Michael Kors is all heart about American fashion, New York City, Broadway, Hollywood and glamour.
During a “Fashion Icons” talk at the 92NY Tuesday night with Fern Mallis, the designer laid bare lesser-known devotions that have shaped his life and career — seismic world events and charity causes that strengthen the impoverished. Eleven years had passed since the last time the two fashion insiders sat down for a public chat. Speculating about what another Q&A would center on 10 years from now, Kors predicted that would be climate change.
And how it effects everyone’s life on a regular basis and how the fashion industry needs to address it. “A good thing that I hope we talk about. I don’t want to seem like Mr. Crazy Pants, but I think we are going to start seeing things out of this planet.”
“UFOs?” Mallis asked.
“No, like going to the moon….I’d go absolutely. I think we are also going to start making clothes differently. We’re still using a sewing machine, seams, all of these things. Think about some of the things that people like Issey Miyake does, knitting things circularly. Listen, 3D printing is the coolest department in our company. I’m like, ‘Wow!’ You could literally carry the paper [prototype] as a bag.”
For Kors-aholics, there were such tidbits as he is deadly serious about 11 being his lucky number; Ruffles potato chips topped with caviar; his grandfather’s Bronx, New York, roots; the Galapagos Islands, Namibia and New Zealand leading his travel bucket list; having children is not in his future; disdain for Zoom, and love for impromptu hallway run-ins in the office that can lead to ideas. Of course, designing clothes that women will wear confidently and repeatedly is always on his agenda, as evidenced by singling out Gloria Steinem, Yoko Ono and others as the inspiration for his fall 2023 collection.
“My job is in service of making people feel like their best selves. If the clothes and shoes don’t get worn or the handbags aren’t carried….I don’t understand [the idea] that it’s just for a museum piece,” Kors said.
Mallis and Kors also reminisced about how the CFDA’s first attempt to organize New York fashion shows was prompted after a section of a ceiling crumbled during one of Kors’ off-site runway shows and landed on Suzy Mendes’ head. Before there was “New York Fashion Week,” Kors and five other designers banded together in Hotel Macklowe in what was billed as “the Comfort Zone.” Through a deal with the Jumbotron, video footage of the models was beamed onto the huge screen in Times Square. Mallis recalled, “Half the girls were half-naked that season. People were driving down Broadway, looking up at this. I was sure there were going to be horrible accidents.”
Kors credited Mallis with putting fashion out there at a time when it was very insular. “Fashion was only for the insiders. Now you can be sitting on a train and watching a show,” he said.
The designer plugged entertainer Rufus Wainwright, who had performed at a few of his runway shows, and is headed for a May run at the Café Carlyle, a setting that Kors has said he is worthy of. He also talked up his commitment to the Bette Midler-founded New York Restoration Project.
Kors spoke of the three traumatic events that he has lived through: the COVID-19 pandemic, the AIDS epidemic, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. Referring to the AIDS crisis, Kors said to have experienced the onset of that in his early 20s led to “dealing with illness and death on a constant basis. There was a loss of generations of gifted people [including peers], who disappeared. It was a war and the shock of war doesn’t ever wear off.”
Eager to help in some way, Kors discovered the nonprofit God’s Love We Deliver as a result. Regarding the 2001 terrorist attacks, Kors recalled dropping to his knees after seeing an airplane strike the second tower from his downtown apartment and then urging a gym-bound neighbor that she needed to head uptown with him.
“The [coronavirus] pandemic, the AIDS pandemic and 9/11 will stay with me forever. I don’t want to lose all of it. I want to hold on and hopefully learn something from each of them. But also [show] resilience.”
On a lighter note recalling his creative director days at Celine in Paris, Kors mused about disregarding the advice that forbade wearing sneakers, drinkling Coca-Cola or carrying the International Herald Tribune — all of which he did daily. “You know what? Me, Marc Jacobs and Narciso Rodriguez did pretty well in Paris. You’ve got to be proud of yourself.”
Kors also enthused about his “Watch Hunger Stop” initiative which, like God’s Love We Deliver, shows how “something so simple as food and nutrition can alter the course of someone’s life. In so many of these countries, if there were not school meals programs, people would not send their daughters to school. They would keep them at home. You’re just flipping that and changing the trajectory. To me, that’s everything.
“The most exciting thing is that we’ve taken our social media following [18.6 million on Instagram alone] and have gotten people involved in philanthropy — including $5 donations that equate to a month’s worth of meals,” he said.
Stonewall Visitor Center is also benefiting from the generosity of Kors, who passed by the historic location to reflect after marrying Lance LePere in New York in 2011. The designer said, “Unfortunately, we know with everything going on in the world today, we’ve got to remind people not to slide backward. We just keep sliding backward. It’s amazing to me that we can make progress but still be sliding backward.”
Still an advocate for trunk shows after 42 years in business, Kors compared social media to being akin to a worldwide trunk show, as in people are keen to share. “Hate the pink bag. Love the red bag. It’s very New York. Every woman here knows that you walk down the street and a stranger says, ‘I love your coat. Where’d you get it. How much was it?’”
Social media allows a swath of people from all over the globe to chime in. As for influencers, Kors does not consider them editors. “I still think a professional is a professional,” he said, adding that “once in a while someone has remarkable talent and fashion influence” like Rihanna and Zendaya.
Explaining why the brand is not sold in the metaverse, the designer said he prefers fashion’s tactileness. “I still get a thrill from the rustle of tissue paper in a shopping bag. I don’t want just a box arriving,” he said.
Asked about what he misses about his “Project Runway” days, Kors described the on-set laughter with “this whole other work family.” In hindsight, though, he said, “When I think about what I used to say on-air, I would be cancelled today. There would be no chance. I say to Nina Garcia, ‘God, now you have to be really careful.’”
His off-the-cuff critiques, like looking like “a pole dancer in Dubai” would not fly and some fans might retort that they fit that description.
Being around the show’s young talent was refreshing, Kors said. As for the current scene of young designers, Kors praised Peter Do, LaQuan Smith and Khaite’s Catherine Holstein.
Kors is not eyeing slowing down and there’s no succession in place. “The big thing is the minute you feel you have no curiosety or joy it will show in your work. As long as I feel like that, and I have my health, I’m going to keep going,” adding that at 88, Giorgio Armani had five fashion shows in January and February.
Four decades in fashion means he is allowed to say, “That’s very Kors or very Kors-y.” He’s earned it.