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Fashion Diary: Norma Kamali reinvents the runway

September 1, 2009 |  2:26 pm

FASHION DIARY Gossip, first impressions, trends in the making, celebrities and style setters. A regular feature by fashion critic Booth Moore.

New York Fashion Week is a little over a week away, and it's shaping up to be a tough season. Not only is the economy a challenge, so is the Internet. The speed with which photos of runway looks travel around the world is making the whole seasonal exercise of fashion weeks seem more and more ridiculous. (Designers traditionally show their collections six months in advance for store buyers and the media, so we're getting ready to see spring '10.) Because by the time a designer original hits the racks, you've already bought the knockoff at Zara or are on to something else completely.

So it's no surprise that designers are rethinking how they can use the Internet to their advantage, including Norma Kamali, whose presentation titled "The Democratization of Fashion" will be held on Sept. 17 at the Soho Apple store. 

 “Between new technology and the economy, the fashion industry will never be the same,” explained the New York designer whose greatest hits over the last three decades have included parachute dresses, sleeping bag coats, Grecian gowns and screen-siren swimwear. “It makes you stand back and say, ‘If I continue doing what I’m doing, I may not stay in business. It’s time to rethink and look at what’s working and what’s not.'”

For the first time, Kamali will be showing clothes during New York Fashion Week that are available to purchase not six months from now, but on the spot.

“The fashion shows used to be such an elite situation, only for editors and very special buyers. Then it opened up and became more of a celebrity-type event. Now there is no elite anymore. You don’t have to be in same country to see a runway show; everybody can see it as soon as it’s over, on the Internet.”

In efforts to make her business more nimble, Kamali recently brought the manufacturing of her high-end line back to domestic factories. “These are factories we’ve had relationships with, and I don’t want them to go out of business. I need them if I’m going to do timely designs that are delivered in season. I need a fast turn.”

She's also continuing to make shopping easier and to diversify her offerings. At her show, Kamali will be launching an iPhone application that lets customers shop her signature line (priced in the $1,000 range), a second line priced under $200 that she's producing for EBay, and her mass market NK for Wal-Mart line -- all in the same place. She's focusing on the Internet, she says, because she has seen her online sales grow over the last few months, while sales at her New York flagship have dropped off dramatically.

“I don’t think people are that anxious to buy clothes right now. They are being cautious and smart, and that’s not a state of mind we can change. We have to address the new reality with timeless clothes, great value and convenience.”

I agree. I hope the season brings more creative thinking like Kamali's. The industry needs it.

Photo: A Christie's staffer adjusts a Norma Kamali parachute skirt and bustier on display at the auction house in London last year. Credit: Sang Tan / Associated Press

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