Michael Kors Celebrates a Milestone
BY LAURIE BROOKINS
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NIGEL PARRY
|Grooming by Candice Forness. Shot on location at World Yacht at Pier 81, NYC|
For some designers, a runway bow can be such a cursory moment: a brief step out from backstage, a fleeting wave with a smile that looks equal parts relieved and exhausted, and then, just as quickly, a scurry from sight. But never Michael Kors.
He is always one to enjoy this finale walk, and at Lincoln Center Theater on February 16, fresh on the heels of debuting his Fall 2011 collection, Kors practically bounded the full length of one of the parallel runways wearing an ear-to-ear grin as the cheers of a standing ovation rained down on him. One of his favorite songs, Odyssey’s “Native New Yorker,” had kicked in as Carmen Kass exited in her final look, a one-shoulder crystal gown in suntan jersey, and the smile on Kors’s face spoke volumes. It wasn’t merely that he had a winner on his hands, a confident collection that hit all the right notes: luxe menswear-inspired pieces, sumptuous floor-length cashmere coats and a splash of Studio 54 moments like that crystal-accented jersey gown. This was a fashion show elevated to celebration, Kors’s chosen moment to rejoice in the 30th anniversary of his label.
“I cried the night before at the last fitting,” Kors says. “It was just me and Carmen Kass, and we’re both pretty tough. But we looked at each other and realized that this was kind of a big moment, the finale dress for the 30th anniversary, and that was that. I’ve known some of these girls since they were just babies, and they’ve been such a huge part of what I do. The whole show was wrapped up in warm, familial moments like that.”
From Long Island to Project Runway
If it sounds like Michael Kors leads a bit of a charmed life, well, even he would agree that he does, particularly throughout 2011, as the designer turns his anniversary milestone into a 12-month party. “It’s been an amazing whirlwind of a year,” he says, noting that the celebratory mood was sparked by two events that occurred last year: Kors turned 50 in August—“and I admit it, though no one in fashion ever turns 40, let alone 50; we’re all 38 or 39 forever”—and two months earlier, the Council of Fashion Designers of America 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 start to reflect and think, Wow—what I’ve seen, the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had, and how much fashion has changed.
From his Long Island roots (“You could see the Jones Beach water tower from our living room,” he notes) to his current status as award-winning, globally recognized designer, thanks in no small part to his ongoing Project Runway gig, Kors has undoubtedly 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,” he says. And yet the essence of what Michael Kors is all about—classic luxury that largely takes its cue from the highest ideals of American sportswear—has altered little. 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.”
Michael with his mother, Joan Kors
|Models in Kors’s Fall 2011 show|
The actress Rene Russo believes she may know an equally essential secret to Kors’s success. “It seems to me that Michael is a naturally happy guy; he certainly exudes that,” she says. “He also always strikes me as a very kind person, and that he enjoys his life, and all of that really shows in his clothes.”
In the 1980s, Russo was a young model, freshly transplanted from her native Burbank, California, to New York, when she met Kors, a kid from Long Island with a cherubic face and untamed curly hair. “I didn’t know anything about the business at all, and I would go to these offices with my portfolio, and people were so dismissive of me,” Russo remembers. “Then one day, I went up to Michael’s studio, and he walked in like sunshine. He was so young himself, and I don’t know if he could feel that I was awkward or insecure, but he really put me at ease, and I loved him for that.”
She has worn his clothes consistently on red carpets through the years, but their most famous collaboration came when she wore pieces from his collection in 1999’s The Thomas Crown Affair, a film that has attained something of a cult status among fashion lovers for the styling of Russo’s character. “I’ve got a few of those pieces, and I still wear them because they’re just as amazing today as they were then,” she says. “There’s a beautiful black sheath, a coat and a few of the turtlenecks. Everything he did was so perfect for the character; she needed to be strong and all business, but also beautiful and sexy, and the clothes really helped to make that statement. I don’t know any other movie I’ve done in which the clothes defined the character the way Michael’s did.”
And the Stars Came Out
Russo was among the star-studded lineup sitting front row at that Fall show, an A-list roster that included Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anjelica Huston, Debra Messing, Angie Harmon, Patti Hansen, Emma Roberts and Bette Midler, who had a plan of her own for the designer. “The show day was full of surprises, and normally I’m not good with surprises—for my 30th birthday, I redid the guest list for my surprise party,” Kors says. “All the celebrities normally come backstage before a show starts; you get a second to catch up a little, and they try to take a sneak peek at the racks before the show. But Bette had not arrived, and she’s always unbelievably on time. Then I heard she was there, but everyone said, ‘No, you can’t say hello yet, just wait here.’ I asked why, and I was told, ‘Just wait—you don’t have to know everything.’”
When he finally was allowed to greet Midler, she had a ukulele in hand and launched into a rousing chorus of “Happy Anniversary.” “I grew up enraptured by her music, so that was a big moment for me,” Kors says. “You hear designers complain all the time about how hard our jobs are, and I always think, Why would anyone complain? You get to do what you love to do, and you get to experience things some people only dream about. I think about that when I think about the day of this show, and how my day started with thinking, Why is Bette Midler carrying a ukulele?”
