Michael Kors has always had very specific ideas about clothes. He has never posited a version of fashion that challenges our ideas about femininity or asks us to question proportion or silhouette. What he has done, for the past 30 years, is present a rotating collection of very, very classic things. As for inspiration, he likes Ali MacGraw in Love Story, he adores Jackie O. (especially during the “O” years), and he can’t quite get over how good Lauren Hutton looked circa 1983. His friends are Upper East Side women with hair ranging from butterscotch to baby blonde; they love him for his cashmere turtlenecks, his caramel-colored shoes, his tendency to dance his heart out at their weddings and benefits. Another of Wintour’s CFDA anecdotes told of Mouna Ayoub, the famously rich Lebanese divorcée, approaching Kors at an event on a yacht off Saint-Tropez. Ayoub was praising his 76-ply cashmere. “Michael,” she told him, “you are my Gap.”
As Garcia puts it, “Michael really thrives on knowing his customer. It’s the storytelling: She’s in Palm Beach, she’s in Aspen, she’s going to Elio’s for dinner. He speaks about his clients as his closest friends. You’re never going to be a victim in Michael Kors, and that’s a hard thing to pull off.”
It’s a position that pleases Kors. “Look, there are different designers for different things,” he says, “and if you’re looking for an avant-garde art project, I am not that designer. There are people who do that beautifully, and that’s great. If you’re looking for the trousers you live in, that’s my thing. Maybe I’ve just spent a lot of time in the dressing rooms of the world.”
On a Friday afternoon in July, Kors was meeting with his accessories team in a boxy white room in his offices near Bryant Park to review the shoes that will walk his runway in September. He was wearing what he usually wears: a black T-shirt and a pair of black (Michael Kors) cargo pants. “I used to be so trendy,” he says, “and then I cut my hair from Peter Frampton to Steve McQueen and just said, ‘I want to be plain, plain, plain.’ ”
The shoes are spread out over two tables. They range from straightforward, strapped wedges to canary-yellow stiletto heels. “She’s demented!” is high praise for a pair that manages to resemble riding boots even without a toe. “They’re the ultimate anti–Heidi Montag moment.”
As for a pair of dotty wedges: “Send them back to Boca. Send them back to Boynton Beach!”
“Park Avenue Jesus” are flat sandals, but they are not to be confused with the “sexy Tevas,” which are flat as well, as are the “Jesus Lady” sandals, which have a thinner strap. “Viareggio edgy—Via-edge-io!” are sandals with a stacked wooden heel. These are considered a success, as are the stilettos that have “a bedroom stripper thing. Which we like.”
Kors spends the whole meeting sliding around on a wheeled leather chair and sucking from an enormous plastic cup of iced tea. Holding the cup, he says, makes him feel like the Olsen triplet. “Where are the interesting shoes with the low heels?” he wants to know, and here come two pairs. “I was doing an event in L.A. and this woman comes who lives, like, out in the desert. She’s kind of hippie-dippie, but fabulous chic. She had these great shoes on that were cool and aggressive-looking but they weren’t skyscrapers, and I said to her, ‘I love your shoes,’ and she said, ‘You can’t find shoes that are important-looking on lower heels.’ So now I make shoes for her. I send them right to L.A. Now that is a dream customer.”
Kors is an only child, raised by his mother and a crew of aunts, uncles, and grandparents in the Five Towns section of Long Island. His grandfather and many of his neighbors worked in the garment business, making the commute from Woodmere station to Seventh Avenue and 39th Street. Kors himself would stop by the station on his way to school to pick up a copy of WWD: Nan Kempner, Pat Buckley, and Ellin Saltzman were the idols whose photos decorated his bedroom.
He describes his childhood as a swirl of Ultrasuede and crop tops, frosty lipsticks and chilly, shaken martinis. The first thing he knew how to order in restaurants was Chateaubriand for two, and then he learned how to ask for things to be flambéed tableside. He saw his first Bette Midler concert at 13, and a few years later he ditched his prom in order to sneak into Studio 54. He was wearing layered Yves Saint-Laurent crêpe de Chine shirts, unbuttoned down his chest.