Michael Kors at 40: A Celebration of the Designer’s Life in Fashion
From left: Carolyn Murphy opens the spring 2018 Michael Kors Collection show; Naomi Campbell walks in the 2021 Times Square show; the designer at the close of his spring 2019 show; Zendaya in Michael Kors collection at the Met gala, 2016; spreading the love at the spring 2017 show Photos: Getty Images; Alessandro Garofalo / Indigital.tv (far left and far right)Collage by David Vo. Photos: Getty Images; Alessandro Garofalo / Indigital.tv (far left and far right)
“To be honest with you, I’m a little kind of ‘pinch me’.” So says Michael Kors about his 40th anniversary, which he’s celebrating with a blockbuster fall 2021 collection reveal tomorrow. With characteristic ebullience, he adds, “I’m still kind of juiced to just see people on the street wearing what I design.” His cup runneth over: Michael Kors has fans everywhere.
Watch Michael Kors’ 40th anniversary runway show live below at 5pm GST/ 4pm KSA time.
What draws these customers to Kors, beyond 10-ply cashmere and a super-recognizable geometric logo, is the jet-set dream. A sun and fun ethos has always been a mainstay of the Kors brand, be it the flash of clear blue waters, the diamond sparkle of snow, or the pop of a flashbulb. Celebrities like Zendaya, Viola Davis, and Nicole Kidman flock to the designer not for the Cinderella treatment, but for red-carpet looks with just the right amount of dazzle that lets them shine.
He’s the quintessential New Yorker. “We are the birthplace of the life that is just warp speed,” he says. “I think quickly, I move quickly, I talk quickly. Our ethos has been about the movement of a life lived quickly and indulgence. So there’s comfort, which you need for speed, mixed in with the idea that I believe that most people have this sort of streak in them: that they want to indulge. As much as we all want to have a salad, everyone dreams of the chocolate mousse.”
Kors’s recipe for success, both personally and professionally, is based on the balance of opposites. As far back as he can remember, the designer notes, “there’s a part of me that’s very pragmatic, and then there’s a part of me that’s silly and indulgent.” Those contrasting forces meet in garments that are at once timeless and topical, luxurious yet democratic. Speaking of his process Kors explains that he’ll stick to neutrals when creating dramatic silhouettes, and leans towards “outlandish” colors or prints when working with simple lines. “Am I user friendly? Yes,” he says.
In the course of four decades, the designer has seen fashion and communication go global, and the speed of change increase exponentially. “The world is definitely spinning at a faster axis than it did when I started. [As fashion people] we talked about the rules changing for years, but I think we were just speaking to ourselves. We’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, there are no seasons, there’s no time of day. You can wear sequins to the office, you can wear sneakers at night, you can wear boots in the summer, sandals in the winter. And I think for a long time, we in the industry might have lived that way, but the public hadn’t started thinking that way. And now just all the rules are gone. There are no seasons, there are no borders. The notion of American fashion versus British fashion versus Japanese fashion versus the French—I don’t think any of that matters anymore at all, because I think we’re all plugged into the same things and information is so available and we’re all learning and stealing from each other. So it has gotten far more democratic, and I think more interesting.” Definitely more interesting in Kors’s case. Here, a timeline of his 40 fabulous years in business.
A drawing by Michael Kors. Illustration: Courtesy of Michael Kors
Born Karl Anderson Jr. in Long Island, New York.
Michael Kors with his mother, Joan.Photo: Courtesy of Michael Kors
Changes name on the occasion of his mother’s marriage to Bill Kors. “My mother said, ‘You’re getting a new last name, so why don’t you pick a new first name?” Appears as a model in advertising for cereal and household products. Sees his first musical, Annie Get Your Gun, starring Ethel Merman.
Michael Kors. Photo: Courtesy of Michael Kors
Opens his first boutique, the Iron Butterfly. “I was real crafty. I had a little shop in my basement selling things that I made. I was 12.”
