THE KORS CODE

For more than three decades, Michael Kors has dressed ev­ery­one from ev­ery­day women to Euro­pean roy­als, first ladies and Hol­ly­wood stars. The se­cret to his suc­cess? A canny abil­ity to bal­ance con­sis­tency and cre­ativ­ity, says GRACE O’NEILL

Harper’s Bazaar (Australia) - - Contents -

What, ex­actly, is Michael Kors’s se­cret?

IF FASH­ION is the in­ter­sec­tion of art and com­merce, then you’d be hard-pressed to find a mod­ern de­signer strad­dling that di­chotomy with the aplomb of Michael Kors. As I walked into the de­signer’s A/W 2018 show at Lin­coln Cen­ter, New York, on Valen­tine’s Day morn­ing (feel­ing far from ro­man­tic, hav­ing been up un­til 3am with the edi­tors and A-lis­ters he’d in­vited to an in­dus­try din­ner at ABC Kitchen in the chic Flat­iron district), I was struck by the shrewd­ness of the Kors operation.

In the front row I clocked Hol­ly­wood bomb­shell Blake Lively, red-car­pet reg­u­lar Emily Blunt, su­per­model Eva Herzigová and mil­len­nial megas­tar Zen­daya. But there was also Theodora Richards (daugh­ter of The Rolling Stones’ Keith), Princess Maria-olympia of Greece, fash­ion maven Sofía Sanchez de Be­tak and TV host Jessica Ka­hawaty. As I took my seat, I was bom­barded by a pack of pa­parazzi fall­ing over each other to get shots of the woman next to me, Selina Jen, a Tai­wanese pop star. She was sit­ting along­side Davika Hoorne, a 26-year-old Thai ac­tress with 7.5 mil­lion In­sta­gram fol­low­ers, and 21-year-old Zhang Xuey­ing, a child star turned su­per­star in her na­tive China. In one care­fully cu­rated seat­ing plan, Kors had ticked off ev­ery con­ti­nent, ev­ery so­cial ech­e­lon and gen­er­a­tions X,Y and Z.

His col­lec­tion was equally univer­sal in its of­fer­ing: an homage to the wardrobe sta­ples of stylish women, rein­vented in fresh new prints and fab­rics.think a floaty flo­ral dress worn over slouchy leop­ard-print boots and topped with tar­tan out­er­wear, or a baggy Fair Isle sweater worn over a jacquard evening dress with clompy boots.

Dur­ing the 15-minute show, more than 30 songs were played, chang­ing ev­ery 30 sec­onds to rep­re­sent the choppy ‘swipe’ cul­ture we’ve found our­selves in thanks to so­cial me­dia. Mod­els — in­clud­ing Joan Smalls, Ash­ley Gra­ham, Bella Ha­did

and Ad­woa Aboah — wore nat­u­ral hair and makeup, as per Kors’s in­struc­tion to “wash [their] hair the night be­fore, sleep on it, then do noth­ing else”. As with ev­ery­thing Kors does, there was an al­most tan­gi­ble air of op­ti­mism about the whole af­fair.

“I knew we were show­ing on Valen­tine’s Day and I re­ally wanted the col­lec­tion to be a valen­tine to per­sonal style and to the di­ver­sity of New York,” Kors told me af­ter the show at a pri­vate table at Sardi’s, the iconic Man­hat­tan theatre district haunt. “the streets of Newyork are full of all these char­ac­ters — the up­town girl and the down­town girl — who pass each other on the street and take a lit­tle bit of in­flu­ence from each other. These were the char­ac­ters who were flow­ing through my head when I de­signed the col­lec­tion — a lit­tle like a Fellini movie. It’s Mar­got Te­nen­baum pass­ing Zen­daya, pass­ing Blake Lively, pass­ing Au­drey Hep­burn as Sab­rina; Jackie Kennedy and Carrie Brad­shaw … they’re all in there.”

The col­lec­tion’s splic­ing to­gether of things that seem in­trin­si­cally op­posed pro­vided a nice segue into the ques­tion I was most keen to ask Kors.as a con­se­quence of fash­ion’s in­sa­tiable ap­petite for the Hot New Thing — whereby hyped la­bels churn out an un­prece­dented amount of It items per sea­son, only to have those pieces rel­e­gated to the backs of wardrobes months later — have we lost rev­er­ence for con­sis­tency? “I do think it’s con­fus­ing for cus­tomers when a brand changes so of­ten. They don’t know what to ex­pect,” says Kors, who has been cre­ative di­rec­tor of his epony­mous la­bel since it launched in 1981.Aside from his seven-year ten­ure at Cé­line in the late ’90s and early ’00s (along­side which he ran the Michael Kors brand), he has oc­cu­pied the same role for 37 years, an anom­aly in the in­dus­try nowa­days. For con­text, the past three years have seen the cre­ative di­rec­tors of Chloé, Cé­line, Givenchy, Burberry, Chris­tian Dior, Gucci, Saint Lau­rent, Calvin Klein, Bot­te­gaveneta, Ba­len­ci­aga, Os­car de la Renta, roberto Cavalli and Lan­vin de­part.

