This story was originally published in Sunday magazine
Michael Kors is a titan of American fashion, helping to define a certain kind of contemporary sportswear and “good taste”. For the designer, that idea of taste, in its many interpretations, has always been a key part of the brand he launched in 1981.
“I’ve always believed in polished ease and luxe simplicity, but really, I think all kinds of ‘taste’ are personal,” he says in an email. “If what you’re wearing makes you feel strong and confident and at ease in your own skin, it’s in good taste.”
Some may know Kors through his role as a judge on early seasons of Project Runway, others as the friendly figurehead of accessible luxury and design. Earlier this year his brand celebrated its 40th year in business with a moving digital show held on the streets of New York’s shuttered theatre district .
“It was an occasion to step back and take stock,” he explains of the milestone. “Celebrating 40 years in business made me think about what matters most to me in my work and life – empathy, timelessness, ease, New York City, the good fortune of doing what I love with people who inspire me. And of course, the pleasure of connecting with people around the world.” That includes here in New Zealand, where, earlier this month, Michael Kors opened its first New Zealand boutique as part of the new luxury precinct in Auckland’s Westfield Newmarket.
In 1982 Anna Wintour wrote a glowing profile on the young designer for New York magazine, neatly summing up his approach then and now. “Michael Kors, 22, feels that fashion should be evolutionary, not revolutionary,” she wrote. “He plans to keep his collections small and interchangeable, stressing pared-down luxury.”
For Kors, it’s an attitude that still feels true 40 years later, still inspired by the women in his family. “My mother’s minimalist chic, my grandmother’s over-the top glamour, my aunt’s boho luxury – it all remains a huge part of what I am as a designer today. And now I also have [husband] Lance’s nieces and nephews to inspire me,” he says.
“To me, the modern idea of glamour is everyday glamour. Nothing is better than being able to feel glamorous and comfortable at the same time. And I think we are in a really interesting time right now, where women want both of those things simultaneously more than ever.”
How do you feel about the state of fashion right now? What excites you?
That it’s always changing and change is what keeps things exciting.
The fashion business has changed dramatically over the 40 years you have been in business, and even post Covid. What change means most to you?
In terms of the industry, during Covid we all had time to step back and analyse 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 a design and production perspective – and for our customers .
You are known as an incredible host. What are your rules for hosting a celebration, and ensuring that everybody has a fabulous time?
Caviar on potato chips, and keep the Champagne flowing.
Who would you love to host at a dinner party?
Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn, Andy Warhol and Queen Elizabeth – my dream would be to have a dinner party with all of them because they are all legends and icons.
You seem like you love a good time but also always seem rested and peppy. How do you manage that alongside running a successful multinational company?
It’s all about finding the right balance of work and relaxation. I don’t say no often enough – my calendar is always booked! But nothing makes me feel more relaxed than sitting on the beach with a juicy biography .
Is there a well-known figure who you think represents the Michael Kors woman right now?
There have been so many favourites – I could never pick just one! Kate Hudson, Regina King, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez – but the list goes on and on.
What do you know about Aotearoa New Zealand? Are there any well-known figures here you would love to dress?
I haven’t been to New Zealand yet, but it’s at the top of my list. I’d love to dress everyone ! But if I had to narrow it down, it would be fun to see Lorde in Michael Kors.