An Interview with the Man Who Dresses the World’s Jetsetting Elite, Michael Kors

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Michael Kors portrait headshot
Photographed by Inez and Vinoodh for Michael Kors

Michael Kors, billionaire head of an American luxury sportswear empire, celebrity designer to the stars, and remarkably easy-to-talk-to interview subject, was dishing out fashion advice at five years of age. By 11, his path was set before him, and his journey to the top is the stuff of legends. In this in-depth interview with Kors, we explore his background, his signature aesthetic, his favorite era of fashion, and more.

Read on to discover the empathy, loyalty, and sense of humor that radiate through his words; you’ll enjoy every second of getting to know the man who is responsible for dressing the world’s jetsetting elite.

How did you first take an interest in fashion? Do you remember your first ever memory of fashion?
I grew up in a truly fashion-obsessed family. My mother was a model, my grandmother was a high-school principal who never repeated an outfit, and my grandfather worked in textiles. My first fashion memory is my mother’s wedding dress – she was getting remarried when I was five years old, and I remember telling her to chop off all the bows. My grandmother thought I was crazy, but my mother had the tailor take off all the bows and the dress became timeless. After that, I loved to sketch and I was very crafty; by the time I was 11, it was pretty obvious that I was going to work in fashion.

My first fashion memory is my mother’s wedding dress – she was getting remarried when I was five years old.

You’ve been in the industry for over thirty years. In your opinion, which were the greatest fashion years ever? Could you share with us some anecdotes from that time?
I’ll always love the late 70s, because that’s when I first moved to New York City. The rules were looser, in fashion and in life, and everyone was going to Studio 54 in these amazing outfits. Then, of course, you had the supers – Christy, Linda, Cindy, Naomi in the 80s – and that was a great time in American fashion.

Has your jetsetting ever led you to the Middle East? If so, where did you go and did you do or see anything that really stuck with you?
I’ve been to Dubai and I love the energy and vibrant mix of the city.

The Middle East is playing an increasingly pivotal role in the global fashion realm. Has its importance grown for your company? What prompted you to expand in the region?
I think the Middle East is incredibly glamorous and sophisticated. The women there truly appreciate luxury and know what they want – just like our customers all over the world. We’re always looking to be everywhere that our fans are, and I know the women in the Middle East will love what they find in our stores.

You own a billion-dollar fashion empire, you are a household name the world over, and you are a celebrity in your own right. Have you reached the “I’ve done everything I want to do in life, it’s time to take it easy” stage, or is your creative engine inexhaustible?
I always say that, when you think you’ve made it, then you’re done. Curiosity is one of the most important things a designer can have. If you’re really out there, living and engaging with the world around you, there is never a lack of inspiration.

You’ve created a multi-billion dollar company with stores around the globe and one of the fastest-growing fashion brands in the world. To what do you attribute your success?
I’ve stayed true to my vision of glamorous American sportswear. I’ve always believed that women can be chic, but have a sense of humor, that they can be glamorous and comfortable – they shouldn’t have to give anything up. I think because of that, our customers trust us to help them look and feel their best.

Knowing your client is crucial to giving her what she wants. How do you ensure that you stay up to date with her needs and wants?
I always say that one of the most challenging parts of being a designer is figuring out how to stay consistent while still surprising and delighting your customers season after season. It’s a constant battle. I think the key is to hold on to your vision. Let some of the cuts and colors and materials change with the times, but the core of the brand shouldn’t change from era to era. And you need to have empathy; a designer has to be able to put himself in his customers’ shoes.

Your work has come to describe a palpable sense of American glamor and luxury. What has influenced the Michael Kors aesthetic the most?
I think it’s a combination of things. My mother and grandmother, the women I was surrounded by when I was growing up, certainly had a large influence on my aesthetic. My grandmother was over-the-top jewels and prints and color, while my mother was very natural, very sporty. At the same time, there were all the paparazzi images of Jackie O., Lauren Hutton, and Ali MacGraw that I loved. They were the first true jetsetters, and they still inspire me to this day.

Michael Kors is undoubtedly the brand of choice for the world’s jetsetting elite. You’ve catered to them for years, even designing a set of shoes for the jetsetting woman, which launches this year. Why is travel so important to you and to your brand?
I’m always inspired when I travel; the culture, the environment, it all comes into play. Life today is only getting faster and faster, and our customers are traveling further and more frequently than ever before, so we’re always looking for ways to make it easier for them. Collections that can be mixed and matched, fabrics that pack well, the accessories you can grab and go – it’s all about making women’s lives easier. The ‘Jet Set 6’ shoe collection is a part of that. We feel that those are the six shoes that can truly take you everywhere this spring and summer.

I’m always inspired when I travel; the culture, the environment, it all comes into play.

What does it mean to be a jetsetter in today’s incredibly globalized world? How has the jetsetting woman changed over the years? Does she still want the same things?
It’s very much the same idea. Yes, people are traveling further and more frequently than ever before, but, at the core, it’s about clothes that can keep up with a fast lifestyle, that can travel and look great in Shanghai or New York. She is a sophisticated woman and a consummate jetsetter. She has a chic, clean, and modern sensibility, and wants clothes that are pragmatic, yet indulgent.

Despite catering to this ideal of the jetsetting elite, your particular brand of luxury is relatively affordable. Why is that?
I think that everyone should be able to have something glamorous and luxurious in their lives. More people than ever are interested in fashion, but not all of them want or need the same things. Our customers range from 16 to 60, so we want to have options for people who are at different points in their lives.

You travel almost as much as your clientele does. What are your favorite destinations around the world?
I love places that combine natural beauty and luxury service – and a touch of glamour never hurts. Parrot Cay and Capri are two of my favorites, but I also love Phuket and Big Sur. As much as I love cities, when I need to relax there is nothing like a little sand, sun, and sea.

How important has social media been for the growth of your brand?
I’m one of the rare designers who truly love trunk shows – I enjoy listening to women talk about what they love and what they don’t, what problems they’re encountering in their everyday lives. Social media gives us that interaction and that feedback every day.

What’s your favorite part of the job? And your least favorite part?
I’m lucky enough to do something that I love. To watch something grow from a thought I had while I was on the beach in Capri to a whole collection and runway show, and then to see women wearing it as a part of their day – it’s all amazing. The worsts are harder to remember, which I guess is a good thing.

What’s the best fashion advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I have ever received was from my mother: Keep it simple, keep it comfortable, and stay consistent.

What’s the best fashion advice you would dish out?
Find a good tailor. The fit is everything!

Your designs are the kinds that remind a woman to love herself, to love her body. They are feminine and beautiful. Where does this love for women come from? This appreciation for the female form?
It all comes back to empathy and listening to what your customers want and need. I draw a lot of inspiration from the women I know who are juggling a job, a family, running around town, and still looking chic.

What do you hope you are most remembered for in the future?
I’d like to be remembered as someone who loved women and always made them feel their best. And as a loyal friend – I’m a Leo, of course.

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