Michael Kors Talks to DA MAN About ’70s Vibe and His Fashion Empire

This man needs no introduction. When he established his namesake company back in 1981, Michael Kors was already envisioning his empire. With an innate sense of glamor and an unfailing eye for timeless chic, he has become one of the most famous fashion designers in the world.

With a simple MK logo, he took the world by storm and after almost 40 years in the industry he’s still inspiring. As a brand, Michael Kors now has three labels under its name: Michael Kors Collection, MICHAEL Michael Kors and Michael Kors Mens, with products ranging from accessories, footwear, watches, jewelry, women’s and men’s ready-to-wear, wearable technology, eyewear and a full line of fragrance products. With the all-encompassing luxury lifestyle empire that he has built, Michael Kors is ready for everything. He has earned the respect and the affection of millions from generations past and, we have a gut feeling, from generations to come, too.

DAMAN: Hi, Mr. Kors. Thank you for taking the time off your busy schedule to chat with us. Speaking of which, can you tell us what are you busy with at the moment?
Michael Kors: My Spring 2020 collection and runway show. And we’re gearing up for our new Watch Hunger Stop campaign that debuts in October.

DA: Your fall/winter 2019/20 collection is heavily inspired by the ’70s and Studio 54. Tell us why those are the big themes for the season?
MK: When we were designing the collection, we were in the middle of moving to a new apartment and I found my old high school yearbook. I was reading the messages and thinking about what my life was like at that age—I was moving to New York, I had big dreams and there was this feeling that anything was possible. New York in the ’70s was a melting pot of style and I wanted the show to celebrate that and embrace the fun and glamour of that era. And of course, Studio 54 played a huge role in the fashion of that time.

DA: You have personally experienced the iconic days of Studio 54. Does this collection bring back good memories?
MK: Yes. When I think about Studio 54, it was like this incredible, perfectly planned dinner party. You had this eclectic mix of people wearing an eclectic mix of clothes—jeans next to an evening gown, sweats next to a cocktail dress, shorts, a tube top, all of it. We still see that convergence today, just in different ways: You have someone rushing off to work early in the morning and then you have club kids just coming home. It’s that mix that makes New York so wonderful.

DA: What are your favorite pieces from the collection and why?
MK: I have a soft spot for the pieces with the Studio 54 logo, obviously. And I also love the dancer print—it’s subtle enough that from far away it just looks like a pattern, but as you get closer, the dancers sort of reveal themselves.

DA: If you can sum up the fall/winter 2019/20 collection in just three words, what would they be?

MK: Eclectic, joyous and glamorous.

DA: Do you have any advice for men who’d like to wear your fall/winter 2019/20 statement pieces?
MK: There are a lot of statement outerwear pieces that will instantly update your everyday style—from a luggage-colored patent shearling bomber to a bonded wool-and-cotton parka with shearling lining to a timeless dark grey wool chesterfield. When you live in an urban environment, your coat becomes your calling card, so it’s one of quickest ways to refresh your look.

“The fashion world is not this little insider’s club anymore because with the
internet and social media, people are free to be their own editors.”

DA: You are a New Yorker through and through. Does that New Yorker mindset comes to play every time you’re starting a new collection?
MK: I think it’s inherent in everything that I do. New Yorkers are very practical, they rely on clothes and accessories that can keep up with the pace of life in a big city and we are always thinking about that when we design.

DA: In your opinion, what are the signs of a great menswear collection?
MK: For menswear, it’s all about evolving the staples. If you go too far outside of the menswear comfort zone, you’re going to alienate people. I find that if you want to play with patterns, stick to a silhouette that men already trust. Or vice versa, if you want to experiment with the silhouette, then stick with neutral colors and familiar prints.

DA: Speaking of menswear, how do you view today’s changes in the menswear landscape if you compare it to your early days?
MK: When I first started out, most men were very much still in a suit from nine to five. That has changed drastically in the last five years. Now you have guys who wear suits with sneakers, or who wear a sports coat with jeans. All of this has left men searching for different options that have a blend of polish and ease. It’s an exciting time to be in menswear because more men than ever are interested in fashion and how they can use it to express themselves.

DA: When you’re designing a menswear collection, do you have a certain type of men in mind?
MK: He’s constantly on the go, he’s plugged in and he’s interested in what his clothing and accessories say about him.

DA: Do you read reviews of your shows?
MK: Of course.

DA: How do you keep the brand fresh and relevant all these years?
MK: My eyes and ears are always open. I watch, read, see and listen to everything. And I have FOMO, so I like to see it all first. I think if you’re out there, living and engaging with the world, then you can find inspiration everywhere. Also important: I listen, I talk to my customers and I make sure I understand their lives so that I can predict what they’re going to need before they even know it themselves.

DA: In your opinion, what are the qualities of successful designer?
MK: Empathy. You have to know your customer and be able to put yourself in their shoes.

DA: Do you still remember your first drawing? Can you tell us what it was?
MK: I was constantly sketching as a kid—it was always a shoe or a bag. I don’t remember the very first one I drew. But the first sketches I sold were for jeans. I had a friend whose dad owned a denim company. So, at 16 years old, I did some sketches and went in to see him in his office and he bought three of the designs.

DA: When do you feel most inspired?
MK: When I’m traveling. The people, the culture, the colors, it’s all inspiring.

DA: Where do you see the brand in, let’s say, ten years from now?
MK: The fashion world changes so often that long-term predictions are impossible.

DA: What have been some of the biggest and most important shifts of focus in fashion that you’ve observed in the last couple of decades or so?
MK: It’s much more democratic. The fashion world is not this little insider’s club anymore because with the internet and social media, people are free to be their own editors.

DA: Are there particular trends, inspirations or styles that you would like to explore for the brand one day?
MK: I’m very involved, so if there is something I’m interested in or a technique that piques my interest, we try it.

DA: Moving on to sustainability, you have stopped using fur in your collections. Other than that, any other initiatives you have for the brand?
MK: We’re thinking about it all—from how we pack and ship our clothes to the effects of the materials we design with. We are committed to finding ways to reduce our impact on the environment and recently joined 32 other brands in signing the Fashion Pact to help protect our planet.