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    Norma Kamali, 74: Embracing the Beauty of Age

    Whether designing clothes or creating products for her new skincare brand, Norma Kamali aims to help people feel good about themselves, to embrace age, and to find connection. She tells AGEIST more about her approach to her work, and describes in detail the wellness routine that keeps her vital.

    At 74, she is now, and has always been, a true future-looking savant, an icon who is just as vital and culturally influential as ever. I can think of no other designer today who has been as much of her time while at the same time envisioning the future. Norma innovations include the sleeping-bag coat, sweats and the start of casual sportswear, parachute clothing, high-heeled sneakers and, of course, the incredible sculptural swimwear. It was the swimwear that first caught our attention decades ago, and the collection today is very much of the same DNA: the body plus suit become a graphic entity.

    “My purpose is to help women feel good about themselves”

    “My purpose in this lifetime is to help women feel good about themselves. Whatever  learnings I find for myself, I share with women. Not only making clothes that make them feel good, but also other kinds of ideas and products around a healthy lifestyle. I want to help people with how to re-evaluate themselves and their needs as they progress in years.”

    The sleeping bag coat.

    At the Forefront of Wellness

    In a time when wellness was not as front and center in people’s minds as it is today, Norma was at the forefront. After the 9/11 attack, Norma opened the Wellness Cafe for a wounded city, sharing her findings about a healthy lifestyle with New Yorkers with similar interests. To this community she presented products and knowledge for helping to build a stronger immune system at a time when people really needed it. 

    Three Pillars of Health

    What does she do to stay so vital? “For me, a healthy lifestyle includes the three pillars of diet, fitness and sleep. If you follow certain protocol, you really can feel good about your body, your attitude and your spirit, which empowers you to do things because you still feel as young in your body as you do in your head. It is not an impossible thing, it is just a commitment.”

    The Wellness Cafe, 11 W 56th St, New York City

    Sleep is Essential

    “I love sleep. I need it, I really do. I pay a lot of attention to sleeping. Sleep is 50% of the health plan. It is so important, it is the only way we can restore ourselves. If you are going to have a good night’s sleep, from the minute you wake up, you have to be thinking about what you do throughout the day in order to have that good night’s sleep. It can’t just come together when you put your head on the pillow.”

    Here is what Norma does to ensure she gets the restorative rest she needs:

    • I rarely have coffee, but if I do, I never have caffeine after noon.
    • Meditation is mandatory to help us de-stress from the day.
    • That time between when you finish the evening meal and you go to bed is when you are closing the day: you are shutting down your phone, preparing for sleep.
    • Have pieces of clothing that you wear to bed that feel good.
    • The bed should not be a place where you watch TV. I even feel reading in bed is maybe not the best idea.
    • The room should be cool, and the bed should be made. 

    What about the rest of her wellness pillars?

    Exercise

    “I exercise every day. In Chinese medicine, around 3:30 or 4pm is supposed to be the best time to exercise, which is the time I normally exercise. Movement is so important to staying healthy.”

    Intermittent Fasting

    “I am a plant-based person. I occasionally have fish. I like Japanese food, simple foods, but the most important thing for me is fasting. I started experimenting with fasting in 1970, and I’ve tried several forms. I now practice intermittent fasting. I know it’s a fad now, and I think it is a really good one. I feel so much better when I do it. We eat too much!  Eating less, and really looking at how much time you are eating or not eating and putting some boundaries on that is key. We need to rest our bodies from eating all the time.

    My fasting is 16-18 hours. I prepare what I am going to break the fast with, so I always have the right kind of food to break the fast with on hand. I don’t want to be in a meeting, starving, and then not make the right food decisions.”

    The same products for men and women. Why not?

    Type Siloing

    Norma works in the very tricky space of fashion and beauty. In terms of what to say, and to whom to say it, her thoughts on age, gender, and specifically the type siloing of consumer culture is something that has been top of mind for her for decades. In the ’70s, men were 50% of her customer base, and they were buying from the women’s collection. Gender- and age-specific products and messaging have a role, but as our favorite quote from Nietzsche puts it, “The will to systematize indicates a lack of integrity.” Boom. 

