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Michael Kors at 40: A Timeline of the Designer’s Life in Fashion

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“To be honest with you, I’m a little kind of pinch me.” So says Michael Kors about his 40th anniversary, which he’s celebrating with a blockbuster fall 2021 collection reveal tomorrow. With characteristic ebullience, he adds, “I’m still kind of juiced to just see people on the street wearing what I design.” His cup runneth over: Michael Kors has fans everywhere.

What draws these customers to Kors, beyond 10-ply cashmere and and a super-recognizable geometric logo, is the jet-set dream. A sun and fun ethos has always been a mainstay of the Kors brand, be it the flash of clear blue waters, the diamond sparkle of snow, or the pop of a flashbulb. Celebrities like Zendaya, Viola Davis, and Nicole Kidman flock to the designer not for the Cinderella treatment, but for red-carpet looks with just the right amount of dazzle that lets them shine.

He’s the quintessential New Yorker. “We are the birthplace of the life that is just warp speed,” he says. “I think quickly, I move quickly, I talk quickly. Our ethos has been about the movement of a life lived quickly and indulgence. So there’s comfort, which you need for speed, mixed in with the idea that I believe that most people have this sort of streak in them: that they want to indulge. As much as we all want to have a salad, everyone dreams of the chocolate mousse.”

Kors’s recipe for success, both personally and professionally, is based on the balance of opposites. As far back as he can remember, the designer notes, “there’s a part of me that’s very pragmatic, and then there’s a part of me that’s silly and indulgent.” Those contrasting forces meet in garments that are at once timeless and topical, luxurious yet democratic. Speaking of his process Kors explains that he’ll stick to neutrals when creating dramatic silhouettes, and leans towards “outlandish” colors or prints when working with simple lines. “Am I user friendly? Yes,” he says.

In the course of four decades, the designer has seen fashion and communication go global, and the speed of change increase exponentially. “The world is definitely spinning at a faster axis than it did when I started. [As fashion people] we talked about the rules changing for years, but I think we were just speaking to ourselves. We’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, there are no seasons, there’s no time of day. You can wear sequins to the office, you can wear sneakers at night, you can wear boots in the summer, sandals in the winter. And I think for a long time, we in the industry might have lived that way, but the public hadn’t started thinking that way. And now just all the rules are gone. There are no seasons, there are no borders. The notion of American fashion versus British fashion versus Japanese fashion versus the French—I don’t think any of that matters anymore at all, because I think we’re all plugged into the same things and information is so available and we’re all learning and stealing from each other. So it has gotten far more democratic, and I think more interesting.” Definitely more interesting in Kors’s case. Here, a timeline of his 40 fabulous years in business.

A drawing by Michael Kors.Illustration: Courtesy of Michael Kors
A drawing by Michael Kors.Illustration: Courtesy of Michael Kors

1959

Born Karl Anderson Jr. in Long Island, New York.

Michael Kors with his mother, Joan.Photo: Courtesy of Michael Kors

Circa 1964

Changes name on the occasion of his mother’s marriage to Bill Kors. “My mother said, ‘You’re getting a new last name, so why don’t you pick a new first name?” Appears as a model in advertising for cereal and household products. Sees his first musical, Annie Get Your Gun, starring Ethel Merman.

Michael KorsPhoto: Courtesy of Michael Kors

1971

Opens his first boutique, the Iron Butterfly. “I was real crafty. I had a little shop in my basement selling things that I made. I was 12.”

Michael Kors and his signature sunglasses.Photo: Courtesy of Michael Kors

1973

Becomes a mall rat. “I’m a suburban boy who, like, got a rush walking into the mall,” Kors once told Vogue. “I remember being 14 years old and saving up for something: the tissue paper, the shopping bag, the whole thing.”

Michael Kors, ready to hit the dance floor.Photo: Courtesy of Michael Kors

1975

“All of a sudden, disco hit. I was 16 and out came the platforms and the Fiorucci jeans. I went out every night.”

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