From Childhood Doodler to World-Renowned Fashion Designer
Designers come and go, but few compare to Michael Kors when it comes to reinventing luxury. Determined to show that sportswear can be sexy, and realistically priced, too, he has carved a niche for himself in the ‘affordable luxury’ fashion category with 700+ lifestyle stores worldwide all sporting his signature MK logo. He’s known as much today for his winning smile and Project Runway success as he is for his womenswear, beautiful handbags and wristwatches, and has amassed over $1 billion in company wealth.
But things weren’t always so bright. In fact, there was a time when Michael Kors was nothing more than a college dropout with a dream of making it big amongst the fashionistas of New York. So how did he do it? Let’s find out, shall we?
The Early Days: Before Michael Kors
Born in 1959 as Karl Anderson Jr., Kors grew up in a Long Island suburb with his mother Joan Hamburger, an ex-model, before changing his name to Michael David Kors at the age of five when his mother married her then-second husband, Bill Kors.
While the reasoning behind the Kors name change may appear obvious, it was Michael himself that was given the option of changing his first name—and he did so, hoping for a new life and a new start with his family. When asked how that came about, Kors stated, “My mother said, ‘You’re getting a new last name, so why don’t you pick a new first name?’” and so he did.
In doing so, he gave himself the incredible moniker that fashion-focused people worldwide would know as the benchmark for sophisticated tailoring and sporty little numbers.
More incredible to us, his passion for the fashion industry was already present at such a young age. The wedding dress that his mother wore to her wedding to Bill was designed by none other than the savvy 5-year-old. By this age, he was already modeling just like mom, although his ads for Lucky Charms and toilet paper were a little less glamorous than his mother’s photos.
Turning Into a Butterfly
In Merrick, New York, Kors got to sample fashion designing for the second time in his life. Always a voracious reader, regularly consuming fashion media such as Vogue magazine as it arrived at his letterbox, he wanted more, and nothing was going to stop him in his pursuit to achieve his dreams. As his tender years turned into teenage ones, he launched his very first fashion line called Icon Butterfly, which consisted of reworked clothing, his own designs and outfits that he had customized himself, directly from the family basement.
In 1977, at just age 18, he left the family home to make his way in the New York fashion world, enrolling at the Fashion Institute of Technology, however, dropped out two semesters later when French boutique Lothar’s offered him the chance to design and sell his own fashion collection.
The 80s and Beyond
While his time at Lothar’s was fruitful, he yearned to make a mark of his own. Michael Kors Collection was born in 1981, and Lothar’s was his first customer. He also sold his fashion collection to Bergdorf Goodman just across the street in Manhattan. His charming smile and easy demeanor, something which he is well-known for today, helped him secure sales across the U.S. as he traveled performing ‘Trunk Shows’ in wealthy homes around the country.
Yet it wasn’t until Autumn/Winter 1984 that he had his first runway show with a collection WWD described as “elegant, but minimal dressing” and “classic sportswear,” something which would become the backbone of his later successes.
Celebrities such as Courtney Love, Sharon Stone and Aretha Franklin wore his designs. Even Anna Wintour—yes, the Devil Wears Prada-esque Vogue Editor herself—sneaked a peek at his 1984 collection, albeit, with much persuasion by Kors himself.
Like most artistic endeavors, fashion design is not without risk. Michael Kors as a brand had suffered financial troubles, most notably due to the launch of the lower-priced KORS line in the face of worldwide economic struggles. The idea was a good one—offering people good quality clothing at a cut price—but the concept never got off the ground as people began to re-evaluate their financial priorities entirely.
1993 came the hammer blow. Michael Kors filed for bankruptcy following the bankruptcy of one of its licensing partners in Italy. It wasn’t until 1997 that Michael Kors could be considered one of the fashion industry's successes again. But boy, when the brand came back, they came back with a bang!
While Michael Kors the man was recouping as the ready-to-wear designer and creative director at Celine, he was still quietly focusing on his own brand’s resurrection. Enter a knight in shining armor in the form of Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE who invested in the KORS brand to help them bounce back.
In 2001, Michael Kors created their first luxury men’s watches in conjunction with Fossil, which featured different colored metal straps and rhinestone heavy designs. A successful Michael Kors women’s watch line followed in 2004 and due to their popularity, became a vital part of the company’s accessories range that continues to this day under the MICHAEL Michael Kors and KORS Michael Kors lines.
Since 2004 and the guidance of Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the business has continued to grow from strength to strength, with accessories and affordable fashion at the forefront of their product development. The distinct classic buckle and brand lettering are instantly recognizable throughout the world as a reliable, high-fashion timepiece brand that combines sophistication with sports elegance. The metal straps are still available, as are a range of leather finishes including python and crocodile, and high-quality mother-of-pearl dials are ever-present on their Michael Kors Lauryn Collection.
Which watch style would you choose?