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norma kamali at home in new york in dec 29, 2020 at 75, kamali is still preaching her philosophy on skin care, diet and fitness devin oktar yalkinthe new york times
Devin Oktar Yalkin/The New York Times/Redux

Norma Kamali is going to celebrate her 120th birthday. At least, as she approaches 78 (her birthday is June 27), that’s what she’s planning. The fashion designer was one of the first people in the fashion world to truly embrace wellness long before it was popular or trendy, which translated into a 50-plus-year career of bucking convention and creating clothing people actually want to live in. From her legendary gray sweat-suit collection to the one-shouldered and shirred Diana, which made an appearance on SJP in And Just Like That…, Kamali has shown defiance as a female designer that has always been rooted in self-love. Recently, she has been very vocal about this specific goal, sharing moments of joy that keep her going—like daily dance sessions—on her eclectic Instagram feed. In addition to her clothing line, Kamali launched The Wellness Cafe, a virtual space dedicated to all things living well (think good-for-you products alongside tips for healthy sleep and expert-led courses).

For women who came of age in the ’80s and ’90s and beyond, Kamali’s pieces were synonymous with a nascent feminine power. Younger generations would no doubt be more familiar with the fashion designer from her original claim to fame, the sleeping bag coat, or because she was the visionary behind the red swimsuit Farrah Fawcett wore in *that* iconic 1976 image. But living a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle has been Kamali’s MO from the beginning. Even the coat was born out of a wellness need: Kamali was cold on a camping trip and wore her sleeping bag as a jacket, then had the brilliant idea to put arm holes in the sleeping bag.

Now she’s sharing her gospel of longevity with us. Below, discover why Kamali chose 120 as her goal, why she avoids going gray, and what age she would never want to be again.

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Say more about your motto, “Age with power.”

“Aging gracefully” is just so not my phrase of the moment. To me, it’s submissive. Almost derogatory. The ability to age with power—especially when you know so much more than the people around you—is an attitude. I’m trying to change the point of view about aging.

How do you plan to get to 120? And what’s the significance of that number?

I really want to live a long life because intuitively I feel I am going to. I have no proof of that, but I feel like that’s what I’m going to be doing. And if I’m going to be doing that, I want to be able to participate and function and really see what the world is going to be like. I use 120 as the long game. If I’m going to eat crap and not sleep, then I think, Oh, well, how am I going to get to 120 if I’m wasting this day on stupidity? It’s my check. It says, What are you doing? How are you going to get there?

How do you balance necessary moments of aging—like having lines on your face—with doing things to feel younger, like dyeing your hair?

The things I do are not to look young or be young. I would not want to be [26] in a million years. The pain and the growth and all of that—ick. Seventy-eight is my new experience. Aging doesn’t have to be looked at through Botox and fillers. I would try anything to make me feel better, but I don’t do anything in my face. It makes me feel artificial and not proud of my age. And I’m very happy to be my age.

By working out and eating properly, I can look better in a more authentic way. If I drank, my face would look different. Now, I can’t exercise the gray hair out of my head. I’ve thought about every way I could have fun with gray hair—but I want to look normal-ish to the world. I like people to listen to what I’m saying and not just think, Oh, she’s a crazy designer. That’s my personal contradiction.

[So] trying to stay young—no. It’s trying to stay healthy, vital, relevant, inspired. There’s a spirit in all of us. The key is, how do you keep that spirit alive?

How much of longevity do you think is tied to finding that spirit versus staying physically healthy?

As a designer, I’m looking at the exterior. I believe the way we dress and wear our hair and put on our makeup have so much to do with the way we approach aging and how we feel about ourselves. In my age group, I see so many women who decide they would never wear a jumpsuit. They don’t give themselves permission to let the spirit [out] that enjoyed feeling good and looking good and having fun with clothes. They allowed the 26-year-old in them to do that, but they don’t think that’s for them anymore. And that is wrong. If women in my age group—and I’m not just saying 78, I’m saying 68, 58—all said, “I’m going to have a good time when I get dressed and do the things that make me feel happy,” that is a psychological game that lets your spirit live, that makes you want to dance, that makes you want to do things that are “inappropriate” for your age, like that 26-year-old that’s still inside you.

That sounds like the concept of dopamine dressing.

It is that, and it’s even more. It’s more than a momentary thing. It’s a lifestyle choice that you make—all of a sudden you created this new you that is giving the inspiration to do all those things that were inside of you. There’s a lot to be said for the joy you can have in a color, and I think it’s in all of us.

What would you say your mental age is?

I know what my biological age is—it’s 52. I was disappointed because I thought it should be less. And the doctors said, “Don’t be greedy.” Mental age—I volunteered in nursing homes and did an experiment. I [had] hair and makeup artists come in, and I made sweatshirts in pinks and pastels and had some pearl necklaces. I had pictures taken, and they looked gorgeous. I mean, gorgeous. And they loved the way they looked. They felt so good about this spirit they saw. And I asked them, “How old do you feel?” They didn’t all have the same age, but the average was 27. And if you ask me, I would say 27. Of course, it’s 27 without the crap that comes with it. The best version of it. I look at 27 as a year my spirit found its home and decided to stay there. And I think that’s what they felt, too.

What does longevity mean to you?

To be able to experience a long life with the spirit of excitement of what’s to come. I’m excited waking up in the morning. My partner thinks I’m some kind of lunatic. He said, “How can you wake up every morning so happy and excited?” And I think, I got rid of all the crap from yesterday because I slept it away. Now I have another chance—maybe today will be better.

Any content published by Oprah Daily is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should not be regarded as a substitute for professional guidance from your healthcare provider.

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Cassie Hurwitz
Assistant Editor

Cassie Hurwitz (she/her) is an assistant editor at Oprah Daily, where she covers everything from culture to entertainment to lifestyle. She can typically be found in the middle of multiple books and TV shows all at once. Previously, Cassie worked at Parents, Rachael Ray In Season, and Reveal. Her love language is pizza (New York slices, Chicago deep dish, and otherwise).