From the Archives: Norma Kamali: Ahead of Her Time

2 years ago by

Ok, ok. You’re about to hear probably one of my favorite, most inspiring podcasts ever. You probably know Norma Kamali, but let me introduce her still. She’s a fashion designer, a pioneer in every way. She’s made some of fashions most recognizable designs, she created swimwear when it wasn’t yet a thing, and she also has been talking about wellness well before there was even a word for it. Oh, also, she is redefining what it means to be aging, and I’m telling you, women need that.

Yes, Norma is 72, she is not afraid to say it, and she is probably one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. And by that I mean the way she moves, the way she thinks, the way she looks at you, the way she leads her life, the way she works, all that makes up her beauty. She taught me so much in such little time, that I decided to let the podcast go a little bit longer…

Why stop something when it’s so good?

[podcast_episode episode=”267063″ ]

On being a New Yorker…
I was born in New York Hospital. I’m as New York as you can get. I grew up in Manhattan in the late ’50s, early ’60s. I was in an Irish Catholic neighborhood, but I obviously am not Irish Catholic. But as a result, I had an incredible childhood. There were only Irish brogues, the smell of corned beef and cabbage everywhere, I can do an Irish jig, I know every Irish song. We were ruled by the Church. The priest would come to your house and pull you out of bed if you didn’t get to school on time!

On how she felt about her appearance at a young age…
I did look different so I always questioned my beauty because I didn’t have blond hair and freckles. My mother was Lebanese and my father was Basque, so this is the land of big noses and dark hair! You don’t have a little turned up nose if you’re from that world.

On being exposed to wellness at a young age..
My mother was incredibly interested in wellness. Every morning, we’d wake up to this big iron monster making juices, every morning. She was very savvy about supplements. She exercised with this guru. She grew herbs in the kitchen, she was doing everything that we’re doing now.

Norma Kamali Atelier Dore

Norma Kamali Atelier Dore

On advice from her mother…
When I was 11, my mother looked at me in a serious way, very out of character for her personality, and she said, “I want you to learn how to be independent and I want you to marry the man you love, not because you have to marry someone to take care of you.” It didn’t register until later when I realized what incredible advice that was. That means I need to have a job and a career of my own.

On experiencing sexual harassment early in her career…
I go for my first job interview as an illustrator. I’m very nervous an excited, and wanted to look very business-like and really thought about how I would speak. My portfolio was spotless. I go into this office on 7th Avenue and there this is this guy with his feet up on his desk eating a tuna sandwich. He said, “put your portfolio down over there,” as he’s leaning back in his chair, and then said, “come here young lady and turn around for me.” I couldn’t think, I was so distraught. So I turned around, he was the power in the room. I was so humiliated. I ran out with my portfolio, crying, and never talked about what happened.

On the freedom of the ’60s and ’70s…
We really had ownership of the way we wanted things to go and we wanted them to be more free. We were coming out of the ’50s and early ’60s, you know “mad men” uptight everything. So the ’70s, I didn’t wear underwear one day, and sometimes I still don’t! There is a freeing experience in that mindset in the ’70s and it was great. We felt we could do anything new. As far as creative spirit, you literally were valued more for how individual you were. If you looked like somebody else or tried to copy something else, it was like no. Authenticity was really key.

Norma Kamali Atelier Dore

On what she wanted to design early on….
It started with what I was wearing and the way I wanted to dress. I wore a lot of vintage and was struck by the fact that I felt totally at home in vintage. I thought, I want to design clothes today that people 30 or 40 years from now will want to wear. And I want them to have that ability, just like the clothes I’m wearing, to make someone feel so right in them. So I designed a whole group in the early ’70s with that in mind, and I am still selling them today, including the Sleeping Bag coat.

On the importance of ups and downs in a career…
The truth is, it’s incredibly important that you have a career that’s up and down and moving constantly, because you want to be creative. I have appreciated from day one, the fact that I found a place where I can be creative, found something I love. There have been cycles when everybody thinks I’m fabulous and great and each time, I worry they’re going to find me out and realize I’m not that good and I’m so freaking afraid. And then it goes away and I’m a little relieved but what happens next is, you feel nobody thinks I’m great anymore, nobody cares about what I’m doing, and that is like fire in the belly for certain people.

On not having children…
I was on my own and running a business on my own. I was sleeping in little places and just thinking about how I’m going to pay the rent the next day. How do you raise a child in a healthy way if you’re just trying to survive yourself? And a lot of women do this. And a lot of women are so brave and so strong and I honor them a million times over, but I did not feel capable of raising a healthy human being mentally and emotionally while I was in survival mode. So I didn’t.

Norma Kamali Atelier Dore

On the power of women…
A woman who reaches her potential, or has self-esteem that is healthy, is such a contribution to the planet right now. Women are powerful and what we can do when we’re feeling good about ourselves is incredible. It will not only help all children, it will help women around the world to heal and rise and become productive. But it will also free men of all of the responsibilities that have been put on them that are unrealistic. We need to be kind to men, need to talk with men, understand their fears now that we’ve gained power and connect with them.

On beauty….
If your skin is shining and glowing and your eyes are sparkling, and your hair is healthy, and you feel good, that’s a big deal. If there is something you do to supplement that, that’s ok, but just don’t go into the witness protection program! Don’t go there because then it’s your insecurities showing and that you’re not loving yourself.

