“Fashion Is Not a 9-to-5”: Michael Kors on Brand Building, Runway Inclusion, and Dressing His Favorite, Bette Midler

“Fashion Is Not a 9-to-5”: Michael Kors on Brand Building, Runway Inclusion, and Dressing His Favorite, Bette Midler
OCTOBER 12, 2017 12:13 PM


Michael Kors doesn’t pull punches. When the always-opinionated designer speaks, he’s up-front about his feelings regardless of the subject. At this morning’s Forces of Fashion conference, Kors was at his candid best. While chatting with Vogue’s Virginia Smith about the state of the industry, Kors got real about his business and fashion’s future. Tackling everything from his favorite editorials featuring his designs to the changes necessary to sustain the retail market, the designer moved from the glamorous (muses like Kirsty Hume and Jackie Kennedy) to the serious (how to combat fashion’s lack of inclusivity on the runway), handling each topic with the wit and directness he’s become known for.

Kors began with the story of how at the age of 5, he advised his mother on her wedding dress, then moved through his rise from window dresser at 1970s fashion mainstay Lothar’s to full-fledged designer. He provided the audience with a series of behind-the-scenes stories that only he could tell and an inkling of his legendary drive. “I’m excited and engaged when it’s a challenge,” Kors told Smith. “Everyone loves to say, ‘Oh, she’s so great,’ but it’s not so hard to get dressed when you’re 5 feet 10 and you’re a size 2 and have an endless budget—that’s easy! Take me into the room and you hear it so often now: ‘I don’t go anywhere and I don’t do anything.’ I think, well, that’s sad, but then it’s about how do I look fabulous when just hanging out.”

With his designs making nearly a dozen appearances on Vogue covers, Kors has plenty of editorial high points to choose from, but his favorite moments involved personal milestones. “My first Vogue story was front of book and it was 1981—I was 7!” quipped Kors. “It was a story about my collection, me and two models looking very rock ’n’ roll. Up until that point, the clothes had arrived at Bergdorf’s and I thought that maybe it would just be this Upper East Side thing. The minute that article came out, I thought: There’s a bigger world out there for me.” Though his debut in the magazine pushed his business to the next level, nothing topped seeing his clothing on the back of then–First Lady Michelle Obama. “There are so many [pictures], but if I had to pick one, I would [say] Michelle Obama photographed by Annie [Leibovitz], and Tonne [Goodman] did the sitting. A lot of people think elegance means old-fashioned, and I thought that photograph exemplified modern elegance. I felt incredibly patriotic to look at that and feel that I was a part of that moment.”

Naturally, Kors’s conversation was filled with bons mots. Describing his first experiences with fame, he recalled being recognized for his distinctive New York accent by none other than Academy Award winner Julia Roberts, and dressing his favorite, Bette Midler, for her Tony win. “I just was enraptured with her on the stage from the time I was 12 or 13. The opening night of Hello, Dolly!, there was just this energy like you couldn’t believe. I said to her, ‘When the Tony Awards come, let’s talk,’” shared Kors, who noted that Midler modestly didn’t want to even discuss the prospect of a gown lest she jinx things. “To be able to fit probably the most legendary person on the Broadway stage at their show backstage [was incredible],” he said. “To sit there at Radio City and watch her win was just beyond.”

Famous moments aside, the most salient portions of Kors’s discussion came when he touched on fashion’s current hot-button issues. Asked about the inclusiveness of his Spring 2018 show, which featured a range of shapes and sizes, and such models as Ashley Graham and Kendall Jenner, Kors aptly pointed out that designers need to invest in planning in order to accurately reflect their consumers. “We have customers that live everywhere and do everything. They have different experiences and different points of view, so to me the idea that models in a fashion show should be mannequins feels so impersonal,” said Kors. “I’m not doing my job well if I can’t dress this mosaic of women.”

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