by laurie brookins | August 23, 2011 | Style & Beauty
|Rene Russo and Kors at the Fall 2011 after party|
|Mary J. Blige performs at Kors’ 30th anniversary dinner|
He wouldn't typically be the first person to hit the dance floor, but Michael Kors just couldn’t help himself. “Fashion folk can sometimes get a little self-conscious,” he says. “But right away I was out of my seat at the table.”
It was a perfect spring night in March, and Kors was throwing a party to celebrate his just-opened store in Paris; the guest entertainer was Mary J. Blige, who was belting out her rendition of “Stairway to Heaven.” “She was pouring her heart and soul into this, and I thought, I’m going to rush the stage and turn this into a mosh pit,” Kors says. “I think I was doing some sort of demented bar mitzvah watusi, but I didn’t care. She was singing for me, and I was going to dance for her.”
Blige was actually not the first Grammy winner to serenade the designer this year, but more on that in a moment. If it sounds like Michael Kors leads a bit of a charmed life, well, even he would quickly agree that he does, especially this year: 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of his eponymous label, and Kors has turned the milestone into a 12-month party.
“It’s been an amazing whirlwind of a year,” he said in late June, noting that the celebratory mood was sparked by two events that occurred in 2010: Kors turned 50 in August of last year (“I admit it,” he says, “though no one in fashion ever turns 40, let alone 50”), two months after the Council of Fashion Designers of America awarded him its Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award. “Those two things together made me say, ‘Wait a minute, we’re almost at 30 years,’” Kors says. “I’m not one to reminisce, but those moments did make me reflect and think, ‘Wow, what I’ve seen, the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had, and how much fashion has changed.’”
Kors Through the Years
He indeed has witnessed a wealth of change in those three decades. “The Internet of course has revolutionized fashion and how we think about it, while plastic surgery has totally changed how we design,” he says. “People don’t have rules about how they look at a certain age anymore.” Yet even a cursory glance at the world of Michael Kors (locally he has three stores, at The Shoppes at Palazzo, The Forum Shops at Caesars and Fashion Show) reveals that the essence of what Kors is all about, classic luxe that takes its cue from the highest ideals of American sportswear, has altered little. Schizophrenic collections can plague a designer as he or she gets older, always rooted in the pressure to remain relevant and current to ever-younger audiences who are not only discovering you, but often doing so online, making snap judgments mere seconds after you’ve sent a collection down the runway.
But not Kors: Ask him to describe the essential elements of his first show in 1984, presented in an art gallery on Sixth Avenue in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, and he might as well be talking about his Fall 2011 collection. “The clothes were super-luxe and laid-back,” he says. “I’ve always believed it’s about the woman who wants to wear them, making sure she feels glamorous and yet comfortable, and answering the call of what people are looking for in their wardrobes. That essence will always be there.”
Joan Kors and Michael Kors attend the 2010 CFDA Fashion Awards in New York
|Bette Midler serenades Michael Kors backstage at the Fall 2011 fashion show|
Actress Rene Russo believes she may know an equally essential secret to Kors’ success. “It seems to me that Michael is a naturally happy guy; he certainly exudes that,” she says. “He also always strikes me as a very kind person, one who enjoys his life. All of that really shows in his clothes.”
In the 1980s Russo was a young model, freshly transplanted from her native Burbank to New York, when she met Kors, a kid from Long Island with a cherubic face and untamed curly hair. “I didn’t know anything about the business at all, and I would go to these offices with my portfolio, and people were so dismissive of me,” Russo says. “Then one day I went up to Michael’s studio, and he walked in like sunshine. I don’t know if he could feel that I was awkward or insecure, but he really put me at ease, and I loved him for that.”
While she’s worn his clothes consistently on red carpets over the years, Russo most famously worked with Kors when she wore pieces from his collection in 1999’s The Thomas Crown Affair, a film that has attained something of a cult status among fashion lovers for the styling of Russo’s character. “I’ve got a few of those pieces to this day, and I still wear them because they’re just as amazing as they were then,” she says. “Everything he did was so perfect for the character; she needed to be strong and all business, but also beautiful and sexy, and the clothes really helped to make that statement. I don’t know any other movie I’ve done in which the clothes defined the character the way Michael’s did.”
And the Stars Came Out
Russo was among the star-studded lineup that turned out to commemorate Kors’ 30th anniversary during the debut of his Fall collection, shown at New York’s Lincoln Center in February. The A-list front row included Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anjelica Huston, Debra Messing, Angie Harmon, Alexandra Richards, Emma Roberts and Bette Midler, who had a plan of her own for the designer. “The show day was full of surprises, and normally I’m not good with surprises—for my 30th birthday, I redid the guest list for my [own] surprise party,” Kors says. “All the celebrities normally come backstage before a show starts—you get a second to catch up a little, and they try to take a sneak peek at the racks before the show. But Bette had not arrived, and she’s always unbelievably on time. Then I heard she was there, but everyone said, ‘No, you can’t say hello yet, just wait here.’ I asked why, and I was told, ‘Just wait, you don’t have to know everything.’”
