Fashion designer Michael Kors celebrates his 35th year in business with an intoxicating new fragrance, Wonderlust, and the launch of branded technological wearables. Here, Kors talks traveling the globe as well as the things important to him close to home on Long Island.
On Lily: Gold metallic brocade dress, Michael Kors Collection ($3,495). 19 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, 267-2200
Let’s be honest—there are fashion designers and then there is Michael Kors, whose 35 years in business and 10 seasons as a judge on Project Runway make him a bona fide celebrity. His unique combination of talent, grit, and success have made Kors a household name, and now, with the launch of his latest perfume—Wonderlust, an exotic blend of bergamot, almond milk, and sandalwood, among other unconventional ingredients, and an ad campaign starring none other than Lily Aldridge—as well as the new branded Michael Kors Access smartwatch, he’s set to further cement his status as an icon in fashion, accessories, and fragrances. Hamptons spent a morning with Kors covering everything from the changing landscape of fashion to philanthropy to his love of the East End.
Model Lily Aldridge fronts the ad campaign for designer Michael Kors’s latest fragrance, Wonderlust. Silver floral metallic embroidered brocade dress, Michael Kors Collection ($6,995). 19 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, 267-2200
Let’s talk about the Hamptons…
Love. I’m a beach bum at heart. I grew up on Long Island, crazily enough in Nassau County, very close to Jones beach. By the time I was a teenager, when I first started to drive, I would drive to Southampton for a cup of coffee at the diner. How can you not be inspired by such unbelievable scenery every which way you look?
Often, when I look at your clothes, you can sense that you are inspired by the Hamptons lifestyle.
Very much. If you think about what I stand for as a designer, everything I do is glamorous but laid back, and that kind of sums up the Hamptons. To me, nothing is better than you’re at a cocktail party in an extravagant pair of trousers, but you’re barefoot and you’re wearing your husband’s t-shirt. That to me is the Hamptons. It’s the most expensive, delicious lobster salad in the world with a Coke Zero at the beach. It’s that high-low mix.
White silk georgette blouse ($1,095) and feather embroidered denim jeans ($2,295), Michael Kors Collection. 19 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, 267-2200
Which is something you’ve tried to achieve at your two stores in the Hamptons, in Southampton and East Hampton.
I am a big Sant Ambroeus fan. When we first saw the spot [in Southampton], I said you get to shop and eat on the same strip, what could be better? But we wanted the store there to have everything from a gorgeous cashmere sweater to a flip-flop, from an espadrille to a python clutch, because you’re not buying an entire wardrobe when you’re out at the beach; you want to pick up a great item. I always tell people the coolest thing in the world for me as a designer is when I know people really live in what they buy from me, that it’s not just for a special occasion.
You have a home on Long Island—is this a place you come to year round?
I chase the sun. I’m here a lot in the summer, and then I try to head somewhere warm as soon as it gets a bit colder.
Is that the secret to keeping a tan year round?
Yeah, yeah… You try to be good with the SPF, but we’re still working on it. [Laughs]
“The coolest thing in the world for me as a designer is when I know people really live in what they buy from me, that it’s not just for a special occasion.” —Michael Kors
Let’s talk about the wearables launch. First of all, why now?
Michael Kors is always going to be one part glamour and indulgence and one part pragmatism and wearability, and if you can combine the two, it’s the greatest thing and it’s what you grab for all the time. So if you can wear something that, from a technological point of view, can simplify your life and even help you as far as fitness and just organizing your day, but then you can actually make it feel appropriate for what you’re wearing… It’s an accessory, but it’s an accessory that simplifies your life. What can be better than that?
How much are the Michael Kors Access smartwatches?