Michael Kors and his signature sunglasses.Photo: Courtesy of Michael Kors
Becomes a mall rat. “I’m a suburban boy who, like, got a rush walking into the mall,” Kors once told Vogue. “I remember being 14 years old and saving up for something: the tissue paper, the shopping bag, the whole thing.”
Michael Kors, ready to hit the dance floor.Photo: Courtesy of Michael Kors
“All of a sudden, disco hit. I was 16 and out came the platforms and the Fiorucci jeans. I went out every night.”
Bianca Jagger and Victor Hugo celebrating her birthday at Studio 54, 1977. Photo: Robin Platzer / Twin Images / & Online USA
Skips his high school prom to dance all night at Studio 54, wearing, he has said, “a piece of raw-silk jersey wrapped into a diaper pant.” Enrolls at the Fashion Institute of Technology and works part time at Lothar’s, which he would later describe as “the Gap for the Guinnesses.” Is at Studio 54 the night that Bianca Jagger rode on a white horse through the club. Needless to say he was late to class the next day. “I have big Porsche sunglasses on, and the teacher says, ‘Well, thank you so much for joining us.’ Of course, the arrogance of 18, I said, “I’m sorry, but I was out at Bianca’s birthday party.’ And all the kids in the class looked at me and were like, Ugh, you’re gross.”
Launches business in May. Shows his small collection of separates, made with the help of a tailor, to Dawn Mello, then at Bergdorf Goodman. She put the pieces, which Kors had hand-delivered driving his aunt’s Mercedes, in the store’s windows—a real coup. “I was 22, so I didn’t really realize the impact of [having the] windows going onto the Avenue at Bergdorf Goodman my first season in business. Now when I look back, I think to myself, Wow, this is the singular pinnacle store that is only here in New York City, nowhere else in the world, and what a way to launch.” December: The designer is profiled in Vogue. “Only 22 years old, Kors firmly believes American women want everyday clothes to be comfortable with dash. And, he makes a point of eliminating any detail that would be gimmicky,” noted the magazine. “I want to make clothes that won’t date,” the designer stated.
Susan Hess in a wool jersey coat, linen blouse, and wool crepe skirt by Michael Kors.Photographed by Arthur Elgort, Vogue, August 1982
Soon came a write-up in New York magazine. “Michael Kors, 22, feels that fashion should be evolutionary, not revolutionary,” read the blurb written by Anna Wintour. “He plans to keep his collections small and interchangeable, stressing pared-down luxury.”
Michael Kors, 1983 Photo: Alan Raia / Newsday RM via Getty Images
Presents first runway show, for fall 1984, at The Tower Gallery in New York, in which Iman walked. “Michael Kors is a man with a minimalist point of view, and he knows how to deliver it,” reported WWD. “I waited and I did not have a fashion show for almost four years. And honestly, I didn’t think anyone was going to come to the show,” the designer said in a 2021 interview. “I was like, Why would anyone come to see me? I’m new, and I’m small, and I’m somewhat under the radar. There’s a buzz, but I’m not a household name. And I remember at the end of the show, when I came out, I was shocked that not only did it go well, but there was actually an audience there that was excited to see what I had been doing.”
Michael Kors Collection, fall 1998 ready-to-wear Photo: © Maria Chandoha Valentino / Courtesy of Michael Kors
“Fashion in the late ’80s really started to shift—we saw the emergence of the supermodel with Linda, Cindy, Christy, and Naomi. It was an incredible moment for American fashion. When these women hit the scene, you finally started to see personality, diversity, and variety on the runway. They just lit up the room,” Kors has written. He explored tailoring in depth for his fall 1998 collection, in which these models walked. See all the fall 1988 looks.
Nadège du Bospertus in a gingham look by Michael Kors, 1990. Photographed by Arthur Elgort, Vogue, February 1990
Enters Chapter 11, recovers, launches the lower-priced KORS Michael Kors line in September.
Michael Kors Collection, fall 1991 ready-to-wear Photo: © Niall McInerney / Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
The ceiling falls on Suzy Menkes’s head during Michael Kors’s fall 1991 runway show, presented in a loft in Chelsea. She was thankfully unharmed, but the incident precipitates the creation of a centralized New York Fashion Week. See all the fall 1991 looks.
