"Age is the last bastion where discrimination is still acceptable. The beauty and fashion industries campaign against it with anti-aging products and air-brushing, and we see it fuelled by social media’s feature-blurring filters. Youth can no longer remain the only definition of beauty. There is an attitude, a confidence, and a beauty that comes with age, which cannot be found in youth." Norma Kamali
Norma Kamali’s warm-hearted manifesto, I Am Invincible, is a thoroughly entertaining ride through a life well lived. In it, the 75-year-old New York fashion designer shares the lessons she has learnt, from a clever posture trick to offset the damage done staring down at our phones; a bedtime ritual to improve sleep; and why she's embracing a bare face.
The reason this is interesting to many people is that Kamali is 75 but looks two decades younger. A feat she puts down to her three pillars: sleep, diet and exercise. This however is most definitely not a book telling you how to look younger. As Kamali herself states: “Phrases like ‘age-appropriate’, ‘anti-wrinkle’ and ‘anti-age’ aren’t in my vocabulary.”
This is a book about harnessing your strength by looking after yourself. It covers beauty, style, fitness and work interspersed with autobiography. Quite aside from the self-help angle, it’s a fascinating life story.
In the 1960s, aged 19, Kamali married and started her eponymous business together with her husband. When the relationship failed, Kamali leapt from the marriage and the business with $98 in her pocket and started again from scratch, going on to achieve international success. The designer made her name with her Sleeping Bag Coat (first made in the 1970s, still looking ultra-modern now); the red swimsuit worn in Farrah Fawcett’s iconic poster; and by pioneering athleisure wear at the beginning of the 80s.
When she turned 50, she decided to sell all her possessions, including her beautiful antique-filled NYC brownstone, as she felt it was blocking her creativity. She met her ‘soulmate’ at 65 and at 75 is still moving with the times, designing gender-fluid collections and being “busier than I can ever remember. It is so hard to say no to exciting new projects”.
When AIDS hit New York in the 1980s, Kamali lost close friends to the disease and this loss prompted her to embrace a healthy lifestyle. The book is full of tips on ways we can all bring a wellness perspective to our routines.
On beauty, Kamali reflects on how, as she approached 50, she decided to eschew heavy make-up and embrace a more natural look: "The idea of not having to hide your skin is very liberating. Imagine working out, sweating, making love, and your bare skin is glowing."
In dealing with work and careers, the book shines a light on an under-explored area: technology and the older woman. It exhorts us to stay in touch with tech as an essential practice for keeping our place at the table: “I have tried to hire women in their sixties, but a fear of technology often limits their ability to fit into a business environment that relies on technologic fluency”. Kamali’s advice? “Stay relevant in every way, and you will keep growing, learning, and feeling empowered.”
Kamali’s inspiring, motivational attitude combines a 60s hippy philosophy with a clear focus and sharp business mind. The result is a book which challenges the idea that women have a limited shelf-life and gives us a positive call to arms to reimagine our potential futures.
“Now is the time to have open, candid conversations about age. Not about aging gracefully in submission or becoming invisible. Now is the time to talk about aging with power, purpose, and a newly defined authentic beauty.”
Oh, and don’t put this book down until you have read the incredible ‘Thank You’ section at the end which reads like a Who’s Who of modern culture. Personal thanks go to everyone from Elvis and John Lennon to Beyoncé and Michelle Obama.
I Am Invincible by Norma Kamali, Abrams, £25.00, Waterstones
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