    Discrimination in Fashion and Beauty Industries

    “The fashion and beauty industry are the ones that discriminate the most on age — anti-aging, anti-wrinkle, all of that kind of stuff. If they had some sense, they would do a campaign showing people’s ages and how beautiful age can be — beautiful skin and beautiful faces. This could save the beauty industry because it is so out of step and out of date with what is really going on.”

    Image from the NormaLife promotional video.

    “I met my soulmate at 65”

    “When I tell people I am 74 and I met my soulmate at 65, people have this incredible interest to hear more. It’s all ages, the 20s to the 50s and 60, they want to know more, because they don’t have a sense of what aging is about. When I turned 19, my mother said to me, ‘Happy birthday. It’s all downhill from here.’ I had tears in my eyes because I thought, ‘I am going to be old like everyone else.’ Old meant you are not vital and you just fell apart.”

    Age with Power

    “Everyone is so afraid of aging because they don’t see it in any positive images. I decided that my mantra would be To Age With Power. You always come out of a decade stronger and more powerful than the decade before.

    I’m creating a handbook on the power of aging. I’m very happy being 74, and have no interest in being younger. I’m doing so many projects now, and am feeling so excited and stimulated about the disruption out there, and all the things you can invent when there is a disruption. It’s important to make a positive message that people can actually use, actually do something so that they can feel that power too.

    That age number needs to be blown out of the water. I ask people all the time, ‘How old are you?’ People are so afraid to say their age. I feel there needs to be more open conversation about it; Just say it: this is my age. Because we are all looking at and thinking of stereotypes of what a 74-year-old woman or 61-year-old man looks like. It’s not the same anymore. We are much more aware and engaged from a health perspective now as a society than we were before.”

    Image from the NormaLife promotional video.

    Focus on Our Commonalities

    Unlike most products I can think of in the beauty industry, her NormaLife products are neither gender-specific nor age-specific. The trend throughout the world today is to say XYZ is what makes me different, and thus separate from others, therefore I need a special XYZ. Really? How about thinking about the 99% of us that is exactly like everyone else and focus on that? In the ’70s this was common thinking, now it is a radical idea but it is the sort of radical idea we embrace. 

    Makeup to “Feel good while living a modern life”

    “I started the skincare line in 1993. I was going to be 50 in 1995 and it gave me pause to reflect. Whenever I put on makeup I felt like I was trying to hide my skin, or hide my age. I had to come up with something that would make me feel good while living a modern life — sweating, working out — running my life while looking good.

    Men and women can both use it, people of all skin colors can all use it, and all ages can use it — isn’t that what is really modern? In 1993 it was a bit ahead of its time, but the idea is very much on today. Isn’t inclusion more modern versus all the diverse millions of items you need to buy in order to look beautiful? And with no wrinkles? I mean, that’s a fairy tale. But clearly whatever products you use on your skin, if you are not living a healthy lifestyle there is nothing you can do. If you are drinking and smoking there is no product on the planet that is going to make you look better or feel better.”

    Kindness and Connection

    “When I created my skin line I decided to mix in kindness as part of the conversation. I talk about the green ingredients, the sustainable packaging, but I say its best use is if a friend calls you and says they lost their job, rather than texting back an emoji, say ‘I’m coming to see you tonight.’ Go there and massage their hands, talk to them, connect with them, and you are making them feel comfortable. Everyone needs to be touched. We need more engagement and kindness.

    We are in a time that is very tough, mean, and mean spirited. It is so harsh that I have been thinking about how much my generation touched each other physically. Just as friends, there was more hugging, touching, talking, crying together, doing things that was very tactile. How can you touch anyone with a phone in your hand? You can’t.”

    NormaLife. Check it out.

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    David Stewart
    David Stewart
    David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.
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