1992 claudia phone Photographed by Arthur Elgort Vogue, July 1992
Debuts Michael Kors Men’s with a show at Grand Central Station.
Shalom Harlow in New York City wearing a camel-hair coat and velvet leopard shift dress by Michael Kors. Photographed by Arthur Elgort, Vogue, August 1994
Shows a fall collection that he later says was “all about legs, legs, legs, legs, legs.”
Kirsten Owen in a Michael Kors suit. Photographed by Arthur Elgort, Vogue, August 1997
Named Creative Director for the house of Celine in Paris. “They’re the only quality French house that was known for their sportswear,” Kors later tells The Los Angeles Times. “They’re interested in real clothes that are expedient, comfortable, pragmatic, and push that luxury envelope. That’s what I do.”
Celine Dion performing at the Oscars. Photo: Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images
March: Presents debut Celine collection for fall 1998. “I always thought I was such just a New York guy. I never in a million, zillion, trillion years thought that I would ever design and show in Paris,” Kors says, looking back. “The first season designing Celine, back in ’98 and, and showing in Paris, it blew my mind. It felt cinematic to me and I am a movie aficionado and suddenly, I felt like Kay Thompson in Funny Face.” Later in the month Celine Dion wears a Michael Kors for Celine gown while performing “My Heart Will Go On” at the Oscars. July: “I switch between a baseball cap and a beret with great ease,” said Kors of his transatlantic gigs, noting, “Paris is softer; New York is sharper. Doing the two collections is good for me. It allows me the two sides of my personality.” August: Model Carolyn Murphy wears Michael Kors for Celine on the cover of Vogue.
Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair, 1999.Photo: ©MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection
March: Naomi Campbell models a cape in Michael Kors’s fall 1999 collection that Joan Didion subsequently later wears in a Tina Barney portrait. June: Receives the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year Award, presented by Susan Lucci. August: Creates Rene Russo’s wardrobe for the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. September: The theme of his spring 2000 collection is “Palm Bitch.”
Lisa Taylor on the go. Photographed by Arthur Elgort, Vogue, October 1976
May: Writes a “Nostalgia” piece for Vogue about Arthur Elgort’s 1976 photograph of model Lisa Taylor driving. “I think it’s fair to say that you probably can’t get past the era in which you come of age,” he wrote. “When that photograph ran, it was a serious time, and an anti-fashion, anti-affectation moment—a jeans-and-T-shirt moment. To this day, my favorite clothes are still jeans, T-shirts, and sweaters. I love sweatshirts, I love men’s pullovers. But at the same time I don’t want to be taken away from the indulgence, perhaps the innocence, that I had before I came to the realization, which is a kind of disillusionment, that style ultimately emanates from the wearer. This is the question for a jeans-and-T-shirt person like myself: How do you not lose the pleasure? It’s a tug-of-war that’s always being waged at the back of my mind: a to-ing and fro-ing between the impulse to allow the wearer to transform the clothes, and vice versa. When the tension between these impulses is constant, that’s when fashion really works.” September: Opens flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York City.
Project Runway hosts Heidi Klum and Michael Kors.Photo: Nick Ruedel / Bravo /NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal via Getty Images
March: Presents final Celine collection, with a lineup that had, according to the program notes, “the sporty American simplicity of C.Z. Guest and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy mixed with the youthful European sophistication of Leslie Caron, Jean Seberg, and Audrey Hepburn.” December: Becomes a judge on the Emmy award-winning reality TV show, Project Runway.
Michael Kors Collection, fall 2006 ready-to-wearPhoto: Marcio Madeira
Jay Gatsby and Ali McGraw, in Love Story, are the designer’s twin inspirations for fall 2006’s prep fest.
