For many people, there’s a fog as to why they were born and what they’re meant to do. For others, their mission is focused and clear. For New Yorker Michael Kors, who transformed a design business starting in his apartment to a multibillion-dollar fashion empire, his path seemed almost predetermined.
“My whole family was really obsessed with fashion,” says Kors, honoured as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2013. “My mother and grandmother would argue over the colour of a shoe for hours, so I learned early on to have strong opinions about style.”
Kors’ mother was a model, his grandfather worked in textiles, and he describes his grandmother as a “a high school principal whose favourite thing to say was that she never repeated an outfit.”
At 5 years old, there was a sign as to where the young Kors would be heading. His mother was remarrying and brought her son to the first fitting for her wedding dress.
“It was covered with bows, and I remember thinking that they looked terrible, so when she asked me what I thought of the dress, I couldn’t lie,” says the now-iconic designer. His mom listened, and the tailor snipped off the bows.
What the story illustrates is not only how a 5-year-old could so astutely influence someone who worked professionally in fashion for years, it’s what it implies about Kors’ character — suggesting a different starting point for why he does fashion.
Kors deeply cares who he designs for — today’s woman — to build self-confidence and love for herself with wearable fashions that she can look stunning in every day, not just a few times a year.
“My vision, for 35 years, has always been to create clothes that women can actually wear in their everyday life,” he says. “For me, if I don’t see something walking down the street, then it’s not a success.”
His mother’s big day, however, wasn’t the only indicator that Kors would grow up to be an icon. “I was very creative and I loved to sketch, and by the time I turned 11, it was pretty clear that I was going to work in fashion,” he says. “At 11 years old, I opened a shop in my basement called The Iron Butterfly, where I made candles, whip-stitch leather bags and hammered-copper bracelets. I sold out in a week and never reopened!”
A few years later in high school, a friend’s father who owned a jeans company told the teenager Kors if he had any fresh ideas, he should come see him. “So I brought some denim sketches, and he looked through them all and he bought two of them. I couldn’t believe it! I think those early successes gave me the confidence you need to work in fashion,” says the now-famous fashion designer. “My family was encouraging and supportive of me right from the start. My mom always said, ‘Do what you love.’”
Spring Summer 2017 Women Collection
Kors wasn’t just raised into the right atmosphere for fashion, he was born with the heart for it — genuinely empathetic to people and the needs of his customers, hard-working, and fearless — a quality that was as inborn as his creative talent. Honestly, what child becomes a successful entrepreneur at age 11?
Spring Summer 2017 Men Collection
Kors’ karmic blessings continued with his big break — meeting Dawn Mello, the fashion director of Manhattan’s biggest luxury department store, Bergdorf Goodman. Kors was tidying up the boutique Lothar’s on 57th Street where he was working, when Mello asked him whose pieces were in the window. Kors said, “They’re mine.”
She said, “If you ever start your own collection, call me.” Without hesitation, Kors went home that night and started sketching his own collection. “The rest is history — we’ve been selling in Bergdorf’s ever since,” says the fashion mogul.
Kors seems to have always been more than a designer — he’s a problem solver, an entrepreneur at heart, truly empathetic of what’s missing in women’s lives.
“I’m excited to continue meeting and learning about my customers around the world,” he says. “I’m one of the few designers who still does trunk shows — I love them because I love to talk with my customers.”
It’s that same authentic caring that’s always inspired his design philosophy, putting chicness and elegance within reach of his customers, regularly.
“Early on, I was inspired by the paparazzi images of Jackie Kennedy and Lauren Hutton looking glamorous in Capri one day and attending a black tie dinner in NY the next,” says Kors. “Since then I’ve known that I wanted to create a wardrobe that could work for all times and moments in a woman’s life, and I wanted it to be easy. So we do have evening wear, but it has the attitude of sportswear — beaded gowns that feel like a T-shirt, separates that can be dressed up for night.”
Kor’s care for humanity extends beyond fashion these days as well, as he hopes to see one day “a world without hunger,” he says. He’s launched the “Watch Hunger Stop” campaign to provide meals and inspire change on a global scale, again revealing the depth that drives the icon today.
“I find inspiration everywhere,” he says. “I am constantly taking in my surroundings, and I think if you’re out there travelling and engaging in the world, there is never a lack of inspiration.”
Michael Kors’ Favourite Things:
Michael Kors fashion empire may be high-profile, but his personal style keeps down-to-earth. He emanates casual cool, dressed down in a simple black tee and easy Tod’s, a vintage leather L.L. Bean tote slung over his shoulder. Accessories are minimal: a precious wedding band, a pair of aviators, and a practical silver chronograph, both from his own collection, finished with a spiced spritz of Michael Kors for Men. Similarly low-key in his tastes, the designer enjoys a great steak and the simplicity of white peonies, and appreciates the quirky craftsmanship of vintage George Nakashima furniture and the modern ingenuity of Mark Rothko paintings. He doesn’t leave home without his iPad and a buttery Berluti satchel, and draws inspiration from visits to colourful Capri, or uplifting reads such as The Vogue Years memoir by fashion icon Diana Vreeland. And when it comes to indulging in a bit of luxury, for Michael this means a smooth drive in his sleek black Mercedes S550, or an escape from the daily grind with a pampering stay at Phuket’s lushly exotic Amanpuri resort.
Chinese Text by Cherry Chen English Text by J.H. White Produced by Many Ngom