I ask Kors if he thinks con­sis­tency is start­ing to be val­ued again given how tur­bu­lent the world — es­pe­cially the US — has be­come. “a lit­tle sta­bil­ity never hurt,” he says with a shrug. “we’re liv­ing in dis­rup­tive times.” Plus, there’s the salient point that for Michael Kors, con­sis­tency pays. His per­sonal net worth was es­ti­mated at $1.7 bil­lion by Forbes in 2014, while, ac­cord­ing to the same re­port, the com­pany’s mar­ket cap hov­ers around $20.7 bil­lion. Even with some re­ported losses for the com­pany in 2017, there’s no deny­ing Kors has found a for­mula that works. “I think how I de­sign is sim­i­lar to the way I va­ca­tion,” Kors, dubbed the ‘King of Jet­set’, says with a laugh. “my favourite va­ca­tions are when I com­bine a des­ti­na­tion that I feel so com­fort­able in, where I feel like I’m home, with a des­ti­na­tion that is to­tally for­eign to me, where I feel like, Wow, where am I? When I de­sign, I’m look­ing for that same mix of fa­mil­iar­ity and com­fort mixed with some­thing un­ex­pected and pro­vok­ing.” Any­one ques­tion­ing whether the Michael Kors brand is still un­ex­pected and pro­vok­ing in 2018 need only look to the

“It’s Mar­got Te­nen­baum pass­ing Zen­daya, pass­ing Blake Lively, pass­ing Au­drey Hep­burn as Sab­rina; Jackie Kennedy and Carrie Brad­shaw … they’re all in there.”

A-list women wear­ing it. Amal Clooney, Ni­cole Kid­man and Tracee El­lis Ross — ar­guably three of the most stylish women in the world right now — have all reached for Kors in the past 12 months. Clooney wore the brand’s Ban­croft shoul­der bag with a red Bot­tega Veneta suit to the United Na­tions in Septem­ber, Kid­man opted for a gold em­bel­lished dress for the Acad­emy of Coun­try Mu­sic Awards in April, and El­lis Ross wore a fuch­sia cus­tom gown to the Met Gala in May.add to that the red car­pet en­dorse­ments of style dar­lings Sarah Paul­son, Saoirse Ro­nan, Emily Rata­jkowski and the ever-di­vi­sive First Lady Trump, and you’ve got a brand that re­mains at the top of its game.

Part of what has kept the Kors la­bel so suc­cess­ful for nearly four decades is its de­signer’s in­sis­tence on meet­ing cus­tomers in per­son. One-off trunk shows in the US were one of Kors’s most ef­fec­tive mar­ket­ing tools in the early days and he still at­tends them now. As some­one who “isn’t red car­pet ob­sessed”, he makes keep­ing in touch with the ev­ery­day woman his pri­or­ity, al­ways. “The fash­ion world is filled with too many peo­ple who spend all their time with other fash­ion peo­ple,” he muses. “It’s counter-in­tu­itive to do that be­cause then you have no idea what’s hap­pen­ing on the planet. I love walk­ing into a store — my store or any store — and just look­ing at who’s shop­ping.what do they look at? What are they pick­ing up?you have to keep your eyes open.”

Kors’s in­quis­i­tive­ness about the whims of his cus­tomers is per­haps the rea­son he’s been ahead of the rest of the fash­ion in­dus­try in his non-con­de­scend­ing ap­proach to age­ing. Ev­ery­one from 21-year-old Bella Ha­did to 47-year-old Kirsten Owen has walked on his run­way, but it’s in his cus­tomer base that the full scope of gen­er­a­tions is con­sis­tently rep­re­sented. “Look at some­one like Princess Olympia of Greece,” he says. “I’ve dressed her mother [Marie-chan­tal, Crown Princess of Greece] for 20-some­thing years, and her grand­mother [María Clara Pe­santes Becerra]. And you know, we could give a cock­tail dress to Olympia and she would wear it with a stom­per boot, and I know her mother would wear the same dress with a stiletto pump and I know her grand­mother would pop a jacket over it and wear it with flats.

“We’re start­ing to see that the idea of rules for how you dress at a cer­tain age has dis­ap­peared, ” kors con­tin­ues. “we have 17-year-old clients who are un­be­liev­ably so­phis­ti­cated and then women who are 70 years old who are edgy and plugged-in and mod­ern. It’s all about how you wear it.”

In a fash­ion en­vi­ron­ment where brands are killing them­selves to fig­ure out what women want (or, in Gucci’s case, hiring a board of mil­len­nial ad­vi­sors to tell them what’s ‘cool’), is the an­swer re­ally as sim­ple as Michael Kors would have you be­lieve? Keep­ing ‘your woman’ in mind while you de­sign may feel like a novel piece of ad­vice, but Kors be­lieves there’s noth­ing novel about stick­ing with an aes­thetic that isn’t dis­tracted by the whims of what’s ‘hot’. In an era of Diet Prada ex­posés and the ever-loom­ing threat of fake news, could con­sis­tency be the key to au­then­tic de­sign? Michael Kors cer­tainly seems to think so, and when you see him hug­ging and chat­ting with Blake Lively post-show or walk into his colos­sal Rock­e­feller Cen­ter flag­ship in Newyork, I chal­lenge you to dis­agree.

Michael Kors Col­lec­tion A/W 2018.

Michael Kors with Blake Lively (far left) and Emily Blunt.

Back­stage and on the run­way (left) at Michael Kors Col­lec­tion A/W 2018.

Right: mod­els Jourdan Dunn and Eva Herzigová front row.

Michael Kors Col­lec­tion A/W 2018 (and in­set).

Fash­ion con­sul­tant Sofía Sanchez de Be­tak and Eva Herzigová back­stage. Left: Zen­daya, Lively and Blunt front row.

Michael Kors Col­lec­tion A/W 2018. Right: Ad­woa Aboah on the run­way.

From top: a new bag on the A/W 2018 run­way; Kors back­stage with mod­els Theodora (left) and Alexan­dra Richards; Bella Ha­did in a look fea­tur­ing David Downton il­lus­tra­tions.

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