On the future…
I am verbally saying I want to live to 120. I want to say that I’m going to live to 120 because I want to. I find what’s going to be, so much more me, than where I was before. I feel like the future is so much my personality, that I don’t want to miss it. I want to experience it. I want to be in a driverless car, I want to see AR and VR to change our lives. I want that desperately and I am really so excited about it.



Jack LaLanne
Rudolf Nureyev
Bridesmaids Movie
Jimi Hendrix

Check out Norma’s latest collections here and for regular updates, tune in here, here and here!


Add yours
  • Wow. Norma Kamali has long been one of my idols. She doesn’t get the attention she deserves (so kudos to you for giving it to her). She is life goals.
    Her inspirational story aside, I also love her hair and glasses. Practical, classic, but just edgy enough to be iconic rather than the kind of person who refuses to change. She is somehow impervious to change, managing to stay current and look amazingly younger than her age.

  • Always loved Norma, who made the best swimwear when I was a kid. She seems so alive and positive…and there are so many things I want from the website! Thanks Norma.

  • Garance, thank you for this podcast – I remember Norma from an earlier little interview about her beauty routine, I have been doing oil pulling since then. Thank you! BUT before listening to it, i would like to tell you that your hair looks so happy being curly, maybe you should let it live its own life :) It suits you and it looks PERFECT in that natural way.

  • I love your description of Norma Kamali’s beauty . Beauty that encompasses the entire woman . To me Norma was a true pioneer ! I have always written about Fashion Icons and Norma Kamali is definitely one !
    Dress The Part

  • Thank you for this episode. It was incredibly moving. I’m touched by her sensitivity to the lives of women. I got so emotional near the end when she spoke about children. You know, the pressure doesn’t end when you get married and have kids–there is additional pressure to stay married, have a perfect family life, and be a fulfilled, successful woman. It was so freeing to hear her point of view that sometimes you have to walk away from the comfortable things that no longer serve you. I’m learning this at age 47. Bravo to this episode and to more like it.

  • super d’accord pour le teint éclatant et rayonner! et comme ça, on s’en moque des rides!

  • Jorge Alexandre Teixeira April, 17 2018, 4:40 / Reply


  • What a truly remarkable and inspiring woman Norma Kamali is. Her view on choice is amazing as is her conversations with the granddaughter of her partner- quite hilarious.
    Lessons in life can be learned from this incredibly cool and pioneering lady.

    David M Watts.

  • Garance, this was such an inspiring, beautiful podcast. Definitely one of the best posts on atelier dore.

  • It’s a bit of a bummer to hear Norma repeatedly refer to herself as ‘not pretty’ – because she’s GORGEOUS. We’re all too tough on ourselves.

  • Such an inspiring and beautiful woman! Thank you for this podcast, I’ve really enjoyed it!

  • Jill Rowe April, 18 2018, 12:25 / Reply

    Love all things about this podcast. Norma Kamali OMO (On My Own) is such a feminine hero of mine. I used to only buy my bathing suits from her, because of who she was as a woman and entrepreneur. I too believe that you have to be brave and leave good for great and KNOW that when you get clarity and close that door, another door opens ~ brava!!

  • Really enjoyed this! Norma is very inspirational in every way. Sent my good friend a text that she must listen to this podcast. Thanks and thanks to strong women everywhere! Very motivational.

  • Thank you for this podcast. Norma is truly inspirational personality! Love her thoughts ‘On the power of women…’ – it’s so motivational!

  • Foteini Ioannidou April, 18 2018, 4:54 / Reply

    What a wonderful conversation! You were both so open and sincere. Truly inspirational. You talked directly to my heart. I will dare to say that there have been years since I felt so excited about an interview. Honestly, thank you both very much..

  • Loved this and the length!

    Has the Atelier considered having Gisele or Victoria Beckham on the podcast? Or even Grace Coddington?

  • she clothes is very nice but i want to know its made byBambo Clothes

  • clothes is very nice

  • Amazing listening to this very inspiring lady! I love your podcast Garance ( can you do one every week!?) ;-)) this was my favourite!!

    Thank you for your honesty and being your authentic self. Lots of love

  • Merci tellement pour ce podcast Garance.Je ne la connaissais pas mais je dois dire qu’autant qu’à toi elle m’a inspiré par sa fraîcheur de dingue et sa liberté!Presque failli pleurer aussi quand elle parlait du fait que toi aussi tu es une belle personne…on ne se le dit pas assez.Je pense que beaucoup se sont reconnus là dedans.Allez,let’s all live until 120 years old !!!!Hauts les cœurs!Bisous

  • I just Love Nora, she”s so inspiring on so many level, and the cast was great would love to see you guys do that more often! I’d love to hear someone such as Ana Gimeno Brugada! Would die to see how she sees everything! I love the woman so much I made a post about her for crying out loud!

  • This is a beautiful thoughts. Thanks for inspiring for this information.

  • Thank you for your honesty and being your authentic self. Lots of love

  • Always loved Norma, who made the best swimwear when I was a kid. She seems so alive and positive…and there are so many things I want from the website! Thanks Norma.

  • beverly July, 11 2018, 9:16 / Reply

    You are delicate and soft. I loved that she said that and your response to it.
    great interview

  • What a podcast!

    P. S. I love your clothes, stylish as always…

    Best regards,

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