Michael Kors: All-American Boy
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The Big 3-0
He wouldn’t typically be the first person to hit the dance floor, but Michael Kors couldn’t help himself. “Fashion folk can sometimes get a little selfconscious, but right away I was out of my seat at the table,” he recalls.
It was a perfect spring night in March, and Kors was throwing a party to celebrate his just-opened store in Paris. The guest entertainer was Mary J. Blige, who was belting out her rendition of Stairway to Heaven. “She was pouring her heart and soul into this, and I just thought, I’m going to rush the stage and turn this into a mosh pit,” Kors says. “I think I was doing some sort of demented bar mitzvah watusi, but I didn’t care. She was singing for me, and I was going to dance for her.”
Blige wasn’t even the first Grammy Award winner to serenade the designer this year, but more on that in a moment. If it sounds like Michael Kors leads a bit of a charmed life, well, even he would quickly agree that he does—especially this year: 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of his eponymous label, and Kors has turned the milestone into a 12-month party. “It’s been an amazing whirlwind of a year,” he says in late June, noting that the celebratory mood was sparked by two events that occurred in 2010: Kors turned 50 last August—“and I admit it, though no one in fashion ever turns 40, let alone 50; we’re all 38 or 39 forever”—while two months earlier the Council of Fashion Designers of America had awarded him its Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award. “Those two things together made me stop and breathe and say, ‘Wait a minute, we’re almost at 30 years,’” Kors recalls. “I’m not one to reminisce, but those moments did make me reflect and think about what I’ve seen, the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had and how much fashion has changed.”
He indeed has witnessed a wealth of change in those three decades— “The Internet of course has revolutionized fashion and how we think about it, while plastic surgery has totally changed how we design, because people don’t have rules about how they look at a certain age anymore”—and yet the essence of what Michael Kors is all about, classic luxe that largely takes its cue from the highest ideals of American sportswear, has altered little. Schizophrenic collections can plague a designer as he or she gets older, always rooted in the pressure to remain relevant and current to ever-younger audiences who are not only discovering you, but often doing so online, making snap judgments mere seconds after you’ve sent a collection down the runway. But not Kors: Ask him to describe the essential elements of his first show in 1984, presented in an art gallery on Sixth Avenue in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, and he might as well be talking about his Fall 2011 collection. “The clothes were super-luxe and laid-back,” he says. “I’ve always believed it’s about the woman who wants to wear them, making sure she feels glamorous and yet comfortable, and answering the call of what people are looking for in their wardrobes. That essence will always be there.”