Success in fashion is often fleeting. Rattle off a list of popular designer names from the 1980s — when Michael Kors was starting out — and few would be recognisable to today’s average industry obsessee, let alone a consumer.
Success didn’t come quickly or easily to Michael Kors, but it did come, and in droves, culminating in a $3.6 billon initial public offering in 2011 that made him, and many of his colleagues, very rich. And yet, looking back on his 40 years in business, it isn’t the end result that is the most impressive. It’s his process as a designer.
To celebrate that 40th anniversary milestone, Kors, ever the showman, staged a runway extravaganza on the streets of Midtown, lit up by theatre marquees.The film was live-streamed to hundreds of industry insiders that might usually attend, if there weren’t still a pandemic —and to thousands of fans who wish they could. Classic Kors’ models including Shalom Harlow — with a late-stage appearance by Naomi Campbell — slicked their side parts and sauntered in bathrobe-style fluffy coats. His frequent collaborator, Rufus Wainwright, accompanied the performance with renditions of “A New York State of Mind,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” among other classics.
His first legitimate retrospective, the collection was imagined for a post-Zoom world, all sleek and shiny with high heels and geometric clutches, his signature gold paillettes lining the inside of a camel wool coat — another signature. (“I must’ve designed a thousand of them,” he said at a preview on Monday.) A crunchy lipstick red coat, first shown in 1991 on Cindy Crawford — back when a single look would gather applause — will be tagged with a QR code, which the wearer can scan to learn its whole backstory from Kors himself.
Looking back, the designer’s oeuvre was captured perfectly in the looks worn by Rene Russo in the 1999 remake of Thomas Crown Affair, and many pieces in this collection are a beautiful extension of that celluloid fantasy, from a form-hugging sequinned turtleneck to a three-piece glen-plaid suit.
But while there were references to the past, the individual pieces also reflected the positioning the brand has been working on over the past few years, attempting to move the spotlight away from its lower-priced collections that are more accessible to the masses to the luxury pieces Kors designs to sell the dream. Logo bags might be selling like hotcakes right now, but he chose to show discrete little things that he was sure to mention are made in Italy of the finest materials.
Kors said his brand is defined by the “yin and yang between indulgence and glamour, simplicity and ease,” but I would argue that it’s deeper than that, grounded in a special understanding and appreciation for the person he is dressing.
Many designers put themselves first. Not Kors, who spent a portion of the pandemic hosting virtual trunk shows.
“Since the beginning of my career, I have always thought that one of my best attributes was understanding women and how they live,” he said. “If what I design doesn’t work in real life, I think it loses all of its power.”
You see, it’s not about him. And that’s why, it’s all about him. He’s earned it.