Fashion designer Michael Kors on surviving the industry and what you’ll wear post-pandemic

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Michael Kors would like to tell you a different story. He is not here to tell you that story. designHaute couture is a fashion designer whose sole purpose is to make you look beautiful. He is a designerIn the truest sense, he makes clothing that works in the real world. Because of his many decades of hard work and billions of dollars. fashionMichael Kors is able to predict what women want in an industry that changes constantly.

Kors celebrated his 40th birthday in business in April this year with a showHe combined his two favorite things (theatre and theatre) fashion) with a sense of optimism and hope for a revived, reopened New York City. The show, held at Times Square, was a celebration of the city he loves – and the women who have made his life’s work worthwhile.

Naomi Campbell, Shalom Halow, and Helena Christensen walked down Times Square, in their most recent, dialled-up to-eleven Michael Kors pieces. It was, critics said, the perfect way to welcome home. fashion.

AFR Magazine’s Fashion issue is out on August 27.

“During lockdown, everything became a special occasion. A walk in your neighbourhood, you know, turned into a special occasion. Walking into a restaurant, a special occasion. I remember the first time I ate out again, I was thrilled,”He said this while speaking from his Manhattan office. He was wearing his signature aviator sunglasses, and was dressed in black, as he does every day.

“So I thought about the idea of stepping out. It was the opposite of during lockdown, where we all tended to take all of the occasion out of getting dressed. So if you’re in the office, you want to walk back in after months and have someone say, ‘You look amazing’, right? Or when you go back to the theatre, you’re not wearing jeans and a T-shirt. I really wanted this to be an homage to special occasions, not in the ballgown sense of the word, but feeling polished, feeling glamorous.”

Post-pandemic dressing – whenever we get there – will be the equivalent, he thinks, of eating a slab of cheesecake after “months of salad. Eventually, you’ll want dessert”.

Kors is not what you would consider a “serious” author. “designer’s designer”. He is proudly and steadfastly democratic in both his appeals to the public and his approach. “The reality is I started designing for a retail store. Right?”He said this to explain. His shop floor start would have huge influence on his future. design career, pushing him to create pieces that did not merely look great, but would work for a women’s wardrobe.

While enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York (alumni include Norma Kamali and Calvin Klein), Kors took a job at chi-chi department store Lothar’s that specialised, says Kors, in “very expensive casual sportswear”.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’ll finish school, I’ll go to work for a designer, I’ll fetch coffee, and then on Sundays, I’ll do my own thing,”He says. “But of course my impatience got the best of me.” Nine months into study, he left FIT and began working full-time at the store (where, yes, he removed Jackie Onassis’s boots).

As the tie-dye heavy ’70s came to a close and the power-dressing ’80s began, Kors seized his chance to make his mark. “The look Lothar’s was known for was going out of style,”He says. “So I started designing my own clothes for them.”At the age of 19, Kors was designing the store, merchandising windows, purchasing stock and, most importantly, selling on the ground. “I got to see every angle of it. I was in the fitting room. I could see what women wanted. I got to see first-hand, does it work? Does it not work?”

Kors in Manhattan 1983. Getty

Six months later, Dawn Mello, a legend in New York, is still going strong fashionscene and, at that point, fashionBergdorf Goodman’s director, Mello stopped by. She would later hire Tom Ford as Gucci’s creative director, making history. Just as Kors was shaking things up at Lothar’s, Mello was putting her own modern spin on Bergdorfs.

“The store had always been very elegant and very on-brand. But suddenly it was feeling younger, more fashionable, reinvigorated,”He says. When Mello came into Lothar’s, Kors, who “had been reading my Women’s Wear Daily since I was 16”Immediately, he recognized her as a woman.

“She said, ‘Who designed these clothes?’ And I said to her, I said ‘Well, I did’.”

Mello – who later described Kors as “an FIT dropout with leg warmers, Peter Frampton hair and a mouthful of bar pins” – invited the young Kors to showShe was more. He did and took a friend along to model the looks. Six outfit changes in, Mello stopped. designBergdorfs will only be able to sell this range? Sure, he told her: as long as his clothes featured prominently in the window displays, he was able to make personal appearances in the store – oh, and could Bergdorfs finance the collection? Mello agreed and a star was born.

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“Holly Golightly got to go to Tiffany’s and have her Danish. But 57th and 5th … that’s where I got to start my whole fashion career.”

New York in the ’80s was “the wild, wild west”According to Kors it was the right choice for him. His 1981 debut collection was a hit at Bergdorfs. Anna Wintour was then a fashionNew York Magazine journalist, gave him his initial editorial, praising his abilities. “accessible, affordable”Clothes

By 1984, he was hosting runway shows (where Iman walked) and his sporty, minimalist designs were both of their time and ahead of it: perfect for the women of the ’80s, who were entering the workforce and then, climbing the corporate ladder. He matched his contemporaries well: Donna Karan who made simple sexy; Ralph Lauren who made preppy-sexy and Calvin Klein who made sexy sexy. Kors? He made women sexy – full stop.