Official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama.Photo: Joyce N. Boghosian / World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
Dresses First Lady Michelle Obama for her official White House portrait. “We had made the dress for her [but] I had no idea where she was going in it or what she was planning on wearing it for. And not only did I feel incredibly proud, when I saw a First Lady looking that modern, that unencumbered, a First Lady in a portrait wearing black jersey, sleeveless, not a colorful suit with a broach, I felt so excited to be a part of this moment that I knew was a game changer. A huge game changer, not just for me as a designer or as even an American, but just for the world at large,” Kors later says.
June: Becomes the youngest-ever recipient of the CFDA Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Anna Wintour. “I’m on the board at the CFDA. I remember sitting at one meeting and Diane von Furstenberg looked at me and she said, ‘Well, now we’re going to talk about the Lifetime Achievement award.’ And I said, ‘I think we have a lot of great ideas.’ And she said, ‘Well, darling, [there’s] one idea that everyone agreed on.’ And I said, ‘What was that?’ And she said, ‘You.’ I looked at her and I said, ‘No, that’s impossible. I’m too young.’ And she said, ‘It’s the work, it’s not your age.’ ” September: Nicole Phelps reports that Kors’ s company is on track to “break the $1 billion sales barrier this year.”
Michael Kos and Lance LePere on their wedding day.Photo: Courtesy of the photographer
February: “The designer is marking his 30th year in business,” noted Phelps in her review of Kors’s fall 2011 collection. “Yes, he started young—at 19, in fact. Tonight, he’ll celebrate in the tony confines of Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle…. Next month, no less a figure than the American ambassador to France will welcome him to Paris, with a festive dinner. Kors is opening a store there on Rue Saint-Honoré, and they’re putting the finishing touches on a renovated Madison Avenue flagship as we speak. In other words, the designer is having a pretty good birthday year.” August: Marries longtime partner Lance LePere, vice president of Michael Kors Women’s Design. December: Takes Michael Kors Holdings Limited public with one of the most successful IPOs in fashion history. “Talk about never in a million years,” jokes the designer in a 2021 interview. “It was a little surreal ringing that bell, and realizing that my approach to design, and really my thoughts on how people should look, was suddenly going to actually explode to a broader audience, and coinciding that with launching Michael Michael Kors and seeing in every city that I was in, a handbag, a watch, a shoe.”
Michael Kors with model Karmen Pedaru in Shanghai. Photo: Kevin Lee / Getty Images for Michael Kors
February: “All anyone could talk about before the Michael Kors show was the news last week that thanks to his soaring stock price, the designer is now a billionaire,” reports Vogue. May: Opens flagship store in Shanghai, China, and celebrates with a runway show titled the Jet Set Experience.
Michael Kors Collection, spring 2017 ready-to-wearPhoto: Alessandro Garofalo / Indigital.tv
Then Vice President Joseph R. Biden presents Kors with the World Food Programme USA’s McGovern-Dole Leadership Award for helping to fight hunger globally.
Michael Kors Collection, spring 2018 ready-to-wear. Photo: Alessandro Garofalo / Indigital.tv
“This is a designer who, when he decides to do a tie-dye sweatshirt, makes it in multi-ply cashmere (and lines it in cotton, to boot) and throws in a matching cashmere blanket to seal the deal, Vogue opines.”
Barry Manilow at Michael Kors’s fall 2019 show. Photo: Andrea Adriani / Gorunway.com
The designer secures the rights to the Studio 54 logo and uses it in his 1970s-themed fall show that finished with a surprise: Barry Manilow performing “Copacabana.” Kors took his bow, reported Vogue, “with another legend of the era, model Patti Hansen, who closed the show in a metallic trouser suit.”
Vice President Kamala Harris in a Michael Kors Collection suit.Photographed by Tyler Mitchell, Vogue, February 2021
Vice President Kamala Harris wears Michael Kors Collection on the digital cover of February Vogue. “I don’t have kids, so my designs are my children; my husband, and I feel that way about what we do. And I beamed with pride [when I saw the cover] and thought what a stupendous, stupendous moment for the country, for the world, for myself. Amazing. It sounds cliché to say it, but a pinch-me moment.”
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Originally published on Vogue.com