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Designer Norma Kamali Shares Her Beauty Secrets

The woman behind the sleeping-bag coat holds forth on organic cosmetics and the 'cultural sabotage' of insecurity

Norma Kamali's Facing East

Garance Dore/Trunk Archive

Norma Kamali is an American fashion designer best known for the "sleeping bag" coat. Kamali also designed the red one-piece bathing suit worn by Farrah Fawcett in the iconic 1976 poster.

Way too many swimsuits stay in the closet, but that's not true of the Norma Kamali number I bought in the 1980s after a photo shoot with the legendary designer. It's a retro-inspired draped bikini with bandeau top and waist-high bottom, and — indulge me here — it looks as good on my 60-year-old body as it did on the 30-year-old version. In it I feel like a glam '50s film star.

In previous decades (she's been a designing woman since 1968), Kamali gave us the sleeping-bag coat. She made fleece and denim couture-chic. She pioneered athlete-inspired "lifestyle clothes." Kamali continues to design look-good-to-feel-good clothes today, and now she's out with a new book, cowritten with physician Jingduan Yang, titled Facing East: Ancient Health and Beauty Secrets for the Modern Age. Whether you buy into their philosophy of "energy flow," Kamali's musings offer a fresh take on aging beautifully.

Health, not shape, is the key to confidence. "As a designer," Kamali observes, "I've seen how easy it is for women to feel not thin enough or not pretty enough. I've watched women let a bad hair day or an inability to fit into a skirt be powerful enough to take them down. It's cultural sabotage that begins early in life, but it's also self-inflicted. That's why I started the website. It's a forum where women can share their experiences, encouraging them to end that cycle and create awareness in all their relationships — especially those with men."

The eyes have it. "Your eyes are your most expressive feature," Kamali says, "so accentuate them with color on the lids or brows. Oh, and distinctive [eyeglasses] frames — your choice says something about you without a word being said. My 'statement accessory' is large, cat's-eye frames [worn] with just a little natural mascara." New year, new specs?

Update your look. "For years I wore red, red lipstick," Kamali says. "I feel like I was born wearing it. But today I'm concerned about potentially toxic ingredients in cosmetics, so I've switched from lipstick to plant-based lip stains. Instead of toothpaste, I use a tooth soap that's a blend of olive, coconut and essential oils. I even wear a plant-based aromatic scent." It sounds like Kamali has let go of a number of things that defined her in the past but that don't reflect who she is today. (I know I have, as well — you, too?)

Mull before you molt. Some believe an individual naturally transforms every seven years. And that's fine, Kamali says. On the other hand, "if you're contemplating a long-lasting change in your appearance — a tattoo? multiple piercings? — think first about what will happen if you hate it later on." One thing she hasn't set her (chiseled) jaw against: the "acupuncture face-lift" as an alternative to dermatological or surgical procedures.

For more beauty and style tips, check out The Woman's Wakeup and AARP's Beauty & Style digital magazine app for tablets.

(Video) Sneak Peek of AARP The Magazine’s Special Beauty & Style Issue: In this video, you’ll have a front row seat to learn beauty secrets from Christie Brinkley, Bobbi Brown and more. Watch now!