Kors with Iman at an awards ceremony held in New York City in 2016. Getty

There is no “Michael Kors woman”He says. Any woman – every woman – fits the bill. His clothes are classic staples – “chic, but not neurotic”, the stylist Paul Cavaco called them – the kinds of things you have hanging in your wardrobe for years.

He is totally uninterested. “sitting in an atelier, away from the rest of the world”, and instead, crosses America, and the world, doing trunk shows, visiting his shop floors (there are 1024 of them worldwide, 17 in Australia) and talking to his customers, in service of making next season’s collection better than the last.

“I saw very quickly that I’m interested in, and excited to hear people’s feedback,”He says. “There are a lot of designers who say no, either you do it my way or no way. To me, the most important thing about what I do is seeing something in real life. I did my job well if I’ve made something wearable. Fashion doesn’t belong in a museum.”

He loves to stroll down the street, finding his own designs. (And it must be something he experiences often: A 2019 study found that Michael Kors was No. The most well-known handbag designerAmong teenage girls in the US.

“I’ve always been a big believer in a democratic approach, even when my brand was only making very, very expensive merchandise,”He says. “If it’s wearable, I think that’s a wonderful thing. If it’s useful, that’s a fabulous thing. And most importantly, when someone puts it on, do they feel more confident, do they feel good? That’s the cherry on the cake.”He says that the idea of mass appeal being a problem is absurd.

“I’ve never shied away from any of that. Why would anyone assume that just because a customer doesn’t have an unlimited budget, they don’t have as sophisticated an eye? I mean, I’ve had customers who are teenagers and customers who are in their 70s and 80s. People of all sizes, who live everywhere in the world,”He says. “I think maybe it boils down to the fact that I like people.”

If fashionIt’s all about reinvention. Michael Kors was five years old when he was a pioneer in this field. Just as Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz, Michael Kors wasn’t always Michael Kors. In fact, he was actually born Karl Anderson jnr. His mother, a former Revlon model named Joan Hamburger (look out for her at Kors’ shows, dressed in her signature oversized sunglasses), was getting remarried when she suggested that, since her son was about to get a new surname, he may as well choose his own first name, too.

This is how Karl Anderson, the former Karl Anderson, became Michael Kors. A name so ubiquitous that it can be seen on every handbag in town that it almost seems like it was made with the idea of becoming a fashion designer’s name in mind. It was, in a sense. Because Joan’s second marriage represented another key moment for the young Karl-turned-Michael: the moment he knew he could – and should – design.

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Kors and Joan Hamburger, his mother, in 2016. “Why would anyone assume that just because a customer doesn’t have an unlimited budget, they don’t have as sophisticated an eye?” Getty

His mother’s dress was covered in bows, and he told her dressmaker to remove them. Joan trusted his opinion – the first in a series of influential women in Kors’s life to do so – and from then on, Kors found himself obsessed with fashionTo the delight and delight of his loved ones.

“Listen, number one, I’m an only child, right? And not only in my immediate family an only child, I am an only child in my entire family. And I grew up in a family of not just women, but men and women who were honestly a little bit style-obsessed, travel-obsessed, shopping-obsessed. And they talked about all of it, frequently at the table. You know, there could be a debate over the merits of suede boots versus leather boots.”

He knew from an early age that there was no one way to dress as a lady. His mother was American, and favored denim and corduroy. While his grandmother, who was a keen traveller, was more comfortable wearing caftans and discosequins. He spent his days outdoors. “sitting and drawing”Reading Vogue and The New York Times. Paradise was, he claims, shopping with his mother.

Kors gained confidence from his mother’s respect for his style opinions. The ’80s were a boom time but by the early ’90s, when power shoulders sagged and women began dressing like girls in babydoll dresses, Kors found himself out of step with fashion. He filed for bankruptcy in 1993 when the company which owned the license for his diffusion line decided to stop producing it.

Michael Kors, models from the 1980s “Everyone wants to feel good. Clothing, you have to think, can I really wear it? Is it useful? Not many people live a red-carpet life.”

“Fashion is about being flexible and resilient,”He says. “So if you just stay rigid and stiff, and suddenly things don’t go exactly how you planned, you’re going to lose that flexibility that you need to be creative and to have a business that is sustainable.”

Kors had originally planned to sell his business completely when chiffon became popular. “My first thought was, ‘Maybe I have to do something different, you know, I never did big ball gowns or big evening gowns. I should start doing that.’ But then I remembered my mother, who always told me to be true to myself, and she still does. So rather than swimming in the wrong direction, I kind of just said, ‘You know what, I have to build on my strengths.

