“Flattering” is a loaded word. To call something—a photograph, a pair of pants, a haircut, a shade of eyeshadow—“flattering” is to underscore the imperfection that lurks beneath. Flattering garments conceal bumps and lumps. They lengthen body parts, mask disproportions, and even out color palettes. The high fashion world has therefore never strived to make flattering clothing. In the arena of the impossibly rich, thin, tasteful, and artistically-minded, nobody needs flattering. “Flattering” is right up there with “functional” in the list of dirty words from which the fashion world may distance itself.

Except Norma Kamali has never adhered to the guidelines of the fashion world, despite steadily climbing its ranks over the last four decades and becoming one of its most important and well-respected figures. She is perhaps the only designer of her status whose chief concerns are flattery and functionality; her designs keep the everywoman at heart. Above all, her garments demonstrate a deep understanding of how the human body works, as well as what it needs to look good and move well. Her clothes make the body look more like a dancer’s, and they are comfortable enough to dance in for hours. “Dancers to me have the ultimate bodies,” she says over the phone to Heroine. This means that Kamali’s garments are artful and fanciful; she shows that flattery and functionality can be their own form of high art. Just ask those who danced at Studio 54 in her stretch-lame jumpsuits, or those who have survived a bone-shattering cold winter armored in one of her famous sleeping bag coats; Rihanna is among them.

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