Town And Country
How the designer turned personal loss into a passionate crusade: feeding the world.â€‹
by KC DOWNEY
MAY 13, 2016
And last June in New York City, Kors’s hometown, God’s Love We Deliver, which takes roughly 5,500 meals each weekday to clients too sick to cook for themselves, recognized the fashion designer’s decades-long involvement in the pioneering charity by naming its new 48,500-square-foot headquarters in Soho the Michael Kors Building. T&C caught up with the philanthropist days before he received his award from WFP USA in Washington, DC.
Who or what inspired your vigorous approach to philanthropy?
Passionate people who are willing to get in the trenches, like my friend Blaine Trump. When she sees something that needs changing, she really rolls up her sleeves. She has been involved with God’s Love We Deliver for years. And Donna Karan. When the AIDS crisis was at its height, she said, “How can we designers make a difference? What do we all have? We have product!” Right there Seventh on Sale was born. A lot of times it’s the women who are very passionate, who get the job done. Someone like Bette Midler, who has remade the look of so many New York neighborhoods with her Million Trees NYC project. That started with her picking up garbage on the side of the road.
When I visited the God’s Love We Deliver Michael Kors Building, I was touched by the commemorative tiles on the kitchen walls. In fact, someone pointed out a tile dedicated to some of your neighbors on Long Island.
When the AIDS crisis exploded in New York in the ’80s, everywhere I looked there were friends and co-workers who were ill or dying. I felt helpless. Then I heard about God’s Love We Deliver, which was founded in 1985 by a woman who began by delivering food on her bicycle to a man dying of AIDS. I started by volunteering in the kitchen, in the old building, which had tiles that people would dedicate to loved ones they had lost. I had gone to high school with David Benovâ€”he and his brother died of AIDS. When we built the new building I wanted to be sure all those tiles would be preserved. Because people have to remember.
You’re also very active in the World Food Program USA, donating meals to schools globally. How did hunger come to be a focus?
New York City is one of the wealthiest cities in the worldâ€”how could there be hunger here? But there are thousands of people who can’t leave their homes and get nutritious foodâ€”not just homeless people but many of our neighbors. And they feel isolated. I wanted to find a way to effect change in their lives. The minute I was able to walk into someone’s home and deliver a nutritious meal, I saw this tremendous, immediate change in their attitude and, quite honestly, in their day-to-day life. I liken it to fashion.
I feel good when one of our customers puts the right thing on and they feel different about themselves and they have a spring in their step. And I see that with God’s Love We Deliver and with all the work we do with the United Nations World Food Programme. In some placesâ€”Cambodia, Nicaragua, Uganda, Mozambiqueâ€”the free lunch we provide is the only reason parents send their kids to school. So it’s not just a meal that we’re offering; we’re helping end the cycle of poverty, because education has now become part of these children’s lives.
I heard that on one of your God’s Love deliveries in New York City, you met a 100-year-old woman who had been involved in fashion.
Yes! Her name was Natalie. She was not physically well, but her mind was sharp as a tack. And she said, “I’m sure you can’t imagine by looking at me, but I was in the fashion business too.” She started telling wonderful stories about stores and businesses that are no longer around. And I looked at her and thought, This is someone with an incredible life, all this experience. She needs nutrition, but she also needs human interaction. She was someone we visited quite often.
Something I’ve always loved about God’s Love is that, in addition to everything else they do, they deliver an inscribed birthday cake to all their clients. Chuck Piekarski, in the bakery, personally decorates each one, and everyone was blown away to see him write “Happy 100th Birthday, Natalie.”