“And I think that’s what every fashion person has to remember. You can’t be everything to everyone.”

Michael Kors is, at this point, everything to everyone. His brand operates more than 1000 stores worldwide, featuring comprehensive men’s, women’s and children’s ranges. He is rare designerHe straddles the two worlds of the shopping center and runway, delivering both $200 wallets and $2500 cashmere gowns. Kors is both gateway luxury as well as real luxury.

Listing on the New York Stock Exchange, 2011.

He believes that part of the reason is because of his six-year stint at Celine where he learned a lot. “the power of accessories – that they have no climate, they have no age, they have no time of day, no seasons”. From 1999 to 2003, he took the somnolent French brand and injected it with much-needed doses of American flash and glamour, which came with a bonus of Celine’s owner, juggernaut LVMH, buying a 33 per cent stake in his own brand.

In 2003, LVMH sold its shares of shares to Tommy Hilfiger investors Silas Chou, and Lawrence Stroll. In 2011, the Michael Kors Group went public making Kors a billionaire. It was the largest company in the world, valued at $US3.63billion. fashionThe first IPO in American History. Capri Holdings is now the parent company that bought Jimmy Choo’s stock in 2019. It had previously bought Versace a year earlier, marking the first American business to buy a luxury European luxury brand. fashionHouse

Capri’s July results were unexpected even by its own staff, prompting it to increase its annual revenue forecast for the first time in this year. It now has a market cap of $US9.1 million ($12.3 billion).

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Joshua Schuman, the former CEO and president at Coach, was elected to replace John Idol, who announced that Capri would have a revenue of $US5.2 million. He also stated that the prices for Michael Kors products would rise according to demand. Kors isn’t directly involved in managing Capri, but is chief creative officer and honorary chairman of Michael Kors, the brand, which delivers three quarters of the company’s revenue.

Dance with Mary J. Blige during the Michael Kors 30th Anniversary

Kors’s genius – and longevity – seems to be deeply intertwined with his lack of pretension. He is a huge fan of tabloid magazines. He also spent 10 years hosting reality TV. showProject Runway

Although he prefers black suits from Savile Row tailor Kilgour to his own, he recognizes that color is a key, universal and often overlooked aspect of clothing designComfort is everything. Michael Kors was creating with pleasure in mind long before the pandemic caused a rush to buy sweatpants or athleisure wear.

“The wealthy are not lying around on a sofa eating grapes. They’re busy, they’re active, they’re doing things. I learnt that 40 years ago, and it’s sped up 1000 times since then. I learnt early on that there was something about luxury that was laid-back. People wanted comfort, even if they were glamorous.”

He maintains that indulgence is possible, but it can also be pragmatic. It’s why he still leans heavily on jersey, for example, why he doesn’t trade in ball gowns or even, so much, stilettos, and why he brought back archival pieces for his 40th anniversary collection – because they were functional and still worked for today’s woman.

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, if I was really rich, maybe I wouldn’t be that pragmatic.’ Well, you would be, trust me. Everyone wants to feel good. Clothing, you have to think, can I really wear it? Is it useful? Not many people live a red carpet life.”It was fitting that his last collection before the pandemic did not include a single high-heel, which he considers evidence of his love and comfort, and perhaps a sign that 2020 was on its way.

Kors has been an innovator too many times for us to count: In 2016, Kors was one of the first brands to use Instagram to advertise. In 2014, Kors introduced a see-now/buy-now runway model that allowed customers to shop directly through Instagram posts. It was a bold move to send Iman down the runway in 1984.

1991 saw his September presentation in a warehouse that was disorganized. fashionSuzy Menkes, writer, being hurt by the falling ceiling. Menkes implored Kors to arrange a proper Fashion Week; he – and others – took heed.

He is pushing, and last year he stated that he would only produce two runway collection per year. He cited a need to slow down. fashionCalendar. Inspired by the pandemic he added QR codes to swing tags of garments. Customers can scan the QR codes to find out the story behind the piece.

He believes that innovation is crucial and constant in order to be successful in the future. fashion. He doesn’t stop to reflect on his success. In fact, he is very busy, with a long and exhausting list: Pilates at dawn, a meeting to discuss the Met Gala, a visit his ready-wear team, a discussion on his spring runway, and a meeting with Shakespeare in the Park, his art department.

He thinks about 40 years in the future when he does. fashionCertain moments stand out: Being an American designerParis, learning how to be a creative manager at a global brand, and ringing the New York Stock Exchange bell, as his designs are forever enshrined at the White House. He believes that the real thrill comes from the people who have experienced the work.

“I would like people to say, ‘Oh, I had a Michael Kors handbag, I had a great coat from Michael Kors – and every time I wore it, I felt great.’”

AFR Magazine’s Fashion issue is out Friday, August 27th inside The Australian Financial Review. Follow AFR Magazine on Twitter and Instagram.

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