Michael Kors: “Fashion Is An Athletic Competition”
Today, Michael Kors will join the ranks of Karl Lagerfeld, Dries Van Noten, and Oscar de la Renta when he accepts his Award for Artistry of Fashion from the Couture Council of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Though the man, who has created one of fashion’s largest empires with his namesake American sportswear label, hardly needs an introduction, Hilary Swank will be on hand at the Lincoln Center luncheon to properly present him with the honor. Style.com caught up with Kors to talk about fashion as a sport, triple shoulder pads, and more. And no, in case you were wondering, even a pro like Kors is not ready for fashion week. “You know, we are never ready until five minutes before the show,” Kors told us. “But that’s the way it is.”
You’ve been designing for over thirty years. Do you still find fashion exciting?
This morning, I was watching that swimmer Diana [Nyad] who is 64 years old, and she really had the endurance to keep trying and keep persevering. Fashion is an athletic competition and you have to have endurance and you have to stay excited about the idea that things are always changing. The world always changes, therefore fashion changes. I am excited about the fact that no matter how many years I have been doing it, you never know all the rules. You never know exactly what the game is going to be because the game is always changing.
What have been the most interesting changes you have seen in fashion during the course of your career?
There are three changes that have rocked fashion and continue to do so. Number one is the internet. Fashion became accessible quickly and 24/7 to anyone who was interested all around the planet. Clothes used to be very specific by country. The introduction of the Web was like when the Berlin Wall fell—it took down the barriers around the world in fashion. Number two, the rules have totally been thrown out the window. No one would have thought that people would be going to parties and fashion shows in February wearing sandals, or that they would wear sequins in the office during the day. Plus, the idea of “dressing your age,” has been totally diminished. In today’s world, if you have amazing legs, you might be a 60-year-old and wearing a short dress. Or, on the other hand, you might be 16 years old and instead of looking girly, you look sophisticated. The biggest change, though, is probably the democratization of fashion. When I started, you had to be wealthy and fashion-obsessed and live in a big city to really feel that there was anything in the fashion game for you. Today, it’s all about a certain taste level, a certain point of view design-wise, and it’s not about the price tag.
You are getting the award from FIT, where you attended school. What was one of the most challenging moments from your time there? I did not grow up sewing. There was no sewing machine in my house. The idea of sitting down and trying to be really exacting at the sewing machine was like an I Love Lucy episode—me sewing turned into Lucy at the chocolate factory. On the other side of the coin, I had been sketching since I was really small. When I arrived at school, they were trying to teach us really rudimentary things [about sketching] and I was like, “I have been doing since I was a 6-year-old.” I was either left back or a genius. I was never in the middle while I was in school. That’s for sure.
In your opinion, what was one of the worst fashion trends to come to popularity during your time as a designer?
Probably triple shoulder pads. Women were wearing blouses with pads, putting a jacket over it that had pads, and then leaving the house with a third set. When you look like you are in a neck brace and wearing a linebacker’s football equipment, perhaps you have gone too far. I don’t know that anyone looked great in it, and I do love a big shoulder. I would skip that one. If a strong shoulder comes back, let’s hope it doesn’t turn into a costume.
What are your thoughts on the street-style circus that takes place during fashion week these days?
I think ‘circus’ is totally the apropo word for what goes on at fashion week, or fashion month, rather. The reality is there are few people who really are eccentric and over the top. It’s part of their personal DNA. If you are Daphne Guinness or Anna Dello Russo, that’s how you get dressed on a daily basis. But I think for most people, there should be like a warning sign. “Do not attempt this at home.” I think quite frankly we are going to see a bit of a backlash and see people at the shows being a little more understated. It could be shocking if people just start showing up in plain black trousers and a white shirt.
And how do you feel about the crowded NYFW schedule? They just keep packing even more into each day every year.
As I said before, you’d better be athletic. The designers have to be athletic, the retailers have to be athletic, editors and journalists have to be athletic, and we all have to up the pace. At a certain point, there is only so much we can all do without imploding. If you have to do five weeks of fashion shows, you have to sneak in a massage here and there.
You have just debuted the latest addition to the Kors empire: your cosmetics line. What’s next for you?
Part of the fun thing about retailing and having so many of my own stores is that I use the stores as laboratories. The color cosmetics, for instance, it’s a very small collection and it’s not a full range. Once we see the response, we might expand that. There are certain things I know won’t happen—designers used to sign all sorts of crazy licensing deals, everything from chocolate to cigarettes, and I won’t be doing any of that. But anytime I see a missing answer to a question and I think I can come up with what I think is a great solution, that’s immediately something for us to experiment with and possibly grow on.