Norma Kamali fringe suit, 1986


Norma Kamali
Gift of Liz Mazurski

Norma Kamali's fringed two-piece suit is a challenging, slightly eccentric, take on 1980s power dressing. During the 1980s, bland, tailored skirt suits defined women's professional dress. These power suits, derived from men's business suits, articulated the idea that dressing for workplace success meant dressing very much like a man. Power suits, with their sedate palette and uniform silhouette, also worked to disguise the individuality of the wearer. Kamali's suit, with its layers of swaying fringe and stylish bolero jacket, challenges the neutrality of the 1980s power suit.


Though trained in fashion illustration, Kamali's career in fashion didn't truly begin until she started working at Northwest Orient Airlines in the late 1960s. Via her office job at the airline, Kamali purchased inexpensive airplane tickets, a perk she exploited by taking frequent trips to Paris and London. Kamali returned from her travels with covetable garments. In 1968 she and her then-husband opened a New York boutique stocked with Kamali's European finds. Soon, she began designing and making her own garments, which also retailed in the shop. Kamali's earliest designs included colorful jersey dresses and garments made from snakeskin and feathers.

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In 1978, after Kamali and her husband divorced, she struck out on her own. The name of this new venture, OMO (On My Own), reflected Kamali's newly independent stance. This transition marked the beginning of Kamali's most fruitful decade, the 1980s. Her business expanded, and she was awarded several fashion industry honors, including three Coty Awards and one CFDA award. Currently, Kamali retails versions of her classic designs, including several fringe-embellished dresses, via her website.

Never bland, Kamali's interest in dressed up sportswear had a strong influence on late 20th century fashion. Her contributions include the sleeping bag coat, athletic inspired ready-to-wear, and the broad-shouldered 1980s silhouette. Her swimsuits, which often had a retro flair, were also notable. Developed by Kamali in 1975, the
puffy, down-filled sleeping bag coat is now a winter wardrobe staple. In 1980, Kamali introduced a line of day and evening wear made from sweatshirt fleece, ushering in the 1980s craze for athletic inspired ready-to-wear. Kamali's garments often used shoulder pads to create a strong shoulder; this silhouette was extremely popular during the 1980s. Though it was widely influential, Kamali's use of shoulder pads was a response to her own body type: "You see, I have small shoulders. So, one day I decided I would add shoulder pads to my line. It makes you look a little taller, your hips a little smaller."1


1 Duka, John. "Norma Kamali is Heading Out on Her Own." New York Times 11 July 1978: C2.

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