Photo: Courtesy of Norma Kamali
Norma Kamali is eager to share her wisdom. The New York–based fashion designer, who is perhaps best known for her Sleeping Bag coats, says part of her life’s purpose at 75 is to pass on everything she knows. That’s why she wrote her first book, I Am Invincible, which is available today.
Part of Kamali’s everlasting appeal is her belief in timeless fashion. She told the Cut in September, “Something I saw early on was designers becoming famous and very popular for what they were doing … and then disappearing. I kept thinking: That’s not what I want. I have to make clothes that are timeless, that function, that serve a purpose, and that make people happy and feel good about themselves.” She approaches the rest of her life with the same aplomb.
The designer’s skin-care routine, for example, is built around enduring rituals, not passing trends. “A healthy, well-fed body with good ingredients, sleep, and exercise is going to make that the best version you can be.” Everything else, she says, is extra. For Kamali, the answer lies in simple ingredients like charcoal, sea algae, and olive oil. Instead of reaching for a bottle of toner, she pours it directly from a teapot of green tea she likes to drink. In fact, she stands by the idea that “products that you can eat, you should be able to put on your skin, and products that you put on your skin, you should be able to eat.”
Part of aging with power, too, she says, is reevaluating your choices and adjusting them accordingly. “I would say that from 16 years old to probably 35, I wore so much makeup that it would take me a good hour — that’s the time you can play,” she says. “Then as you get older you decide your skin is behaving in a different way. It just is. So, if you try to hide a line or try to cover up, it’s not going to be beneficial. And just before I turned 50, I said, Okay, I did my stint with all these products. I don’t want to wear makeup anymore, but how am I going to do this?” Kamali cut back her routine to five products, and introduced the first iteration of her skin philosophy “Go bare. Don’t care,” which is now also the idea behind her gender-neutral line of lifestyle and skin products NormaLife.
Below, Kamali talks about her favorite products, the reason she stopped wearing her trademark red lipstick and red nail polish, and doing Pilates with Joseph Pilates’s protégé.
“Water is really important, and really good quality water reminds me that I have to drink water every day — if it’s just something that I alkaline with my filter, I don’t give it the same respect. I like alkaline water because we have acidity everywhere. Stress creates acidity, even on your skin. Drinking this water is a simple little thing; it’s not like all of a sudden your face is going to [get a face-lift]. Ain’t gonna happen.
If I do wear makeup, it’s sort of a brow gel and mascara, and maybe a pencil. Right now, I’m using a lip stain, too, but I have a very simple system. So I wet a washcloth with my alkaline water — if I don’t have my alkaline water, I use just regular tap water — and put my NormaLife moisturizer [below] on to take off my makeup.”
“When I remove my makeup with Soft, I’m doing it gently. I’m not tearing my skin. I’m cleaning my skin and moisturizing it at the same time. Then before I go to bed, I’ll put on more moisturizer, and especially with all the hand-washing, I put it on my hands all the time. I put it on my feet before I put my socks on too.
My mother was really good with her skin. Her skin was flawless, and she only used Pond’s Cold Cream her entire life. She took her makeup off with it, and she never used soap on her skin ever. It was her everything, and to me, that’s what Soft is. It’s a very old-fashioned formula. People just don’t make products like this anymore. It’s good for a sunburn; it calms your skin; it’s even approved for 3-year-olds on up.”
“When you get a scrub in Morocco, you feel like you’re leaving half of your body on the table behind, but these mitts are very gentle. I do a circular motion all over my body with this, and the reason I do that is because it really stimulates the blood flow. I think it also is good for toning and just sort of keeping things glowing. I love the way it feels, but I don’t scrub like I’m in Morocco. These are friendlier. Dry brushing is the same, but I like the gloves better, and you know, they don’t have to be special gloves. They can be any kind, and they don’t have to be expensive.”
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“I’m a big Japanese green-tea drinker. I had a license in Japan for over 25 years, so I really understood the value of green tea — the ritual, but also the benefits. I’ve gotten to know people who are experts, and they would come and do ritual demonstrations, and I learned that if you just take some of your tea and stick it on a saucer, you can put it on anything, like a paper towel, and sit back and let it soak on your skin to tone. I really feel strongly that the benefits that you get from green tea internally are having an effect on your skin too. I mean your skin is an organ that absorbs, so why put something on with tons of chemicals when you don’t need to?
To try it, take a small plate and fill the plate about one-eighth of an inch with tea. Take a paper towel, and soak it in the plate — first trim it to the size of the plate — and then place a towel over a pillow, lay your head on the pillow, and place the soaked paper towel over your face. Lie back and rest for five minutes.”
“A silk pillowcase makes such a big difference. I wash them over and over again, and I just love the way they age as you wash them. But the minute you don’t have one — if you’re staying somewhere and they don’t have silk pillowcases, and you’re not bringing your own with you — you can feel the difference on your skin. You feel the difference on your hair.
Get two of them, so when you wash one you have the other one. It’s another one of those little luxuries that aren’t a big deal. They’re not crazy expensive, but you can have them for a long time. It’s a sustainability mentality. Instead of having 50 new products and having drawers full and boxes full of products — a lot of people just buy and buy — find things that work for you, and that’s it. Get rid of the rest. Be loyal to something so you can actually see the results of it.”
