American Fashion’s Greta Garbo, Norma Kamali: Born Norma Arraez in New York City in 1945, in her own words, quoted in Kim Hastreiter’s article and interview here, “my mother was Lebanese and my father was Basque — fiery, crazy people — so I’m used to being around people who are intense and big.” But as Hastreiter also points out, Kamali is “a self-admitted hider,” someone who “has grown her brand without integrating the showbiz-PR-designer-as-celebrity aspect that many designers build into their lines these days in order to succeed.”
She graduated from Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology in 1964 and in 1968, together with her then husband, Mohammed (Eddie) Houssain Kamali, opened a basement boutique on Manhattan’s East side. Her designs were based mostly on the vintage look of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, and some of her early customers included Diana Ross, Bianca Jagger, and Cher. Nowadays, she counts Beyonce, Miley Cyrus, and Lady Gaga among her clients.
Best known for her “sleeping bag” coat, garments made from silk parachutes, and versatile multi-use pieces, she also designed the iconic red one-piece bathing suit worn by Farrah Fawcett in a 1976 publicity shot for the TV show Charlie’s Angels (the poster of which sold over 12 million copies worldwide), an item which was ultimately donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 2011. Kamali was also the first designer to create an online store on eBay, has won multiple awards, and received a plaque on the Fashion Walk of Fame in New York City. Some of her work is, moreover, included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.