It’s hard to not be in awe of Norma Kamali when you meet her. In the land of fashion’s big personalities and more is more aesthetics, Norma is warm, smart and engaging. Celebrating 50 years in the fashion industry, she is both a legendary designer and an innovator. Quite frankly, Norma is a force with grace. When she contacted Gerard Maione, co-owner of What Goes Around Comes Around, when she cleaned out her archive, it felt kismet. “It’s beyond an honor and quite surreal,” Gerard says while surrounded by the collection on display. He reveled at the opportunity to buy some of her most famous designs.
Norma puts her hand on the hem of a burgundy gown that she referred to as the “Birthday Cake Dress.” She flipped it over to show what’s underneath. She explained that she quilted the underlayer so that the dress can maintain its volume. The gown is washable and made of Japan’s first man-made fabric that’s thinner than silk. “It’s super high-tech,” she said. This dress is one of more than 70 pieces of her vintage designs that WGACA curated for a retrospective. Vintage for the Future: A Norma Kamali Retrospective can be seen in-store on Feb. 13th. The entire collection will be on sale in the Soho store and online.
Norma had an awakening after a visit to India when she turned 50. When she returned to America she decided to get rid of a lot of things including her archive. “I don’t save anything anymore,” she said. “I feel good about not keeping things.” Simply put, she decided that her archive didn’t serve anyone sitting in her basement. “I think the best thing is instead of keeping it is to share it,” she says. Her collections have been a muse to designers for decades. “My top collectors are designers,” she said. “Famous designers thank me for being an inspiration.” Norma admitted that she has a hard time telling the difference between her designs and the ones she sees in magazines and on people walking down the street. “Sometimes, I look at it and I think it’s mine and it’s not. Sweats. Swimsuits. Blanket coats. Companies existed a long time on five designs of mine.” Frankly, it’s why she doesn’t look at her archives the way that lots of creative directors reference classics from their past. “I have to look forward… the future is very exciting.”
As Norma looks to the future, it’s hard for us to ignore her past. Norma’s archive is so meticulous and magnetic that it needs to be seen in person – a concept that Gerard understands. Since Norma is a lover of vintage creating a retrospective of her work in a luxury vintage space was serendipitous. What has destroyed so many fashion companies is the inability to create an experience in store, she explained. “There is an authenticity that you can’t lie about when you are in business as long as they are,” she said about What Goes Around Comes Around and its 25-year history. Gerard believes that the in-store experience is what makes WGACA different than other luxury vintage retailers. “There is not a lot that is inspiring and that’s what we continue to do,” Gerard says. “We want to keep it interesting and inspire."