Marie Claire’s Anne Fulenwider covered a lot of ground as moderator of the Fashion Group International’s “Tastemakers” event. Her newest Hearst hire, Kate Lanphear, was in the crowd along with Patricia Underwood, Marylou Luther, Nicole Fischelis, Amy Rosi and others.
Sui explained how she got to know Kamali from hanging out in the designer’s 53rd Street store, where her roommate worked. But Sui really bonded when Kamali invited Sui for Christmas dinner, when she was stranded in the city for the holidays. Raised in a family of intellectuals, Sui described her mother’s reaction to her designer dreams as, “You really want to be a dressmaker?” But her parents became avid supporters — front row at every show, with her father, who moonlighted to help pay for her Parsons School of Design tuition, also acting as staff photographer.
Kamali also looked back at her salad days, crediting her Fashion Institute of Technology fashion illustration professor Anna Ishikawa with having the most impact on her life. Other recollections weren’t so rosy. Describing an early job interview in the Garment Center, Kamali said, “As I went into this office, a guy had his feet up on a desk and was eating a tuna fish sandwich. He said, ‘Young lady, put your portfolio down over there. Come here and turn around for me.’ I turned around because he was the power in the room and I was so humiliated, I ran out in tears and decided I cannot work in this industry. It’s not for me.”
That led to a job at an airline booking phone reservations and working on a Univac computer, flying back and forth to London every weekend for $29 round-trip, Kamali said. When Sixties fashion took hold on Kings Road, she started buying clothes for friends back in New York before opening her first store with a monthly rent of $285.
In the years that followed, Sui and Kamali had to deal with their share of knockoffs. Asked for their view of fast-fashion retailers like Zara and H&M, Kamali said, “They exist because our industry ins’t on point on deliveries and when we show. We’re still in an old crazy concept. If you go out on the street and ask somebody, ‘What season is June in?’ They would say, ‘summer,’” adding that fashion types would suggest otherwise. “We’re not on the right path. They are because they understand to get the product to people when they are looking on Instagram and on every device seeing things instantly and [understand] if people have to wait, it’s over. You lost it. They know let’s get it to them right away and at a great price.”
She emphasized how the industry, including department stores, needs to come together to make a brave move. And if the stores are unwilling, the industry needs to anyway, Kamali said of fast-fashion retailers. “The bigger problem is not that they’re copying. It’s that they’re brilliant and they understand the world that we’re living in.”
Recalling her trip to Japan after landing a deal with Isetan, Sui said Tokyo was flooded with 300,000 counterfeit Anna Sui T-shirts. “I was destroyed. I thought, ‘Oh my God, how do I compete with this sort of thing?’ But I realized in retrospect that it made me so famous. It extended beyond how far I could go. It’s how you look at it. Things like that have happened with Forever 21, but it is part of our industry. But Norma is right. The seasons need to change. We need the support of retailers and fashion calendars. It needs to change. It doesn’t make sense. It’s 80 degrees in October.”