Closing The Gap

77-year-old celebrity fashion designer Norma Kamali’s 2 simple secrets for long-term career success

Photo: Norma Kamali

Even if you don't know who Norma Kamali is, chances are, you've seen her work. 

The 77-year-old fashion designer has orchestrated some of pop culture's most iconic moments over the decades, from Farrah Fawcett's red pin-up bathing suit to the blue dress that sent Instagram into a frenzy after a memorable cameo on Sarah Jessica Parker in "And Just Like That..." 

Kamali always knew she wanted to lead a creative life — she just never imagined it would entail a career in fashion. "I had my heart set on being a painter growing up," the New York native tells CNBC Make It.

In the 1960s, she took classes in art and illustration in New York City and worked as an airline clerk at Northwest Orient Airlines, each weekend flying roundtrip to London for $29 to explore the city's vibrant art scene. 

But she wasn't just drawn to the buildings' sprawling murals and neon pop art — she became enthralled with the outfits women wore in the streets of London: knee-high boots, mini-skirts and dresses with swirling patterns. 

"I was like a moth to a flame," she recalls. "I felt it in my bones that this was what I wanted to be a part of." 

The attire in London made Kamali feel free, and she wanted to share that joy with her friends in Manhattan. She began filling her suitcase with clothes from abroad, including vintage pieces from the 1930s and 1940s. 

By the mid-60s, Kamali had enough unique pieces to open a store. In 1969, in partnership with her then-husband, she opened a boutique on 53rd street, where she began designing clothing of her own. 

Kamali's fashion empire has since outgrown the small basement boutique where she started building it — celebrities including Mindy Kaling, Heidi Klum, Christina Aguilera and Eva Longoria have worn her designs on magazine covers and red carpets across the globe. 

Here, Kamali shares her best advice for building a long, successful career that you love. 

Take care of yourself first 

"A strong sense of confidence makes success more likely — and there's no better way to build your confidence than following a healthy lifestyle, or thinking about your sleep, diet and exercise as critical aspects of your everyday life. 

"When I turned 65, I learned how to do a split. Challenging myself, trying something new and practicing discipline until I reached my goal gave me a tremendous amount of confidence that I bring with me to my work. 

"Start with a small project, whether it's learning how to cook a healthy meal or taking a yoga class, and see what a difference it makes in your well-being and outlook on your career. The more you do activities that benefit your mind, body and spirit, the more powerful you will feel."

Failing is mandatory

"You can't get through life without failing. Failing is mandatory. But most people overthink and become fearful of failure, which often leads to procrastination and prevents so many people from enjoying a great, full life and career.

"Accepting failure is a great thing. Failure never stops being painful — you just need to learn how to get up quicker when you fall on your face. I've been working for over 50 years and have failed at so many things, but I would never give those experiences up, because I've learned something from every failure. Each experience has pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me grow. 

"Remember that there isn't one person on this planet who has never failed, and if they think they've never failed, they're really not living life to the fullest. You need to take a chance sometimes for really extraordinary things to happen."

Check out:

This 37-year-old NASA engineer is designing a spacesuit for women on the side: 'It's not just cool, it's necessary'

'Mom, you look really exhausted': How this CEO got her dream job, and then burned out on it

Issa Rae's best career advice: Don't be afraid of being labeled a 'difficult' person to work with

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Making $200,000 a year selling fresh fish in New England
Making $200,000 a year selling fresh fish in New England