It’s all about timing: A night with Michael Kors

Image: Stephen Sullivan (WWD)
Image: Stephen Sullivan (WWD)
Image: Stephen Sullivan (WWD), Originally published via this link

Last night at 92Y, I listened to Michael Kors talk about his beginnings in the fashion business, his marriage to Lance LePere, working with celebrities and his start with reality television show “Project Runway”. With all mentioned and more than I was unable to catch, he believes that there is such thing as balance in the business and that one can truly have it all. I find him truly inspirational.

Michael Kors, born Karl Anderson Jr., grew up in suburban Long Island and worked at WWD, a magazine that he remembers on the newsstands in Merrick.

He sold his first sketches to his friend’s father who owned UFO Jeans.

Kors recalled his friend’s father “Can we buy those sketches?”

He bought the sketches and Kors was paid on the spot. He was just 16-years-old.

It really goes to show it is really about who you know.

It wasn’t as easy thereafter. Throughout the night, Kors repeatedly noted that it was the right timing that aided him in his career.

He explained, “Being 17-years-old in the disco era… I was an insane fashion freak!” Instead of going to prom, he went to Studio 54. I think that’s clutch. He talked about what seemed to be an ostentatious outfit that permitted entry on prom night. He recalls knowing that Studio 54 was a special moment in time. He could feel it.

He went to FIT in 1977. He studied design, but not for long. He had been sketching for a long time. He fought with teachers. He started working part-time selling clothes on 57th Street in New York City. When asked if he regret not staying in school longer, he didn’t respond with a “yes”. He cannot sew.

He is a Leo. When asked if he still had connections with friends in the past, he said that the Creative Director of Menswear has been his friend for over 30 years. He added, “Leos are very loyal.”

He remembered a teacher telling him that “you need to be out there in the world and work!”

During his years of working on 57th Street, he pulled Jackie-O’s boots off.

“It was an educational experience”, Kors says. In fact, the advice he gives to aspiring designers is to work in-store in the sales department to understand why certain customers buy what they buy, how to sell and operate a store, etc.

If you want to succeed in this business “you have to be able to add something”, says Kors. “The pie is the pie. Ideas have to have longevity.”

“Whenever you have a singular tend, it can die.”

A Bergdorf Goodman buyer found him in dressing windows in 1971. The buyer came to him and said that they’ve never seen the clothes he used to dress the mannequins, then asked who’s clothes were they? He replied, they are my clothes. They are your clothes and you are dressing the window?

Vera Wang was an editor at Vogue magazine. She came into the store to shop and during her shopping she asked Kors “Do you want to go with me to the Met for the Costume Institute [Gala]?”

He agreed. They attended. He didn’t mention what he was wearing, but he did mention that it snowed that day and he asked why the lights dimmed. It was the night John Lennon was killed.

He mentioned that when he started quality [of your clothing] had to be great. Had to ship on time. It was a different time from today.

He talked a little bit about designers that he hired. Mainly Derek Lam and Lance LePere, now his husband. Kors said over the course of five years, Derek Lam was an intern, worked in Collection Design and ended up freelancing for him.

When asked what did Lance show you that made you hire him?
Kors replied, “What did he show me?”
The audience grew hysterical with laughter.

In April 1991, he had a show – his first show on West 24th Street in New York City.
They would produce shows at random assorted lofts and spaces. He thought it was edgy. He talked about a mishap with one of those random spaces.

As he tells it, “Naomi Campbell was out there strutting her stuff… and there was an explosion.”

Naomi came and told him, “the ceiling just caved in.”
“The plaster just came down and hit a few people.”
Those people were fashion press from the Tribune and NYT.
Kors walked out, turned the music off and did the rest of the show with no music.

It was then he realized it was time to do shows at professional show spaces.

In his career, he created the male body suit. Soon after, he realized naps [?] and the male anatomy is not a good thing.

Later, the company Kors was licensed to went bankrupt. He filed for bankruptcy.

Kors on collections:

You have to want to wear it all. That’s how you make a successful line or collection.

Fern Mallis and Kors recall that March 1998 was a “heavy time for Americans in Paris” It was like the “Invasions of the Americans”. The world was changing. The world was global. It did not matter where you lived, life went fast” said Kors. With business(es) in Singapore and Tokyo and in tune with what’s happening around the world, he saw the power of accessories – a handbag works no what.

“Who didn’t want to be Steve McQueen?”

He had a collection called “Palm Bitch”. It was inspired by his time in Palm Beach, Florida in the 1990s.

“I love blending things that don’t go with everything.” Then, he went on to reference “the Park Avenue Jesus sandal.”

When talking about his fragrance with Estee Lauder “Michael” said he had smells in his head. It was an inculpating but light. A contradiction. Exactly the way Kors likes it.

“I was the boy wearing Opium which was unfortunate.”

Everything you do in fashion is a partnership.

When asked which celebrities he loved dressing, he replied that seemingly at vulnerable moments, celebrities go for Michael Kors. Jennifer breaks up with Ben Affleck, Michael Kors. It’s worst for them, because everyone is staring.

A lot of my fit models have turned out to be Victoria’s Secret Angels.

Instead of spending millions of dollars for advertising, Project Runway came about. Before beginning the show, he received a pitch phone call. He knew Heidi socially. He kept thinking ‘Survivor’ but eating fabric! Or thinking that its audience would just be fashion obsessed women, gay men and men who are obsessed with Heidi Klum. He was wrong. He said investment bankers were also interested. They watched with their families. Because of the show, he now has 12-year-old customers.

“We make a bar-mitzvah [shoe]. It’s like the training wheels of heels”. Three to four generations shop at his stores today.

He discussed meeting Dame Elizabeth Taylor and interviewing her for Harper’s Bazaar magazine. He loves to write. He said he wanted to talk to her about fashion, wedding dresses and jewelry. Her living room was filled with purple crystals. He made a lavender poncho for her to wear. She was funny, earth and opinionated. He showed her a picture of a kiss with Richard Burton and she began to cry.

Elizabeth said to Kors, “that’s a real kiss.”

Kors on Lindsay Lohan portraying Liz Taylor:

I don’t get the red hair. We’ll see.

Michele Obama wore one of his dresses.

He and Lance got married in Southampton, New York. He never had a fantasy of a wedding. He didn’t think it was going to be a reality. Before getting married, they asked each other what did they like. Answer: We love the beach, sunny day and privacy.

Literally after the wedding ceremony, the newly weds jumped in the jeep, enjoyed pizza at Sam’s and went to see ‘The Help’ at the theatre.

He was about to ring the bell at the New York Stock exchange and he remembered his mother telling him to straighten his tie. “It beat my bar mitzvah.”

“I knew early on that I loved this.”

He is on the Forbes: Billionaires To Watch List. There is a Kors-LePere trust foundation.

In a story about his life, he jokingly replied that if it was a big box office comedy movie Will Ferrell would play his role. I completely forgot the name of the other gentleman.

When asked what made him smile. He replied Lance. Fern Mallis and I (from my seat) agreed that it was a good answer. To watch the full video coverage, watch the video below:

For more Michael Kors, just click here.

Written by Richardine Bartee

Her unprejudiced love for people, the arts, and business have taken her this far. Join Richardine on her journey as she writes history into existence, one article at a time. Richardine is a member of the Recording Academy/GRAMMYs, and a GRAMMY U Mentor. She is the North American Press Agent and US Business Manager for Oxlade; Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.


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