The first thing to note about Norma Kamali’s new book is the title on the cover — I AM INVINCIBLE — and yes, those capital letters do matter. Nothing less could sum up the drive and vitality of the 75-year-old New York designer, a darling of the American fashion scene for more than five decades, a woman whose proto-athleisure designs have been worn by everyone from Bette Midler to Beyoncé. In more than 100 pages of uncompromising chunky font, Kamali tells her readers how to live a long, healthy and successful life, and she should know — she is planning to live until she’s 120. “YOU CAN FEEL BETTER AND BETTER WITH AGE,” she intones in her philosophy, naturally titled “NORMALIFE”. “GIRLS COMPETE, WOMEN EMPOWER.” And also, because it’s fashion: “WEAR A BIKINI IN THE WINTER WHILE COOKING.”
Obviously I was both thrilled and terrified at the prospect of talking to her. Yet when Kamali appears on our Zoom call from her New York home — with more monochrome capital-letter mantras printed on the wall behind her — she sounds rather fair and commonsense. Despite the flawless skin, daunting bangs and very fashy statement glasses, she seems almost relatable, in a loose black T-shirt of her own design and black leggings — not the NoHo Edna Mode from The IncrediblesI was expecting at all. Although she is quite unblinking on some things. “Everybody is apprehensive about their age — how old are you?” she asks. Um, 37. She beams. “You see, asking everybody about their age makes them uncomfortable,” she says, but she’s not bothered at all. Which may be true, but I have a feeling my own pause is to do with the fact that I’ve realized I’m exactly half her age but look twice it.