“It’s so simple, but probably the best beauty ritual is sleep, and if people understand that, then they will pay attention to how to get a good night’s sleep. You have to start thinking about that the minute you wake up in the morning. For example, if you’re having a stressful day and you’re jumping out of your skin, go to the bathroom, turn off the light, put the toilet seat down, and meditate — and if you don’t meditate, just sit there and breathe and calm down. Because by not doing that, that anxiety is going to stay with you as you put your head on the pillow.
I also recommend doing whatever you can in your bedroom. The scent you have in your bedroom, make it a special thing. Have something you wear just for bed that you don’t work out in, that you don’t hang around in — it can be cheap.
I rely on this tea that has lemon balm, California poppy, and valerian. You don’t need to drink the whole cup, and you’ll have a very good sleep. It doesn’t knock you out; it just lulls you to bed. Also, if you’re having a stressful day, and you can’t even sit to breathe, taking this tea and watering it down 50 percent will just sort of calm you.”
“Horst Rechelbacher founded and developed Aveda, and we became very, very good friends. When I met him, I was wearing red nail polish and red lipstick. That was my trademark. I had been wearing it for years. He’d done tremendous research on lipsticks and products that made women sick. Especially lipstick — we consume it. Every time you put it on, you’re eating it, and if the chemicals in it are toxic, they’re going to take you down. And he said, ‘I’d like you to read this research I’ve done’ — he was trying to get it printed in Vogue, and nobody would print it. So I read it, and I was like, Oh my God, I’m not going to be able to wear red lipstick and red nail polish, and I stopped. I stopped that minute, and I started to research plant-based lip colors. Enter: Hurraw! It comes in a lot of different tints. This one smells like cherry and is so subtle, and you can take it and apply it on your cheeks. That’s my makeup.”
“Things that you put in your body affect your bones, your skin, your hair, and I realized that when I make smoothies, I seem to absorb the benefits of the nutrients better than when I take vitamins. I used to take a lot of vitamins, and I’ve tapered off what I take, but I take the nutrition in powders now. Putting the powder into my smoothies is just sort of an invisible thing I do. I don’t even think about it anymore.
Collagen is obviously good for skin, hair, and nails. I have to say, I really see a difference. As your skin ages, it’s thinner and you have less fat and collagen, so I think I would probably notice the benefit of the collagen before someone younger would. If I run out and I don’t replace it, I immediately see a difference.”
Photo: Mel Yates/Getty Images
“I used to spend time in China dealing with issues with my factories. One time, I was with a whole bunch of friends that I know from China and my meetings there. I was having lunch with them, and I started looking at them, and they all looked amazing — their skin, their eyes. It was like, What is going on here? They started laughing, and they said, ‘Yeah, we’ve been going for acupuncture face-lifts, and we really like it.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m going home [to New York].’
So I came back to New York, and I contacted Andrew Weil and all the people I know in the wellness community, and they all recommended the same person: Jingduan Yang. I made an appointment, and he was in Philadelphia. So I drive two hours, and I go into his office, and he says, ‘So, what are you here for?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m here for an acupuncture face-lift.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m not giving it to you.’ I said, ‘Oh, really? I drove two hours to get an acupuncture face-lift.’ He is very, very committed to acupuncture and Chinese medicine, so he was really upset that I was talking about it this way, and he said, ‘I would prefer that you knew more about Eastern medicine and acupuncture instead of asking for an acupuncture face-lift.’ I said, ‘Well, I would love to know more. If I come every week, would you allow me to audiotape you on my phone so I could have a record of it?’ He said yes, and I thought, He’s got to be the real deal if he doesn’t have a problem with me recording it. A few sessions into it, he said, ‘Okay, I’m going to give you an acupuncture face-lift now.’
When I came back to work, nobody knew where I had been. We have an open-plan office, and one of the people who sat opposite me said, ‘You know, you look really good today,’ and I was like, ‘Really? I’ll be right back.’ I go to the bathroom, and I go, like, Yeah, you look really good.
I learned that the more I did the acupuncture, the benefits were really head to toe. Dr. Yang is applying needles down to your toes because there’s a flow of energy that is going through your entire body. So it’s never isolated. You would never get it in one place. The best way to understand what’s happening is that it’s opening up the energy that gets clogged and that stress tightens up.
By the time that Dr. Yang puts the last needle in me, I am in a deep sleep, almost as if it’s an anesthetic. It’s that deep. When he wakes me up, I feel like I’ve slept for a full night. I feel so rested and so relaxed.”
“Sleep, diet, exercise — that’s the formula, and there’s nothing like sweating to get all the toxins out. I’ve been doing Pilates since 1993. I studied with Joseph Pilates’s protégé. Her name is Romana Kryzanowska, and she had a gym around the corner from my store on 57th Street. I went there just to try Pilates. I really didn’t know that much about it at the time, and I got to know her and trained with her. She was in her 80s then, and I was so lucky to have that experience. Pilates is brilliant, and you can do it and sweat up a storm. Everybody thinks that it’s not that kind of an exercise, but if you’re doing it right, you can sweat your little butt off.”