Michael Kors walks into Hearst’s auditorium with his own iced tea. Crossing his camo loafers (look, “I’m wearing color!” he says later in the interview. “It’s camo but it counts.”), he sets the tea next to the nondescript, off-brand water waiting on the table. He doesn’t twist off the cap. To be fair, neither does Harper’s Bazaar’s Editor-in-Chief Glenda Bailey.
While Heidi Klum is somewhere in the Tower kissing a crushed designer on both cheeks and whispering a breathy “auf Wiedersehen,” the filming of Project Runway is not why Kors is sitting cross ankled in the building. He’s here to answer Bailey’s questions about fashion and business. Each seat in the small auditorium is filled and from Chucks to Choos—we’re on our toes.
The gilded tags that hang off Kors’ luxe bags almost read KK, instead of the telltale MK. Michael Kors was born Karl Anderson Jr. But when his mom remarried she didn’t only change her last name, but her son’s first, last and sur. Kors is cool with it. He says, “we all know there’s only room for one Karl in fashion.” (Meaning, of course, Karl Lagerfeld head designer and creative director of the fashion house Chanel).
His mother’s second wedding was when he realized he wanted to be a designer. His mother was in a white dress. Covered in bows and frill. Everyone was ooing and awing — except Kors. He hated it. Snip the bows he said. They did. “It was the first time I realized women would listen to me,” says Kors. It was also the first time he saw transformation. He was five.
Kors, for all of his early promise in fashion, deviated slightly in his preteen years. “I was 12 years old and all I could dream of was working in a head shop,” says Kors. And at the age of 12, he lived that dream in the form of a little shop in his parent’s basement. He made all the clothes himself, and the neighbor kids cleaned him out in one day flat.
It may have been this endeavor, or his slight flirt with arrogance (he admits he’s confident) that prompted his college job search. “I never thought I should have a normal student job. Folding sweaters—oh god,” he says. “Next thing I knew I was pulling Jackie’s boots off.” It was at Lothar’s, a small boutique frequented by Kennedys and the like, that he began selling his line.
Lothar’s was across the street from Bergdorf Goodman. Which may be why Dawn Mello, Bergdorf’s vice president of fashion, discovered Kors’ designs among the shelfs of the small shop. She asked if he’d show his line to Bergdorf’s people. He didn’t have anything ready to show her clients, so he did what any self-respecting new designer would do — he lied. When someone like Dawn Mello asks you to show your designs, you don’t say no, he says. At age 21 he began selling his line at Bergdorfs.
A Day in the Life of Kors
Today Kors’ designs have expanded to many more stores, including self titled showrooms across the United States, Europe and Asia. His days of pulling off boots (even if they were Jackie’s) are over. Instead he wakes up at dawn and feeds his cats Bunny and Viola (named after his aunts, who he lovingly refers to as “crazy old dames”). Steals himself for the day with yoga and pilates. Then rifles through his drawers, yes drawers, of black aviators. Black is not just black, not to Kors who organizes his aviators in a gradient by tone. “I don’t believe there’s anywhere you can’t wear black aviators—I swim in them,” he says.
But he doesn’t swim in Speedos. “My Speedo days ended very, very swiftly in my early twenties,” says Kors. That’s why Kors is in the ocean with black “victorian lady” trunks when he sees fellow fashion designer, Ralph, as in Lauren, sauntering down the beach in his skimpy suit. Kors says, “Ralph wears a racy swimsuit. I don’t know if it’s a Speedo, but it’s pretty racy.” Ralph Lauren is 74.
Kors waved at his friend from the water, not willing to show the fashion guru his gut. “There’s skinny and then there’s fashion skinny,” he says.
If you’re carrying a Kors creation you may feel his eyes on you from their covert position behind tinted windows and signature black aviators. He counts the number of bags he spots when he’s in his car. He says, “if there aren’t a few bags I feel sad.”
“My first show is where Bed Bath and Beyond is now,” says Kors. He didn’t always believe his designs should walk down the now-As Seen in TV aisle. When he was starting out he refused to conform to fashion norms. He believed runway shows don’t show details, two sizes — petite and small — fit all, and seasons are overrated. Furthermore, during the recession designers fled to evening gowns. It wasn’t Kors’ style, but with the economy spiraling he considered it.
In the end he vetoed the idea saying, “if there’s a question and the ground is moving, then, more than ever, you have to be who you are.”
Love and older gents in Speedos,