HE’S DRESSED EVERYONE FROM ANNA WINTOUR TO OPRAH, AND BUILT A BILLION-DOLLAR BUSINESS EMPIRE FROM SCRATCH.
Revealing that he uses his catwalk as a platform for diversity, ‘I like the idea of models that can be chameleons,’ Michael Kors clearly isn’t into uniformity. Filling his runway, as always, with a cross-section of the coolest girls in fashion then and now, Spring Summer 2018 saw original supermodels Carolyn Murphy and Maggie Rizer walk alongside their new generation counterparts, Kendall and Bella, with Ashley Graham, Kate Upton, and Sabina Karlsson championing a larger-than-size-10 beauty. As for the clothes, they were summer in the Hamptons with a glamorous edge, palm prints were picked out in sequins, while shimmering black dresses were paired with flip flops. A palette of pastel pink, blue, and purple was balanced by stark monochromes, with white cotton skirts and black sequins sarongs looking, somehow, equally effortless in Kors’ hands.
Michael Kors’ birth name is Karl Anderson, but when his mother, a former model, remarried his stepfather, Bill Kors, a businessman, she gave him the option to change his first name too. He was a child model growing up in Merrick, New York, then an actor, before finally deciding to pursue fashion, enrolling at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. In 1981 he launched womenswear, before relaunching in 1998, the year he also became creative director of Céline, launched menswear in 2002, and has since added bags, accessories, shoes, fragrance, sunglasses, and watches. Ever since the launch of his eponymous label, New York native Michael Kors has enjoyed the status of being one of the most influential American designers. Over the years, Kors’ vision of beautiful, luxurious American sportswear has flourished and expanded, continually evolving, such as taking the initiative to ban fur.
More and more luxury brands are now opting to go fur-free, due to pressure from animal activists as well as textile innovations allowing for the creation of luxe faux fur fabrics, and Michael Kors is one who has joined the initiative, alongside Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Armani, Tommy Hilfiger and online retailer Net-A-Porter.
Another big move is the recent acquisition of Jimmy Choo, which makes for an interesting pairing with Kors, as the former is known for its sky-high stilettos and glam, crystal-embellished designs, while the latter gravitates towards down-to-earth leather goods and ready-to-wear. But Kors thinks they make a good match, believing he can incorporate, ‘the experiences, infrastructure and capabilities that it has developed over the course of its own worldwide growth as a luxury fashion brand to support the growth of Jimmy Choo through retail store openings and further development of its online presence.’
Behind this burgeoning empire stands a singular designer with an innate sense of glamour and an unfailing eye for timeless chic. Michael Kors has won numerous accolades within the fashion industry, been honoured for his philanthropy, and earned the respect and affection of millions. Wholly dedicated to a vision of style that is as sophisticated as it is indulgent, as iconic as it is modern, he has created an enduring luxury lifestyle empire with a global reach, and here we take the opportunity to speak to him about everything from his recent Spring Summer 2018 collection to what can possibly be next for the brand.
Tell us more about the brands aesthetic?
Michael Kors Collection is seemingly a study in contrast. It is sophisticated yet easy, tailored yet glamorous, sexy yet luxurious, and sporty yet city-chic. Those contradictory elements, when combined consistently, create a focused design philosophy and an always recognisable style. These unexpected pairings and details, matched with quality craftsmanship, enrich the collection with the type of global perspective that makes it at home anywhere in the world, reflecting the Michael Kors collection customer’s jet set lifestyle.
Who is the Michael Kors woman?
She is a woman of the world. Her glamour derives from the happy juggling of days and nights rich with experience, her sophistication has been cultivated by a life that embraces adventure. Her calendar runs from the guilty pleasure of stealing a few minutes to flip through the tabloids to squeezing in a visit to London’s Tate Modern, heading from Palm Beach to Miami for a day at Art Basel and making sure she’s in NYC for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute gala. When in L.A., she’ll lunch with friends at The Ivy and attend the premiere of a buzzed-about new film, in Hong Kong she’ll end the day with dinner at China Club. On her coffee table there are a mix of vintage and current influences, Ron Galella Exclusive Diary and Harry Benson’s New York New York. On the sound system at dinner, an eclectic music mix that moves from Billie Holiday to Coldplay to Yo-Yo Ma to Beyoncé. And in her closet, Michael Kors Collection clothes and accessories, defined by a consistent easy-sleek aesthetic she knows she can rely on.
What do you think has been the key to building a strong identity?
I’ve always known what I wanted to design and who I wanted to design it for, glamorous sportswear for the consummate jet-setter. One of the first reviews of my collection in 1981 stated that I made chic, luxurious sportswear, and the same still holds true today.
When did you your passion for fashion start, and love for fashion come from?