Mary J. Blige performs at Michael Kors’s 30th anniversary celebration in Paris
|Model Carmen Kass and Kors at the 2010 CFDA Fashion Awards at Lincoln Center|
|Michael Kors with Bette Midler, singing “Happy Anniversary” backstage at New York Fashion Week|
It's All About the Clothes
Michael Kors’s Fall collection is undeniably a celebration of what he loves, and of what women like Russo and Midler love about him. “I didn’t want it to be a reminiscence of 30 years; I wanted it to say what I’m about as a designer,” he says. That desire was translated into exquisitely tailored menswear-influenced suitings in deep charcoal, or ankle-length cashmere coats in a blush tone that added a new warmth to Kors’s beloved camel, all juxtaposed with divinely draped dresses in silk charmeuse or jersey and some cunning jumpsuits, many woven through that glam ’70s Studio 54 thread. The overall effect was precisely that balance of hard versus soft, structured versus supple, at which Kors quite simply excels.
“First off, I’m outerwear-obsessed and
tailoring-obsessed, and somehow I think we’ve lost the idea of tailoring in fashion,” Kors explains when asked about the roots of the collection. “I don’t like thinking there’s a whole generation of women who don’t understand one simple truth: that when you put on a beautifully tailored coat and it’s cut a certain way, it not only does wonderful things for your body, but it also lasts for years. And it doesn’t have to be masculine; it can be very sexy.”
While those cashmere jumpsuits are also a nod to the notion that Kors came of age, as he puts it, “in the beginning of the paparazzi era, with all those great Ron Galella photos of people in real life, of seeing Jackie Kennedy in her T-shirt and pants, of Lauren Hutton and Ali MacGraw,” he’s likewise passionate about their purpose. “I love a long, lean line, and the challenge of how do you give someone an extra six inches of leg,” Kors says. “That’s such a big part of who I am as a designer, and no matter what time I’m in, I’ve always known what I stood for: Every woman wants to look taller and leaner, everyone wants to look sexy but be comfortable. My customer insists on clothes that are versatile, indulgent and glamorous, with the kind of opposing idea that they’re also relaxed and easy. That’s ultimately Michael Kors.”
A New East Hampton Store and Much More
This banner year, of course, shows little sign of ebbing. Just weeks after that February show, Kors opened a Paris store on the Rue Saint-Honoré, the scene of a raucous 30th anniversary celebration featuring Mary J. Blige as the entertainment, a moment that had Kors uncharacteristically out of his seat and on the dance floor. “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.”
The Quinn python envelope clutch in multiple color options ($995)
|Rene Russo and Michael Kors at his Fall 2011 afterparty|
|Black Python embossed leather bracelet with silvertone buckle closure and Luggage Croco embossed leather bracelet with goldtone buckle closure ($175 each)|
On the heels of that opening, Kors also debuted a new East Hampton location this spring, a 2,795-square-foot boutique at 10 Newtown Lane that he calls a natural fit for the brand and an extension to his already existing Southampton location at 30 Main Street. “I don’t know anywhere else in the world where you can find the sophistication that now exists in the Hamptons in terms of amazing shopping, incredible food, fabulous homes and architecture, and then the most gorgeous beaches and countryside,” he says. “It’s fun for us, also because we love being a part of that lifestyle and we’re able to design special things for that store.” Other boutique openings have likewise followed in London, Hong Kong and Tokyo; by the end of 2012, his company plans to have opened nearly 300 stores worldwide.
Kors also added jewelry to his Michael Michael Kors label earlier this summer, hosting an intimate cocktail party at his Madison Avenue store. The launch collection boasts the hallmarks of the Kors DNA—chunky gold cocktail rings and link bracelets mixed with wide cuffs in tortoise or snake, for example—all of which feel particularly well-suited to the Hamptons lifestyle. This is no accident, Kors says. “If I realized 30 years into this that what I’m all about is this yin and yang of pragmatic indulgence, what better place for that than the Hamptons?” he says. “I’ve always been a beach bum, so I love anyplace where people wear a bikini bottom with a 12-ply sweater. It’s always been everything I love about New York, except you’re in flip-flops.”
As the summer winds down, there is yet more cause for celebration. In early August, Kors and longtime partner Lance LePere, a creative director for the label, were spotted applying for a marriage license at City Hall in Manhattan. On August 16, they made it official, swapping “I do”s on Dune Beach in Southampton in a private ceremony officiated by Mayor Mark Epley. Was Kors happy? As he told WWD, “To marry someone as wonderful and special to me as Lance, barefoot on a glorious beach, is more than I could have ever dreamed of.”
Indeed, as Michael Kors reflects on this joyful year, undoubtedly it is this moment that resonates the most. Beyond standing ovations, serenades from A-list songstresses or the accolades one enjoys throughout the three decades of creating a global brand, on this particular day, Michael Kors surely was sporting a smile like none we have ever seen before.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID X PRUTTING/BFANYC.COM (MIDLER); BILLY FARRELL/BFANYC.COM (RUSSO); DIMITRIOS KAMBOURIS (JOAN KORS, KASS); IVAN MATHIE (BLIGE); DAN & CORINA LECCA (RUNWAY)