NEW YORK — Norma Kamali invented parachute dresses and sweatshirt clothes, but culinary treats were never high on her agenda.
"My stepfather had a candy store in the Fifties in New York," Kamali recalled. "I had to work in this candy store and hated every minute of it. I never really was a pastry lover. I was eating olives and pickles, and things like that. I would just set up all the candy bars according to color."
Coming full circle in some ways, Kamali is adding a new feature in her signature store on West 56th Street. The designer has opened the Wellness Cafe in the lower back area of her multistory boutique.
She cooked up the plans because of her fascination with olive oil and its beneficial effects on physical and spiritual health. Her obsession with olive oil goes back to childhood. With a Lebanese mother and a Spanish father, olive oil was practically part of her daily routine, from cooking with it to eating a tablespoon daily and using it for her hair. When Kamali met an olive oil importer from Barcelona at a New York Yankees game about two years ago, her fascination was rekindled and led to journeys through Europe's olive orchards.
"It became a serious endeavor and I became an expert in olive oil…I would talk to the women and ask, 'What would you do to the olive oil?' It wasn't anything about miracle concoctions,'' she said. "It was simple stuff from the land. Not only were we covered with olive oil and bread crumbs, but we had all of this incredible stuff.
"We were driving through Grasse in France and I met with a perfumer there and said, 'I am crazy about olive oil and think there should be a scent that's olive and lemon and olive and lime,'" she continued. "He smiled and opened his wallet and showed me an olive branch. He was already developing this scent for himself. Everything just came together."
Kamali said the cafe came about as "a way to show if you want to try popcorn, for instance, the best way to do it is with olive oil. It was the idea that olive oil can be more than just for salad."
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