It started when I was young, I grew up in a fashion-obsessed house! My grandfather worked on 7th Avenue, my mother was a Revlon model, and my grandmother was an Olympic-level shopper. I always loved to draw and sketch, and it was pretty clear from a very young age that I wasn’t going to be a doctor, fashion was always my ‘thing.’
What do you love most about fashion?
That it is constantly changing.
What was your inspiration behind the most recent Spring Summer 2018 collection? Did you have a girl or muse in mind?
For Spring Summer 2018, I wanted to take the relaxed, laid-back attitude you find during the warmer weather months and imbue it with luxury, artisanal details, and a sense of glamour. There wasn’t a particular girl or muse in mind, I was really thinking about moments that felt glamorous but not overdone. So, you think of Cindy Crawford getting married barefoot in the sand, or Kate Moss on the red carpet with Johnny Depp in the ‘90s, these were of course glamorous moments but at the same time, they were laid-back.
What is your standout piece from the collection?
It’s hard for me to pick a favourite. I think if there was one thing to buy that would instantly update your wardrobe, it would be a sarong-style dress or a pink tie-dye sweatshirt.
How has the fashion industry changed since you started, and your brand evolved?
The biggest change is that there are no borders anymore. It used to be that we sold different things in Canada than in the US, and we sold a few things in Europe through department stores. But now fashion is global. We have Michael Kors stores all over the world, from Dubai to Cape Town, and we sell the same things in those stores. My brand has expanded and evolved to meet our customers, wherever they may be, but what I design and who I design it for has stayed consistent. I make luxury sportswear and accessories for the woman who is always on the go.
What is your experience with the way social media and digital is shaping the industry?
It’s democratised fashion and really opened it up to the world at large. Now, everyone is their own editor, they make their own choices. It’s really put an emphasis on personal style, which I love.
How does technology play a role in the way you’re building your retail empire?
It allows us to reach more people than ever before. I still love doing trunk shows, bringing our clothes on the road and talking to our customers around the world. Now, we’re able to have that conversation with our fans on a global scale. They can follow the brand on social media, discover the products, and then they can go online and purchase.
You recently decided to go fur-free, tell us about this decision?
We’ve really been able to create some very luxe materials due to technological improvements in fabrications, so we’ll be incorporating those advancements into our Fall 2018 collection.
Has this made design and manufacture more varied, becoming aware of new materials?
Yes, now more than ever, the sky is the limit when it comes to creating and designing pieces that will solve the problems our customers encounter in their wardrobe.
What do you think about a woman’s relationship with fashion?
It’s very personal. It has to do with her taste, her lifestyle, what makes her feel confident, what makes her heart race a little. It all comes together to create a sense of style that is unique to each woman.
How do Michael Kors products cater to different customers around the world?
I think fashion has become a lot more global. We don’t see the divide between markets that we used to in terms of style preferences. We do try to incorporate a wide mix of fabrics in one collection that can cater to all types of weather and occasions so no matter where you are, or where you’re going, you can find something perfect for you.
What have you learnt about the Middle Eastern consumer so far, and what excites you the most?
I think our Middle Eastern customers are very sophisticated. They appreciate style and craftsmanship, and they have a keen eye for luxury pieces that also feel pragmatic.
You are known for your diversified catwalk, what do you feel this reflects, and how do you go about casting a diverse cross-section of faces?
I’ve always designed for a variety of women of all ages. I’m glad that our runway reflects the world of Michael Kors.
Your designs have been worn by many famous faces, has there been one moment that you are most proud of?
I was incredibly honoured when Michelle Obama wore one of our dresses for her first official portrait.
Tell us about accessible luxury, and how you pre-empted this trend?
I’ve always believed that you mix high and low in your closet, so why not shop that way? We have everything from an exotic handbag to a sleek flip-flop in our stores, because that’s how people approach fashion today. Our customer is looking at the high and the low and she’s mixing it all together. I think she appreciates the variety she can find within Michael Kors.
How do you feel the idea of luxury has changed?
I think as the world gets busier and busier, the idea of luxury becomes even more personal. For some people, it’s a fabulous everyday leather tote that can hold their whole lives and still look chic. For others, it’s a dress that goes from Manhattan to Malibu. For others, it’s a massage or a weekend at the beach. I know for me, personally, one of the biggest luxuries is time.
What has been a standout moment in your career, and your greatest achievement?
I’m very proud of what we have been able to accomplish with our Watch Hunger Stop campaign. We’re working very hard in partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme to help achieve a world with zero hunger.
Can you share with us the best piece of advice you have been given?
Stay true to who you are and what you believe in, and always stay curious!
How do you think being so personally visible, connecting yourself so closely to the brand, has shaped your business?
I think it helps people understand what our brand is all about and allows them to think of us as their fashion friend.
Can you share with us your future vision for Michael Kors?
We’ll continue to solve the problems that our customers are encountering in their wardrobes, from smartwatches that look great and still keep you on track, to gowns that are easy to pack, to sweatshirts that feel luxe.