With new lines, including the SS19 Middle East edit for spring 2019 with its first-ever hijab, always in production, Michael Kors's New York-based fashion empire doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. The American designer’s former stint as a judge on reality television show Project Runway and the fact numerous celebrities are constantly spotted in his garments haven’t hurt sales either. Plus, of course, there was that time former US First Lady Michelle Obama posed in a Michael Kors dress for her first official portrait.
After designing a collection of high-end clothing for Lothar’s, a French boutique he worked in, the Long Island-born Kors launched his first women’s collection in 1981. The designer known for his inborn sense of glamour and trustworthy eye for timeless chic (as well as his permanent tan) went on to introduce MICHAEL Michael Kors. As well as the chic diffusion line, Kors also started designing menswear, accessories and perfumes. Additionally, the king of ready-to-wear has worked as Creative Director at French house Céline from 1997 to 2003.
Roula Allam talks to the award-winning designer who understands how women live and how they want feel in their clothes.
Your affinity for fashion started when you were very young. Do you think it’s mostly to do with the fact your mother was a model?
I actually grew up in family that was entirely fashion-obsessed. I would listen to my mother and grandmother argue over the shade of a shoe for hours. My mother was a model and my grandmother was a high school principal, but her favourite thing to say was, ‘I’ve never repeated an outfit.’ Also, my grandfather was in textiles, so my love for fashion was very natural.
Is it true you helped your mother design her wedding dress for her second marriage when you were just five years old?
Yes! I went with my mother to her wedding dress fitting. When my mum asked me what I thought, I told her there were too many bows, and she had them all cut off. The dress instantly looked timeless, and by the time I was 11, there was no question that I was going to be a designer.
How do you think growing up in New York influenced your style?
I am definitely a true New Yorker. I grew up around the diversity, the food, the culture and the constant change that New York has at its core. There is always a new look around every corner and down every block. It’s an endless source of inspiration. While most of my collections are inspired by my travels, the centre of my aesthetic is making the practical yet glamorous clothes that can work in the most urban, chic setting in the world, and that’s New York.
You’ve had your own label for over 30 years. How have things changed in the fashion world since then?
The fashion industry is constantly changing and evolving. Back then, designers actually had time to learn and perfect their craft. The clothes had to fit right, they had to ship on time, the production aspect had to be there. Now, designers are thrown into the spotlight and they don’t necessarily have the time to figure everything out first.
However, it has also become incredibly exciting. With the rise of social media, we now have the opportunity to be in touch with our customers globally. I would never be able to have conversations with them so regularly otherwise. We can find out what they’re loving, not loving, what they want more of, it’s really amazing.
You also have the MICHAEL Michael Kors line. Do you consider any particular line your special baby?
I think fashion means different things to different people, which is why I started MICHAEL Michael Kors in the first place. Our collection line is all about the entire look that you invest in and own for the rest of your life, and the MICHAEL Michael Kors line is more democratic and revolves around great pieces that update your look. I really appreciate them both for different reasons.
Imelda Marcos famously said, “I did not have 3,000 pairs of shoes, I had 1,060.” What do you think this love affair between women and shoes is all about?
I think women know the power of a shoe. Nothing changes a look as quickly.
Handbags are other great companions we feel lost without. What do you consider most important when you’re designing MICHAEL Michael Kors handbags?
I design my handbags with a lot of thought as to what women want. Is the bag big enough to fit everything she needs to get through her day? Once she fills it, can she actually lift it? Is it practical enough to carry from workday to evening? We consider every detail from the light coloured lining that makes it easier to find your things, to key holders and cell phone pockets. Functionality is key.
You’re renowned for walking down the runway at the end of each show. How fun is that?
It’s a crazy moment when you’re a little nervous, relieved and incredibly proud all at the same time!
The Michael Kors Minute Rundown
One thing we don’t know about you?
Cashmere is my favourite fabric.
You can’t live without…
Weekly tabloids, bialy bagels, musical theatre and my two cats, Bunny and Viola.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Do you have a secret talent?
I’m an excellent mimic.