As a child model for a cereal commercial, few could have predicted that Karl Anderson Jr, as he was then known, would become one of the most influential names in fashion today. We asked style expert Carolyn Asome to look back over the key moments in his career that put his name in gold letters on nearly every handbag in Britain.
1. The early years: was a career in fashion inevitable?
Most probably for Michael Kors, who was born Karl Anderson Junior on Long Island, New York in 1959. His mother remarried when he was five and asked him to help design her wedding dress. Influenced by a grandmother who dressed in furs and never travelled without an extensive wig collection, and a mother who turned him into her shopping partner, careers in architecture and dancing beckoned but they couldn’t sway him from his first love: clothes and a passion for shopping.
2. Kors launches his first womenswear label
After he began making clothes – ostensibly for his friends to wear to the legendary Studio 54 nightclub in New York, he launched his own label in 1981, which was immediately snapped up by Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. He specialised in luxury sportswear, albeit of the uber-glamorous kind, which is sexy but never lewd; polished yet never intimidating.
3. The house of Celine calls
Despite going bankrupt in 1993, within four years he re-launched his label and in 1999 landed the top job, creative director at French fashion house Celine where he remained until 2003. It’s hard to imagine that Celine (now so inextricably linked with Phoebe Philo) once included clothes for glamazons: Early Sixties silhouettes (Kors adored the way Jackie O' dressed) and monochrome were a recurring favourite. “I love that era," says Kors. “Fashion is a blend of the best bits from Fifties and Sixties clothing. Also, life then wasn't as uptight as it had been in the Fifties.”
4. Kors in the Noughties
Kors became the go-to designer for American socialites who lap up his seductive sway with Americana clothing and his easily digestible catwalk references (if it’s summer, why not riff on a Hamptons holiday wardrobe?). In the shiny, happy world of Michael Kors land there is little place for self-doubt, deep introspection, grunge references or indeed thick woolly tights. He coins a term for his moneyed, always honeyed clientele: the jetrosexual. It describes the sort of woman who breakfasts in London, lunches in Paris before zipping off to Gstaad for a spot of skiing.
5. Kors wins CFDA Lifetime Achievement award
And yet according to Kim Hersov, fashion editor and founder of the fashion brand Talitha, he is “one of those few people who has managed to stay grounded despite his enormous success and has kept his true friends and family around him. His clothes to me are truly glamorous, but 'real women clothes, that transcend fad and 'fashion'".
6. The power of the red carpet
Kors has never been short of a red carpet moment or ten. Jennifer Lopez, Catherine Zeta Jones, Rachel McAdams have all worn his dresses. But Kors’ creations have also appeared in films, dressing Gwyneth Paltrow in Possession and Rene Russo in the Thomas Crown Affair.
7. Kors and the White House
It was a black sequinned gown that Michelle Obama wore to the reception of her husband’s 2012 inauguration that first brought Kors to the White House. She also turned to a black sleeveless Kors dress for her first term official portrait as First Lady in 2012. A year later, Alicia Keys also tapped into the winning formula, wearing one of his gowns for her performance at Barack Obama’s inaugural ball.
8. Kors is propelled onto Forbes’ billionaires list
Thanks to delivering “jet-set luxury” to the masses and democratising the designer bag by keeping prices lower - his best seller, the Michael Michael Kors Selma bag, costs £260 – his personal wealth scores him his first entry on the Forbes' billionaires list. At the end of May 2014 his holdings company announced annual results which showed a 51.8 per cent rise in total revenue year on year to $3.3 billion (£1.95 billion), up from $2.2 billion (£1.42 billion) in 2013.
9. Kors opens his first store in China
Kors hit mainland China in 2014. There are 550 stand-alone stores (and counting) now bearing his name and selling his gently branded goods (bags and accessories with the gold hardware MK initials).
10. Time magazine names Kors among its 100 most influential people in the world
In 2013 he made it into the “Titan” sub-category, alongside Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and artist Jay-Z. Kors the celebrity designer also crops up in The Devil Wears Prada, Nicki Minaj’s “Dance” and guest stars as himself in a New York Fashion Week-themed episode of Gossip Girl.