When fashion designer Norma Kamali and her partner, Marty Edelman, moved into their new West Village apartment a year ago, they weren’t quite sure what to do with all the space. “Marty said, ‘How can you take a four-bedroom apartment and make it into a one-bedroom apartment?!’ ” Kamali says from her aerie at 160 Leroy, an architectural marvel that overlooks the Hudson River. “I said, ‘Easy!’ ” Meaning that the fashion designer—known for statement pieces worn by the likes of Grace Jones, Beyoncé, and Rihanna, not to mention Farrah Fawcett’s iconic red swimsuit—tore down a lot of walls.
“I’ve almost always lived in loft spaces, and I love light, and so between the glass and the open space, I knew I was going to be fine,” she says. The 14-story building, completed in 2016 and designed by Swiss starchitects Herzog & de Meuron and developed by her old friend, former paramour, and frequent advisor Ian Schrager, has undulating glass walls that offer unbridled views to the west and south.
Select furniture from their Richard Meier– designed country house in Mount Kisco, New York, came first. Dr. Seussian beanbags with cut-and-sewpatterned, machine-washable covers occupy the living room. Kamali’s Mah Jong modular sofa set by Roche Bobois was reconfigured as a sprawling bed with sectional-like seating. “That’s all that’s in there, except Zeke’s bed,” she says, referring to her beloved elderly dachshund. “That’s the sum total of the bedroom.”
The entire apartment, really, is just like that: a few crucial pieces. There’s the soaking tub with a Statue of Liberty view, the style of which she became enamored with while working in Japan; the glossy white custom-made dining room table; and the 12 chairs that surround it, made in Romania, Kamali says, from car hoods.
Flexibility is key. A 14-by-nine-foot video panel is either a black wall or a place where digital art or mood-enhancing color spectrums can be displayed, depending on the occupants’ whim. In the office she shares with Edelman, two parallel walls are emblazoned with motivational quotes in thick black lettering. “I don’t get bored with great quotes,” Kamali says. She finds it inspiring, but it’s also useful, as “a way to create art that you can take down and change if you want.” Otherwise, the entire apartment is a clean, bright, blank slate she calls a canvas, where “I can create onto it,” she says.
You’d be forgiven for assuming that a minimalist as committed as Kamali has always lived like this. But as it turns out that minimalists aren’t always born; sometimes they’re made.
“Prior to my 50th birthday,” in 1995, she says, “I had a very different aesthetic, very decorative. I did stuff you would never believe that I had anything to do with.” In the ’80s and ’90s she lived in an ornately decorated triplex on the Upper East Side. “It was just the most gorgeous space, with a big marble staircase going up to a ballroom and a hand-carved library with cherrywood and curved doors,” she says. Then one day she was sketching a new collection, “and I was looking around me, and everything was so beautiful and so special. I appreciated it, but I realized it was holding me back from thinking.”
She sold that apartment and sent most of her belongings to Christie’s to be auctioned; the rest was donated to charity. “For even the most dedicated lover of art and style there is a breaking point,” the New York Times reported back then. “The designer Norma Kamali, an avid collector of furniture, clothing, and jewelry since 1965, has reached it.”
It was a turning point, both aesthetically and spiritually, that has reverberated through the subsequent decades, a time during which she met Edelman (Schrager introduced them), won a CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award, and cemented her cultural position as a healthy-lifestyle guru, with the NormaLife skincare line to prove it.
Kamali still retains total control of her fashion line, now in its 53rd year—a rarity in the industry, on both accounts—and just finished a book, to be released in January, that serves as a guide to optimizing women’s emotional and physical health, from puberty to post-menopause. It reflects an ethos that she calls “aging with power.” What that has meant for her, she says, is that for the second half of her life, she decided to live exactly as she pleased.
As with 160 Leroy, that has mostly meant traveling light, even when she’s not going anywhere. “I’m not collecting anything. If I’m not using it, I give it away or pass it on to somebody,” she says. “There’s no pictures, there’s nothing around. When I’m trying to design, or think, I don’t want to be pulled away.”
That’s why this is her favorite apartment ever, a home that’s made up as much of what isn’t there as what is: water, skyline, cement, and glass. While watching the seasons change and witnessing the color of the sunsets fill the apartment, Kamali says, “We just look at each other and say, ‘We’re so lucky to be here.’”