Norma Kamali on Fall 2011 and the Importance of Innovation

Norma Kamali on Fall 2011 and the Importance of Innovation
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Since my move from the world of print to the big wide world of online, Ive realized something. The fashion industry, which is constantly transforming, innovating and changing every season, is often antiquated when it comes to embracing online media. So, it was a pleasure conversing with designer Norma Kamali, a respected veteran of the fashion industry who understands the importance of consistently moving forward.

Just take a look at Norma Kamalis e-commerce website, for example. She launched the site before any of her competitors even considered the importance of having an online presence. Its not only aesthetically pleasing; it is also quite easy for her customers to navigate. Instead of shying away from her customers transition to online purchasing, she is making it easier for them with a try before you buy feature that allows her fans to take pieces home for 48 hours. Read on for my eye-opening conversation with Ms. Kamali, an innovator and an inspiration.

Emily Finkbinder: Why did you choose Fall 2011 to have a formal show after taking a hiatus?

Norma Kamali: I decided to show this season for several reasons, one being that for the past three years I did the Norma Kamali for Walmart collection, which I truly loved doing and the experience was fantastic. We were overwhelmed with press; every blogger on the stratosphere was writing about it. I thought, I need to get my identity back here. That’s a part of me now and it’s a part of something that I can do, but my core Norma Kamali needs to be brought to the front again.

I think the other reason is there is so much transformative technology out there. We have bar codes that are going to be embedded so that people can scan our bar codes, and shop directly through our window. We also have a shopping service called, “Try before you buy.” Anyone who wants to try on Norma Kamali pieces in a convenient and comfortable environment can do so. Why should people go to a public place and take their clothes off? I think about what I have been asking people to do all these years, and it’s really not a natural thing.

EF: Why have you put so much emphasis in online? You’ve been around this business for a while and it’s really nice to see that you’re moving forward when so many other fashion designers are so antiquated and not willing to embrace online media.

NK: You know, change is scary for everybody, and the surprise is that the fashion industry is all about change. I had really incredible experience early on in my life. I graduated from FIT and I decided, You know what, I’m young enough to do some traveling. So, I got a job as a salesperson at an airline in their offices. I didn’t know how to type, I didn’t know anything about office skills, but I knew I wanted to go to London frequently. At that time airlines were like Apple. They were the only industry that had computers. So, here I am, in the early 60s working on a Univac computer. In the mid-nineties I launched a website for Norma Kamali, before everyone else.

EF: That’s pretty amazing.

NK: I did big displays here. I had mannequins and computers on their heads. Showing the website to the industry, I was thrilled, I said Oh my god, everybody must be so excited, and nobody in the fashion industry was excited. I still thought, this is a big deal. That experience, early in my life, really helped me understand what technology can be. I like the future; I like it a lot. Im excited about it. I always used to think that the sixties would be the most exciting time in my lifetime and now I know it’s now. It’s now.

EF: Why did you choose to blow up giant images of models for your Fall 2011 display instead of using mannequins?

NK: For a long time I used stacked TV monitors as display in the front window. I drive by windows every night on my way home, and I see that everything looks like it could be 1950, and you can’t do that anymore. I wanted the life-like quality of what a photograph can translate instead of using mannequins. I thought, we need to blow these girls up. The display has had a really profound effect on the people coming into the store.

EF: It makes me want to buy everything. It makes me want to be a part of the Norma Kamali experience.

NK: My customers are spirited. There are women who have spirit when they’re younger and they never use it.

EF: My grandmother is 83 and just graduated from college. She also has a Blackberry. Shes a Norma Kamali woman!

NK: She’s a woman with spirit. There are girls in their thirties who just don’t have spirit anymore. It’s not age, it’s, do you have that life spirit and curiosity? And I am happy that that’s my customer. I’m thrilled that she’s my customer.

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Norma Kamali's Upper West Side storefront.

8 feet tall statuesque blow ups of Darla Baker in Norma Kamali's boutique.

View of my interview with Norma Kamali.

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