They’re $398, so it’s not breaking the bank. I always go back to early in the ’90s—I was in Bergdorf’s and there was a young woman who happened to be in my department, and she said, “I love this dress so much, is it ever going to go on sale?” And the salesgirl said, “Well, we only have one.” She said, “Oh, I love the clothes, but they are just out of my range.” And it really was the first time it hit me that there is something to be said for just style and performance and quality, that doesn’t always mean it has to cost a fortune. Why can’t it be more democratic? So for $398, it can be an investment piece for one person, and for someone else, it’s a fun addition to their wardrobe.
Ruffled silk georgette bow blouse, Michael Kors Collection ($1,250). 19 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, 267-2200
This launch is in September. Something else that launches in September is your new fragrance, Wonderlust, which is a take on travel, which you love.
I’m always up for anything. If you said to me, “You know, Michael, do you have three or four hours free next weekend, do you want to go horseback riding in Montauk?” I’ll say sure, even though I’m a terrible rider, I’ll go! I’ll do anything that you come up with, and so we really wanted a fragrance that talked about the idea that you are up for the unexpected, you are willing to experiment and you want to have fun.
It doesn’t hurt that the ad campaign features Lily Aldridge, on a yacht, shot by Mario Testino.
It doesn’t hurt at all. She’s on a yacht, and she’s at a party, and she sees a really cute guy and says, “Let’s get out of here.” She’s wearing the most divine beaded dress, but she doesn’t care, and she jumps in the water and gets wet. We saw this in La Dolce Vita—just the idea of living life to its fullest.
Slate floral silk georgette streamer dress, Michael Kors Collection ($2,795). 19 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, 267-2200
Let’s also talk about philanthropy. You’re a UN ambassador for your work with the World Food Programme and you’re also very involved with God’s Love We Deliver, both organizations focused on fighting hunger. Why is this so important to you?
I’m a problem-solver as a person and as a designer. I remember back in the ’80s when the AIDS crisis first started—you kind of felt, What can I do? I’m not a scientist, I’m not a doctor… The reality was we could get food to people who needed it. As I started to travel more and see more of the world, I realized we have to deal with this all over the planet. The food is there, but then we had to find the right people who could deliver it. The World Food Programme [is] delivering meals in Syria. Locally here in New York, getting nutritious meals out to those who are ill is what God’s Love We Deliver has done so remarkably since the ’80s.
You’ve donated 10 million meals so far?
No, more. We’re at 13 million meals!
You should be proud of yourself.
I am very proud of our customers and my fans on social media. You don’t have to be wealthy to help out. We wanted to engage people and [help them understand that] maybe I only have $5 to contribute, so I won’t have a cappuccino this morning, [and] $5 is 20 meals.
“I am more curious and more engaged than ever because life is changing, and for a designer, when things change, that’s when it’s exciting.” —Michael Kors
Your brand has 8.1 million followers on Instagram and, yet, you don’t have a personal Instagram.
I am a pretty public person, always have been, [and I am] certainly never shy or fearful of an interview. When I was doing Project Runway, I realized how public I became, and I made the decision at the time that there’s got to be a line. But at the same time, I love looking. I love seeing what my friends are up to.
It’s a little addictive, isn’t it?
It is, and also for us, from a business perspective, I’ve always loved doing a trunk show. I love doing personal appearances. When you have stores around the world, I can’t go from Bucharest to Bali, but with social media I can. The simple truth is we’re able to communicate with everyone.
Silver metallic embroidered tulle pants, Michael Kors Collection ($6,995). 19 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, 267-2200
You’ve been in business since 1981—besides chasing the sun, what’s next?
I have to say, 35 years in, I am more curious and more engaged than ever because, quite honestly, life is changing, and for a designer, when things change, that’s when it’s exciting. People are communicating differently, shopping differently, and living differently. All the old rules are gone, [or at least] diminished, and I think they will continue to evolve.
Thirty-five years in business, a lifetime of memories, you must think about legacy. So when are you writing your memoir?
I think I have five books in me. I have five books in me and a very good memory!
Photography by Errikos Andreou. Styling by Paul Cavaco. Hair by Christos Bairabas. Makeup by Christina Zoe