Michael Kors

Paula Alaszkiewicz

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA254

The name of Michael Kors is synonymous with American luxury sportswear and an international jet-set aesthetic. Advertisements commonly feature models stepping in and out of helicopters, airplanes, sports cars, and yachts. Given the motif of travel, it is not surprising that aviator sunglasses have become of a signature of Michael Kors, the man and the brand.

Kors was born Karl Anderson, Jr. in 1959 on Long Island, New York. When his mother remarried and changed their surname to Kors, she allowed her son to choose a new first name. At the age of five, Karl became Michael. It was also at this age that he designed his first wedding dress: that of his mother, encouraging her to remove excessive ornamentation and opt instead for a simple style. His mother’s work as a model is credited with exposing Kors to the fashion industry at a young age. After a stint as a child actor, Kors began a design business at the age of twelve, transforming his parents’ basement into a shop known as the Iron Butterfly.

After graduating from high school, Kors enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. After only two semesters, Kors withdrew from his program and began working and selling his personal designs at Lothar’s, a French boutique adjacent to the department store Bergdorf Goodman. When Dawn Mello, then Bergdorf’s fashion director, caught a glimpse of his designs, Kors received his big break. He was subsequently encouraged to develop a collection and present it to the store’s buyers, and the Michael Kors label has since been sold there.

In 1982, Kors met New York Magazine’s fashion editor Anna Wintour, thus marking the beginning of a long relationship. In 1984, Kors staged his first runway show. The rest of the decade brought great success; however, in 1993, amidst an economic recession, Kors filed for bankruptcy protection. While expansion plans halted, he continued to produce and show new collections.

In 1997, Kors launched his bridge line and was named designer of women’s ready-to-wear at the French luxury brand Céline. His debut collection for Céline was a great triumph and by 1999 he had been promoted to creative director. That same year LVMH, Céline’s parent company, purchased a one-third stake in Kors’s own business. While at Céline, Kors grew his own label by introducing accessories, fragrances, and a menswear line, all of which expanded his market. After successfully reinvigorating Céline, Kors left the brand in 2003 and turned his attention toward his growing empire.

Through endurance and innovation, Kors has become an icon of New York fashion and American sportswear. Through internships and jobs he has fueled the careers of Derek Lam, Peter Som, and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler. Kors appeared as a judge on the award-winning television program Project Runway for its first ten seasons. Kors has been awarded CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) accolades for both women’s and men’s designer of the year—1999 and 2003 respectively—and in 2010 was honored with their Lifetime Achievement Award.

Michael Kors, Spring/Summer 1995. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Feitelberg Rosemary. ““Getting Candid with Michael Kors”.” Women’s Wear Daily , 7 June 2012. http://www.wwd.com/fashionnews/designer-luxury/kors-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-5949242?full=true (accessed February 2014).

Find in Library Jones Terry , ed. 100 Contemporary Fashion Designers . Hong Kong and Los Angeles : Taschen, 2009.