Over 55 years Norma Kamali has built a lexicon of signature styles that she parses each season to address the moment. Take the best-selling Diana dress; last season it was offered in party-’til-you-drop neons and metallics; for pre-fall it’s been toned down, appearing in muted shades like bone and lichen that speak to Kamali’s embrace of Zen in the face of a looming recession.
“How do you keep it simple?” was the question she asked herself when designing pre-fall. Her solution was to narrow the palette dramatically (the majority of garments are rendered in white, black, and gray), keeping the silhouettes sleek and close to the body. On the whole this was a much more tailored collection with a focus on suiting and shirting. Kamali revisited the fluid, pleated pants she created in 1986 for Twyla Tharp (and which have been recreated for the choreographer’s recently revived ballet, In the Upper Room). Heathered jersey was used for sportswear separates meant to be worn anywhere but the gym, a concept that Kamli had pioneered 40 years ago.
Kamali also had a feeling for leggings and bodysuits as key layering pieces. The designer had been thinking back to her time at Jones Apparel, where she was tasked with designing modular wardrobes for a working woman. She updated that idea here. A work look transforms into a going-out one with the substitution of a vegan leather jacket for a blazer. The most extroverted designs in the collection were a feathered jacket with a collar meant to be worn high to frame the face, and an outerwear grouping in gray reflective material that speaks to safety as well as style. Kamali’s idea of Zen is simple, but not plain.
For many, including Kamali, it’s not comme il faut to flaunt in recessionary times, and to that end she’s proposing a streamlined and somewhat subdued wardrobe, with a spiritual or philosophical spin. What “I keep going back to [with Zen] is that it is also a state of mind,” the designer explained. “You are accepting and realizing there’s something going on and you are Zen in it, you are at one with it. You’re not fighting it, you’re not succumbing to it, you are finding strength in it and a place in it.” Ultimately what Kamali is offering this season is a wardrobe built to weather a storm.