It’s been more than a half-century since Norma Kamali first landed on the fashion scene, and now at 75, she’s not going anywhere. Decade after decade, the Lebanese-Spanish designer has managed to stay on the bleeding edge, her vision paving the way for countless era-defining looks, from the disco-influenced Studio 54 aesthetic of the 1970s, to the sweatshirt and shoulder-pad chic of the ‘80s, to the athleisure-inspired styles of now. It was Kamali who designed Grace Jones’ show-stealing gold bodysuit for a Studio 54 New Year’s Eve party, and Farrah Fawcett’s red swimsuit in the famous 1976 poster, and the Sleeping Bag Coat favored by Ian Schrager. Kamali’s endlessly adaptable styles also presaged a gender-fluid approach to fashion that was ahead of its time in the ‘70s and is helping define the 2020s and beyond.
But even if certain looks can define a decade, a decade should not define a look, at least not when it comes to aging, according to Kamali’s new book. Aptly titled I Am Invincible, it’s a manifesto about “aging with power,” as she puts it.
“Aging with power suggests that aging is not something to be embarrassed about, to hide from or to fear. Aging, and the power that you have with the information gained through the decades, is incredible,” Kamali told FTA in a recent Zoom interview.
A version of I Am Invincible started as a gift Kamali wrote for a friend’s 50th birthday, and in the book the designer reveals her secrets to staying vibrant, creative and purpose-driven year after year, decade after decade.
The pages offer a grab-bag of tips for keeping the inner fire burning, from choosing foods that will make your whole body feel good, to staying in shape even without a gym (hint: dance as much as you can, wherever you can), to getting the kind of sleep that changes your entire outlook on life.
“There are days when we feel invincible. Those days are incredible because we get so many things done and we feel good about what we accomplished in that day. This book is a guide for having more invincible days,” Kamali told FTA.
Advice-packed as the book is, Kamali’s humility and humor keep any preachiness at bay. She talks about the bacon-blue-cheese burger and Salem cigarette regimen of her youth, lays bare the humiliations she faced in early relationships, and pokes fun at her Lebanese mother’s penchant for olive oil as a cure “for absolutely everything.” The olive oil influence has stuck, and Kamali swears by the substance for all kinds of health and beauty uses, also using it in products in her Normalife wellness line.
Along the way, Kamali reveals mistakes made and lessons learned from each era of her life, as she’s tried to forge her own path as an independent woman designer and indomitable creative spirit, against the odds.
I Am Invincible is also, ultimately, a guidebook to staying relevant, most of all to oneself. Kamali writes about the importance of valuing yourself and your own instincts, taking risks, ignoring convention when it feels wrong, and knowing when to walk away.
Relevance through the ages could be the motto for Kamali’s own fashion legacy. From the start of her career in her 20s—when the fierce styles she created for her New York City shop drew an endless stream of celebrities, from Bianca Jagger to Diane von Furstenberg, Diana Ross and Raquel Welch—to her flattering but easy-to-wear styles that seem especially timely for pandemic life, Kamali has remained relevant as ever.
So, by the way, has her Sleeping Bag Coat, inspired by a camping trip Kamali took in the 70s. It’s been part of her line every year since 1974, and after becoming a Studio 54 mainstay, the coat had a revival after 9/11, when “people were stranded in hotel lobbies and airports, and the coats became safe cocoons,” Kamali writes. That unmistakable coat looks poised to stick around as a style icon for many decades yet, and Kamali says she still wears hers every winter.