for special occasions so want their items to be for dress up, not every day.

Norma Kamali

I came across these images of her a few days ago and it was these pics that prompted this post. I don't think I had ever seen a photo of her before.
I instantly liked her when I did.

At work in her studio in the early days

I am just going to focus on her early years here, but I would strongly suggest that you visit her current website. She has, hands down, the BEST swimwear line out there.

A suit available now- gorgeous huh?

I am astounded that it is not on everyone's lips and in every magazine. Talk about taking someone for granted. But ranting on taking our great designers for granted because they are not playing the modern PR game is for another post.
Let's look at her early days.

Beautiful Kamali gown incorporating a newsprint design

Norma studied fashion illustration at Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, from 1961 to 1964. She opened her first retail store in 1968 - Kamali - in NYC. What a lot of people do not know that this early boutique was not just her designs, she sold other lines there as well.

Early Biba dress available at Shrimpton Couture - how can anyone resist Biba?

She was heavily inspired by the late 1960s British boutique movement and actually went to England to bring clothes back to to sell in the New York Norma Kamali boutique— Biba by the also great Barbara Hulanicki was a favorite and it was the popularity and success of the store that prompted her to start doing her own designs to keep up with the demand!

A beautiful Kamali vintage parachute dress
Norma was known for using this fabric in particular
no one else had up till then

The OMO line and the corresponding boutiques came about in New York as well, in 1978. In 1981 as noted above she launched her ready to wear line of sportswear and it was this line that brought her into the mainstream. Other lines and opportunities followed but its the early days that I find more interesting.

May 1983 Vogue cover with one of her rompers

Even while delving into sportswear she continued to design one-of-a-kind pieces for her wealthier clients. I always find this dichotomy between trying to launch a successful business and producing for the masses while attempting to retain your creative integrity fascinating at the early part of every designers career.

Wedding gowns by Kamali in her infamous parachute fabric.

Norma was the very symbol of the independent woman in her day. She was designing sportsware for women that was practical and yet retained some of her signature design touches.

A sleeping bag coat - 1980s

She also designed bathing suit even then, gold lame maillots, teeny bikinis and she was known for her high cut thigh suits that where the must own suit through the 1970s and early 1980s.

Norma Kamali, 1970s, Edwardian-style heliotrope tweed with tailored bodice fastening with two mink ties, sold for £750; Christies auction 2008

Her career is a showcase of firsts - her drawstring jumpsuits made of parachute fabric got her a in the Vanity Fair Exhibition at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Versions of her puff down filled coats are still endlessly copied and are seen every season everywhere even now. She was showing string broad shoulders well before they became the craze of the 1980s, she was one of the first to use sweatshirt fabric in evening wear,

Norma Kamali plaid dress 1970s

and she did plaid 1950s style dresses way before Marc Jacobs introduced the grunge movement to the runways in the 1980s for Perry Ellis.

Norma Kamali. circa 1975. Rip-stop parachute nylon,
with rip-cord ruching. Sold for £813: Christies auction 2008

Late 1970s OMO Jersey dress with built in body suit available at Shrimpton Couture

Her career is fascinating and I would have to make this post about a mile long to truly cover how much of an impact this designer has made. You mark my word, one day you will be lusting to be able to add an early piece from her into your own vintage collection.
Certain fashionista's already are!

Rachel Zoe in vintage Norma Kamali jumpsuit & a Hermes Medor clutch


Camille Becerra said...

love your blog devoted to kamali-great pics!! thanks

Anonymous said...

I still have a Kamali jumpsuit I purchased new in the 70's. I loved it then and still do - unfortunately it is a size 2 and I'm not. I knew it was special, so I investigated and came across this site. Thanks for the interesting information, and for the fabulous pics of Norma. What a beauty!
Jacklyn C

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