Culture / Fashion / Style

On Milestones, Pivots, and an Optimistic Lens — Michael Kors Looks Back on 40 Years of Fashion

The Designer on Legacy, Celebrity, and His Love of Texas' "Carpool Couture"

BY // 12.06.21

Ruby may be the precious material associated with 40th anniversaries, but in the case of Michael Kors, it should be gold. After all, he is the golden boy of American sportswear — and it’s especially obvious when perusing archival shots, given his blond cascading curls and megawatt smile. Kors launched his namesake company in 1981 and is now a household name around the globe. Born on Long Island, he demonstrated a preternatural talent with clothes, even convincing his mother when he was five that she should cut the bows off her wedding dress for her second marriage.

On his recent whirlwind visit to Dallas, we stole a few moments to chat.

michael kors interview
Early ’80s Michael Kors (courtesy of Michael Kors)

PC: Take us back to the beginning again.
Kors: I was working in Lothar’s, a fabulous boutique on 57th Street in NYC, while I was in college at FIT. I started working there as a part-time sales associate. Then I left school and ended up doing everything — managing the store, doing the windows, and designing the clothes for them. One day the [then] fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, Dawn Mello, came over and asked me who some of the pieces in the window were by, and I said, “They’re mine.” So, she said, “Can you come across the street with your line to show our buyers?” Of course, I said yes, but what she didn’t know is that I didn’t have a line! But I whipped one up very quickly, and Bergdorf’s was my first account.

Some might call you the preeminent American sportswear designer. What does the term American sportswear mean to you today? Has the modern woman changed much over the decades?
Kors: Today, American sportswear is no longer strictly American. It’s global. As for whether the modern woman has changed, sure, of course, we change with the times. However, women all over the world still appreciate the luxury, versatility, and ease that are the essence of sportswear.

michael kors interview
Vintage Michael Kors and models (photo by Christophe von Hohenberg)

You’ve had the opportunity to dress many celebrities through the years for numerous awards shows. Does anyone stand out?
Kors: There have been so many favorites — I could never pick just one! Kate Hudson, Regina King, Zendaya, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez … the list goes on and on. Collaborating with celebrities for the Met Ball is always great fun.

Looking back at 2020 through an optimistic lens … Did you learn anything about yourself while sheltering in place? Did you pivot in any ways with your company that might continue into the future?
Kors: I definitely learned a great deal, both professionally and personally, from the experience of being locked down. I’m almost never home in New York during the spring. We’re always traveling, so those first few months were a very different experience for us. And we learned to appreciate the smaller things — the flowers blooming on our terrace, finding a store that was open and carrying our favorite chocolate bars. Another change is that before all of this, I would not say I was the most technologically savvy guy around. But we all learn to adapt, and I spent many, many hours on video meetings during quarantine.

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In terms of the industry, we all had time to step back and really analyze how we work. For us, we used the time to reset our calendars and take a look at what makes the most sense for us — from both a design and production perspective — and for our customers, in terms of how and when they want to shop. Frankly, it will take some time for us to understand all the ways in which we’ve changed, because we’re all still learning.

Michael Kors portrait by Inez & Vinoodh

You have a huge fan base in Texas. What do you appreciate about Texas clients?
Kors: I love Texas. There’s an unabashed enthusiasm for fashion here that sets it apart from other places. My Texas clients love true glamour and getting dressed up more than any other clients in the U.S. It’s the state where I coined the phrase “carpool couture.”

What you enjoy doing when you’re in town.
Kors: In Dallas, I always have to have Sonny Bryan’s barbecue and, of course, a popover at the Zodiac Room at Neiman’s.

How you see your brand evolving over the next decade.
Kors: I don’t have a crystal ball, but the future is always about listening to our customers and understanding — sometimes before they do — what they want and need in their wardrobes. For example, one thing we are focused on is longevity and timelessness, on clothes and accessories that last and will make you feel as good in 10 years or so, as they do today.

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Michael Kors Spring/Summer 2022

Your idea of a perfect evening.
Kors: I love a casual night out with friends, a great burger, a steady flow of vodka, and lots of laughter.

You’re known for your iconic look: T-shirt (normally black), blazer (also normally black), and sunglasses. What does Michael Kors wear to bed?
Kors: More black — but the details are better left a mystery.

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