Birthplace: New York City, New York
Award: Coty American Fashion Critics Award, 1981, 1982, 1983
Council of Fashion Designers of America Award, 1982, 1985 Ernie Award, 1983
Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Award, 1984
CFDA Award, Innovative Use of Video in Presentation and Promotion of
Fashion, 1984 6th Annual Interiors Award, 1985 Fashion Group Award, 1986
American Success Award, Fashion Institute of Technology, 1989 Fashion Outreach Style Award, 1995
Norma Kamali grew up on the upper east-side of Manhattan, New York. As a child, Kamali was interested in becoming a painter to express her inner self. Later, the rather shy Kamali found another way to express herself: experimenting with unique fabric combinations in her dress. From 1961 to 1964 Kamali attended the Fashion Institute of Technology where she received her bachelor's in fashion illustration. After college, Kamali worked for one year as a freelance fashion illustrator. Because she wanted to travel to gain a broader exposure to fashion, she worked as a clerk for Northwest Orient Airlines from 1966 to 1967.
In 1967 Kamali decided to launch her own business, Kamali Fashion Imports, for which she designed and imported garments sold out of her basement. One of Kamali's first designs, t-shirts with rhinestone studs, snakeskin, appliques, or leather, received recognition in several magazine editorials which generated a large volume of consumer demand. In 1974 Kamali relocated her business to Madison Avenue where she continued to create unique designs with innovative fabrics and silhouettes. She designed a line of parachute clothing from real silk parachutes and developed a coat from a sleeping bag that is now part of the costume collection at the Metropolitan Museum. The recognition she received from these collections also provided her with the opportunity to create original costumes for the Emerald City in Sydney Lumet's film The Wiz (1978).
Kamali's experimentation with swimwear fabric in 1978 resulted in the "pull bikini," a revealing, drawstring, two-piece suit. The suit was modeled by Christie Brinkley for the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. The pull bikini received international recognition and pushed Kamali to the forefront of the swimwear business. The increase in demand for her designs led Kamali to open a second operation, OMO (On My Own), in 1978 on West 56th Street.
Kamali introduced her first ready-to-wear collection in 1981, a fleece-based collection of sweatshirts embellished with interesting decorative details. This collection, licensed to Jones Apparel Group, was her first venture into licensing. In 1982 she signed another licensing agreement with Renown to distribute her designs in Japan and the Orient. This new expansion allowed Kamali to open world headquarters in 1983 on West 56th Street with administrative offices, a showroom, and a design studio.
Kamali continued to add licensing agreements to her operation. She signed Empire Shield Group for her children's sportswear line in 1982, Vittorio Ricci for her bags and footwear in 1983-1984, and Stetson for her headwear collection in 1985. In 1985 Kamali added a signature fragrance collection for both men and women and an accessory line licensed to Raymon Ridless. An OMO home collection was created in 1988, which consisted of furniture, fabrics, and home fragrances. In 1992 Kamali joined forces with Italian shoe manufacturer Andrea Carrano to produce and distribute footwear and, at the same time, added Colors in Optics for eyewear and sunglasses.
In the early nineties, Kamali focused on expanding her swimwear collection, using pinup advertising boards. In addition, an OMO athletic wear collection licensed to Weekend Exercise Company was developed to match women's active lifestyles. In 1993 Norma Kamali launched a casual wear line called 1.800.8Kamali, which included polyester jersey items that could be mixed and matched for a year round wardrobe. Accompanied with the collection was a sack bag large enough to carry the entire collection for weekend traveling.
Continuing with her clever use of advertising, in 1996 Kamali presented her fall collection on the Internet. She used a virtual reality experience to broadcast simultaneously a worldwide exhibition. Kamali also used the
Internet to expand into direct marketing in 1998 with "Shop like a Celebrity." This enabled customers to view photos and videos of all her collections, and to work with personal shoppers to select garments for delivery to their office or home.
Today, Kamali still continues successfully to mix unusual fabrics with interesting silhouettes. Kamali contributes her creativity to new technologies that promote invention in fashion. Kamali's lines are carried in boutiques as well as in major department stores, including Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus, and I. Magnum. Her Shop like a Celebrity service is very successful in satisfying her clients, providing them with a much-needed convenience in the hectic lifestyle of today's women. Website: http://www.normakamalicollection.com
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