When he was finally allowed to greet Midler, she had a ukulele in hand and launched into a rousing chorus of “Happy Anniversary.” “I grew up enraptured by her music, so that was a big moment for me,” Kors says. “You hear designers complain all the time about how hard our jobs are, and I always think, Why would anyone complain? You get to do what you love to do, and you get to experience things some people only dream about. And I think about that when I think about the day of this show, and how my day started with thinking, Why is Bette Midler carrying a ukulele?”
All About the Clothes
Michael Kors' Fall collection is undeniably a celebration of what he loves, and what women like Russo and Midler love about him: “I didn’t want it to be a reminiscence of 30 years; I wanted it to say what I’m about as a designer,” he says. That jumping-off point was thus translated into exquisitely tailored menswear-influenced suitings in deep charcoal and ankle-length cashmere coats in Kors’ beloved camel, juxtaposed with divinely draped dresses in silk charmeuse or jersey. There was also a splash of effortless one-shoulder gowns and some cunning jumpsuits, many woven through the thread of a glam ’70s Studio 54 moment. The overall effect was precisely that balance of yin and yang—hard versus soft, structured versus supple—at which Kors quite simply excels.
|A look from Michael Kors' Fall 2011 runway|
“First off, I’m outerwear-obsessed, and tailoring-obsessed, and somehow I think we’ve lost the idea of tailoring in fashion,” Kors explains when asked about the roots of the collection. “I don’t like thinking that there’s a whole generation of women who don’t understand one simple truth: that when you put on a beautifully tailored coat and it’s cut a certain way, it not only does wonderful things for your body, but it also lasts for years, and it doesn’t have to be masculine; it can be very sexy.”
What Women Want
While those cashmere jumpsuits are also a nod to the notion that Kors came of age, as he puts it, “in the beginning of the paparazzi era, with all those great Ron Galella photos of people in real life, of seeing Jackie Kennedy in her T-shirt and pants, of Lauren Hutton and Ali MacGraw,” he’s likewise passionate about their purpose.
“I love a long, lean line, and the challenge of how to give someone an extra six inches of leg,” Kors says. “That’s such a big part of who I am as a designer. And no matter what time I’m in, I’ve always known what I stood for: Every woman wants to look taller and leaner, everyone wants to look sexy but be comfortable. My customer insists on clothes that are versatile, indulgent and glamorous, with the kind of opposing idea that they’re also relaxed and easy. That’s ultimately Michael Kors.”
Jane Schorr, wife of Wynn Resorts chief operating officer Marc Schorr, agrees. “His clothes really are timeless, sophisticated yet youthful, and are made beautifully,” says Schorr, who in April cochaired a luncheon and fashion show at Wynn, which featured Kors’ Fall collection and benefited the Nathan Adelson Hospice. “I have been a fan of Michael’s for years, so I was thrilled. His presence here in Las Vegas offers tourists, as well as our city’s best-dressed women, of all ages, a wonderful option.”
Las Vegas Love
Kors is likewise effusive in his praise of Las Vegas. “The response to the [Hospice] event was phenomenal,” he says. “And this Fall collection really is perfect for Las Vegas; glamour is a huge part of Las Vegas no matter what, and this collection is all about someone who travels and who’s on the move.”
Kors couldn’t make the Hospice event, but he sent his best ambassador: his mother, Joan, an elegant, soigné blonde whom Kors calls equal parts “fan, supporter and cheerleader.” He is planning a return trip to Las Vegas soon, however, for one key reason: “I’ll be back to see Celine’s new show, that’s for sure,” he says, referring to Celine Dion’s current stint at Caesars Palace. “I think she’s such a remarkable entertainer. And when I was the creative director for Céline in Paris, she was so lovely about coming to that show. She was Celine at Céline, wearing Céline.”
It’s easy to envision Kors at Caesars, embracing that moment not as an A-lister who’s above it all, but as a genuine fan. And not unlike that March night in Paris, with a powerhouse voice singing seemingly just for him, it’s a sure bet that Michael Kors, given the year he’s enjoyed, will most definitely be in the mood to dance.
PHOTOGRAPH BY INEZ AND VINOODH (OPENER); BILLY FARRELL AGEENCY (MIDLER, RUSSO); GETTY IMAGES (HUDSON, KORS); IVAN MATHIE (BLIGE); DAN AND CORINA LECCA (RUNWAY)