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The Designer of Farrah Fawcett's Iconic Red Swimsuit Secretly Hated It

Norma Kamali says she was "horrified" when she saw Fawcett in her design.

It's the poster so popular that it has its own Wikipedia page. In 1976, model and actor Farrah Fawcett was photographed wearing a red swimsuit for what would soon become a pin-up. Now, it's said to be the best-selling poster of all time. But while the photograph is iconic, there's one closely involved person who wasn't excited to see it: the swimsuit's designer, Norma Kamali.

In a new interview with the Behind the Velvet Rope podcast (via BuzzFeed), Kamali talked about the poster and why she wasn't happy that Fawcett chose to wear the swimsuit she designed. Read on to see what the swimwear icon's issue was with the suit and how she feels about the enduring image today.

Fawcett modeled the suit in 1976.

Farrah Fawcett's famous red swimsuit poster

In 1976, when Fawcett was 29 and about to star on Charlie's Angels, she had a deal with a poster company, but didn't like any of the photos that had been taken for it. That's when she called in photographer Bruce McBroom, who shared the story of the photoshoot with Entertainment Weekly in 2009.

The photo was shot at Fawcett's home, and she did her own hair, makeup, and styling, including choosing the swimsuit. "She had the right to approve all photos," McBroom said. "We shot 40 rolls of film and Farrah sent [the poster producer] six 35-mm slides. She marked her favorite and second favorite; they went with her favorite. Farrah picked that image—and she was right on the money."

Fawcett had been a regular customer of Kamali's.

Farrah Fawcett at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center charity tennis tournament in 1976
Fotos International/Frank Edwards/Getty Images

"I worked with so many people, and Farrah was a really good customer," Kamali said on Behind the Velvet Rope. "She was as beautiful inside and out, truly, truly, truly, truly a lovely person." Fawcett died in 2009 at the age of 62. According to Kamali, she knew Fawcett had bought bathing suits from her, but she "had no idea that she bought that swimsuit."

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The poster "horrified" her.

Norma Kamali at the David Lynch Foundation Women of Vision Benefit Luncheon in New York City in 2018
lev radin /

Since Kamali didn't know Fawcett even owned the red swimsuit, she was particularly shocked to see it on the poster. And she was upset because she didn't like that design.

"When I saw the poster, I was horrified because I did a lot of testing and I tested that style," she said. "I did six swimsuits, and I put it in the store and I thought, 'I'm not going to make that one again…it's not good.' It's not. I don't like what I did."

The 75-year-old designer continued, "I thought, 'What? Who? Oh my god.' So I said, 'Why did you wear that?' Like, 'Why that suit of all the suits?' She didn't have a whole squad putting her together. She basically was with the photographer, and it was [a] very low-key, low-maintenance kind of thing." Kamali added, "I literally went along for the ride with that one. That swimsuit had nothing to do with the success of that poster. I'll tell you that."

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Kamali changed the design after the poster came out.

Farrah Fawcett's swimsuit, poster, and a puzzle of the photograph in the National Museum of American History in 2011
KAREN BLEIER/AFP via Getty Images

Of course, with the success of the poster, people would want to get their own Farrah Fawcett swimsuit. But they weren't able to get one of the exact same design, because Kamali didn't make it again. "What I did was I fixed it," she said of the new version. "There were things about it I really didn't like, and I made it better and different."

In 2011, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History added several items from Fawcett's career to its exhibits, including the swimsuit. "When the Smithsonian asked if I would allow them to use the swimsuit in this exhibit, I said, 'Just a question… I know you could say no, but would it be OK if I did a new version of that?' And they said, 'No, it's not okay. We want the one she wore,'" Kamali explained. "So there it is, memorialized in the Smithsonian. So there you go."

Kamali is still grateful to Fawcett for choosing the suit, however.

Norma Kamali at the David Lynch Foundation Women of Vision Benefit Luncheon in New York City in 2018
lev radin /

In a 2017 post on her Instagram account, Kamali shared the same thoughts about her dislike of the swimsuit design and her surprise that Fawcett chose to wear it for her shoot. But, she concluded by thanking Fawcett for being part of her journey as a designer and shared her gratitude at being part of the actor's story.

"All I can say is her beauty and gorgeous smile would make anything look good," Kamali wrote. "I was truly fortunate, and am honored to be a part of her legacy. So in my continued thank you's to folks who helped give recognition to my work and therefore helped me feel inspired to carry on, I thank Farrah!!"

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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