We talk to Michael Kors, fashion’s next billionaire, about everyday glamour, the secret to staying young and more

Michael Kors
Photography by Douglas Friedman
Michael Kors
Photography by Douglas Friedman

When Michael Kors arrives at his Bloor Street West boutique for a cocktail party in his honour, he looks every bit the billionaire he’s on the brink of becoming. Aviators on, entourage in tow, tanned and looking like he’s just flown in from Saint-Tropez or some other exotic locale, he’s immediately swallowed up in a swarm of Kors-clad clients and a frenzy of iPhone flashes. For most of the night, he’s ushered along on a dizzying circuit of hand-shaking, air-kissing and picture-posing, but he is at all times classic Kors, delighting those around him with the occasional quip, never losing that signature smile. And, given the year he’s been having, it’s no wonder he’s smiling.

Since taking his company public in the biggest IPO in U.S. fashion history, Kors has been raking in the accolades right along with the cash, including being named to Time Magazine’s list of the most influential people in the world, topping The Wall Street Journal’s NYIndex of powerful New Yorkers and landing the prestigious Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion from the Fashion Institute of Technology (not bad for a kid who dropped out of FIT after nine months). His company has 400 stores worldwide, has enjoyed record-breaking growth and, with 2013 profits forecast at more than double last year’s, it’s no wonder his is the most Googled name in American fashion—a name that, by the way, he chose for himself at the age of five (he was born Carl Anderson Jr.).

The morning after the party, I meet with Kors (sans aviators and entourage) to find out what has him smiling so much these days.

Michael Kors Fall 2013
Photography by Peter Stigter

You’ve had a big year. What’s the secret to your success?
“I think the best thing in life and in fashion is to have a combination of youth and experience. After 32 years in business, obviously I’ve seen a lot, and I could sit back and say, ‘Oh, I know it all,’ or I can stay curious. Curiosity, to me, is what kids have. It’s about what’s next, what’s new. And then you have the experience of time, and if you can combine the two…. I think that’s something we should all aim for in life, but I think in fashion it’s really important.”

You always have a very specific idea of who the Kors woman is. What’s her story for fall?
“Because I travel so much, often with my collections I take people on a journey to a place, from Aspen to Capri to Wyoming. But at the end of the day, I’m an urban animal. So I thought, ‘OK, wait a minute, let’s talk about how we’re going to get dressed for urban life.’ We’ve got to go to work, we’ve got to go to dinner, we’ve got to deal with this calendar that’s exploding. Life is so fast-paced now that you almost have to be an athlete just to live city life. But you want to be sophisticated, you want to be glamorous, you want a bit of luxury. You don’t want to be a bike messenger, but you should have that kind of mobility, that kind of speed, that kind of energy. And then, of course, Hurricane Sandy hit and everyone was basically dressed for survival. People were throwing a Patagonia jacket over a cocktail dress because you just had to grab your clothes out of the house! That’s part of how I design: It’s about what’s going on in the world. Because fashion’s the zeitgeist. It’s not, ‘Oh, I went through a book and I was looking at a Degas painting and I said, “Voila, let there be Degas!”’ But, like, why Degas right now? There’s got to be a reason for it.”

Michael Kors Fall 2013 Bag

Your brand has always been about luxury, glamour and the jetset lifestyle. Does your success seem kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy?
“A lot of fashion is what I call ‘sad and sour.’ It’s promoting unhappy, sad intellectualism, and I don’t believe that being smart or plugged-in means you have to be sad and introspective. I’ve always put this optimistic aspiration vibe out there, because it’s who I am. We make things that people feel glamorous using in their everyday life. If you’re stuck at your desk on a grey, cloudy day and you look down at your bag and it says, ‘Take me to Capri!’ it’s like a little escape. Carry a glamorous handbag to the gym, and suddenly your day feels very different. Or wear an amazing coat when you’re dropping your kids off at school—even if you’re wearing sweats underneath, suddenly you’re Gwyneth Paltrow.”

That reminds me of Diana Vreeland’s “Why Don’t You…?” column.
“Exactly! And, it’s funny, I think when Diana first wrote that column, people thought, ‘Oh, glamour, it seems so distant.’ I think what I try to do is bring that glamour into everyday life.”

You chose your own name at the age of five and today it’s the most searched name in American fashion. Do you think you had some idea of how important that decision would be?
“I had a unique childhood—I mean, how many people can say they chose their own name when they were five years old? The whole name thing came about when my mom was getting married to Bill Kors, her second husband. At that time, my unofficial nickname was Chuck, because I was a happy kid and my grandparents would call me Chuckles. My real name was Carl. One day my mother simply asked me what I would like my new name to be. And I think I must have had a premonition—there can only be one Karl in fashion.” 

“Life is so fast-paced now that you almost have to be an athlete to live city life. But you want to be sophisticated, you want to be glamorous, you want a bit of luxury.”