Exclusive: Michael Kors Talks IT Bags, Fashion Fame And Studio 54

Michael Kors tells us just how he built his business, what he wore to Studio 54 and how many pairs of those famous shades he actually owns…

The inimitable Michael Kors has successfully turned the company he founded in his New York apartment in 1981 into a billion dollar fashion empire. His trademark shades and year-round tan have made him one of the world’s most recognisable designers, but, he says, ‘fashion fame is nice fame. It’s not like celebrity fame where you can’t step outside without being followed by the paparazzi.’

Here the man himself tells us just how he built his business, what he wore to Studio 54 and how many pairs of those famous shades he actually owns…

Michael Kors, do you set out to create IT bags or are you just pleasantly surprised when one of your styles appeals to women everywhere?
‘First, I think women are always the ones who decide what bag becomes a hit , or an It! And yes—it’s great when it happens. But I also think that women are moving away from the idea of the super-trendy, one-season-and-done bag. They’re looking for quality and durability. Women want to invest in a bag that they can use forever, that they’ll be able to reach for day in and day out. That’s what makes something an It bag—it needs to be practical and versatile but still luxurious.’

What four Michael Kors bags should every woman have in her wardrobe?
‘Everyone needs a classic carryall—I think our Miranda and Izzy bags are really those kind of forever pieces. Then I’d say a crossbody like Selma for those days when you’re doing everything; a beaded clutch, like the Elsie, for evening affairs and then something that just makes you smile, whether it’s a glamorous raffia beach tote or a fun satchel with a colour-pop interior, like the Greenwich.’

What are your accessorising rules?
‘I think in fashion all the rules are eventually broken. I love extreme glamour, but I’m surprisingly pragmatic. The most consistent rule for us is that we always want to create a bag that women can actually use. And then I also think the shoes should almost always be a juxtaposition—if you’re wearing something more feminine than you need a shoe with a little substance to anchor your look.’

How would you describe your design process?
‘I’m very hands-on and my workdays are never the same–which is part of what keeps me going after all these years. I’m most inspired when I’m traveling and engaging with the world around me—I’m not the type of designer who is sitting in a room sketching for days on end. I like to work with people and see an idea or a moment evolve into an entire collection.’ 

What was inspiring you for AW15?
‘I was thinking that one of the most interesting things about fashion is the idea of contradiction. I wanted to have opulence but restraint. So I started to think about the women who really exemplified this, who were really elegant and understood luxury but also understood the power of something more restrained and quiet. People like the Duchess of Windsor in the 30s, then Babe Paley in the 60s and going all the way to the 90s with Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy – they all had that fabulous balance.’

How do you stay in the know about what the girl on the street wants to buy?
‘I people-watch all the time—it’s one of my favorite things to do while we’re sitting in traffic. I listen to the women in my office, I listen to my friends and I try to solve the problems they’re encountering in their wardrobe every day. My schedule makes it impossible to do as many trunk shows as I once did—though I actually love doing them. But with social media, we’re constantly getting feedback from our fans—it’s like a 24/7 digital trunk show.’

How do you feel about being a personality, as well as a designer and a businessman?
‘I like interacting with people and I love being able to inspire and help women everywhere feel like their best self, so yes, I’d say it’s something I enjoy. Fashion fame is nice fame—it’s not like celebrity fame where you can’t step outside without being followed by paparazzi.’

Looking back at the beginnings of your business, can you believe how much it’s grown? Didn’t you start it in your apartment?
‘I did. I was working in a boutique in Manhattan on 57th street called Lothar’s that sold tie-dye jeans for $200—which was a lot then! I started designing some pieces for the store, and before I knew it Dawn Mello from Bergdorf Goodman was knocking on the windows and asking who the designer was—while I was doing the displays! When I told her that I was the designer, she said that if I ever made my own line to give her a call. So I went home and started designing a line. Soon I had rented sewing machines and installed three seamstresses in my apartment, and before I knew it I was meeting with Bergdorf’s and asking for a trunk show.’

How has the New York fashion scene changed and developed since you started out?
‘This isn’t exclusive to New York, or to fashion really, but the Internet has completely changed the game. Runway shows used to be solely for editors and buyers, now we’re live-streaming our show all around the world. It’s letting fans form their own opinions, share their ideas and see the trends firsthand. It’s made fashion much more democratic, which is a good thing.’

How has your personal style changed over the years?
‘In high school and while I was attending FIT, I was a slave to the trends. I skipped my high school prom to go to Studio 54 and draped myself in hand-made raw silk diaper pants. Now, I need clothes that can go just about everywhere and that work for my lifestyle. I stick to a fashion uniform because it works almost everywhere I need to go.’

How many pairs of sunglasses do you think you personally own?
‘I think I have over 100 pairs at this point, and I keep them all in within reach at my home. I think anything that gives someone a personal sense of style, but at the same time is functional, is perfection.’

What is your greatest indulgence?
‘A massage or a great vacation—they both help me refuel and recharge my batteries for the day or weeks ahead.’

What keeps you awake at night?
‘Jet lag—just kidding! On a more serious note, one thing I’d like to have a hand in is the world hunger crisis. It’s something that, as a brand, we’re working very hard to change, both here in the US and globally, through our partnerships with God’s Love We Deliver and the United Nations World Food Programme. The truth is, there’s enough food in the world to feed everyone, so we’re working to raise awareness and funds to help deliver more meals all around the world.’

Read more of our interview with Michael Kors in the August issue of Marie Claire UK, out now.

Visit the new Michael Kors store at 29 Sloane Street, SW1X 9NE, or www.michaelkors.com 

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