“My job is to figure it out for you,” he says. “I have to guess what you want before you want it. What I do is answer problems. I have a date. I’m going to lunch with a bunch of women, I’m 42, and I don’t want to look like my daughter, but I don’t want to look like my mom.”
From 1999 until 2004, Kors was the creative director at the French brand Céline, which had been lying fairly dormant for years. His work was a success, but it meant a peripatetic life commuting between New York and Paris.
One time, he walked out of the Bristol Hotel and saw a girl coming down the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in a plain pair of trousers, a turtleneck, and a pair of slingback shoes, and he thought: Finally, a Frenchwoman I can relate to. When he got closer, he realized it was actually his friend Aerin Lauder, who had just arrived in town to watch his show.
It was in Paris that he and LePere fell in love. They’d known each other since 1990, when LePere joined the company as an intern, but there was something about being together abroad that solidified things. “We share a certain level of taste,” LePere says, “an American point of view, and I think we like to play with Americana. Over the years and the day-to-day process of dreaming together, things just naturally fell into place.” They started taking their meals together at the Parisian outpost of Joe Allen. “We could have quesadillas, they had cranberry juice,” Kors says. “I don’t know that either of us was really accepting the French lifestyle.
“I never cottoned to the idea of people having this intimidation about Europe,” he adds. “Women say, ‘I wish I was French! They know how to tie scarves!’ ” He rolls his eyes and flaps his hand. “Do we have the history and sophistication of Europe? No. But as much as everyone can sit in Paris and die over the experimentation, everyone is dying to take off their uncomfortable shoes, and they’re all wearing casual separates. Sportswear! American designers! I do feel a little responsible to be a flag-waver not just for what I do but for what American fashion stands for. Comfortable is not a dirty word.”
Kors is off to the beach for the weekend. He and LePere have a house on Water Island, a secluded part of Fire Island. He loves the beach: the barefootedness of it all. He loves hosting LePere’s nieces and nephews (he bought them an ice-cream maker), he loves hosting his many friends. “Michael’s one of the very few designers I’ve ever met who is happy and living life and enjoying it,” says Nina Garcia. “He always says, ‘We’re not curing cancer here. Fashion is meant to be fun.’ ”
On Kors’s last trip out to the beach, he saw a teenage girl on the ferry carrying one of his bags. She was with her boyfriend, and she was a bit shy upon seeing the designer, whom she most likely recognized from TV. “I said to her, ‘You’re not only cute, you’ve got very good taste!’ It’s just so nice to see people carrying your stuff. It’s a rush. There’s joy in that. I think that fashion people can forget the joy in all of this. This isn’t sad! This is a good thing! My God! When you see someone get something new and their attitude changes? Wow. That is a great thing.”