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Michael Kors Talks 3D Design, Social Media, Kate Middleton and Supermodels

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Michael Kors was greeted with rousing applause from a crowd of 850 people Monday at Graham Chapel at Washington University in St. Louis.

His Q&A with Derek Blasberg, a St. Louis-born journalist, was part of the “Speaking of Fashion” series that is presented by the St. Louis Fashion Fund in partnership with Washington University in St. Louis and Caleres. Earlier, the designer buzzed by a trunk show for his signature Collection line at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum on campus. A portion of the trunk show proceeds will benefit the Fashion Fund in recognition of its 10th anniversary.

After the hourlong talk, St. Louis City Mayor Tishaura O. Jones presented him with a proclamation declaring April 1 as “Michael Kors Day in St. Louis.” Susan Sherman then presented him with the St. Louis Fashion Fund Award. Kors has a personal connection to St. Louis. His husband Lance Le Pere, who has worked with him for years, is from the area.

Kors

The scene at the talk on the campus of Washington University at Graham Chapel.

Forty-three years into his career, Kors has built a $3.88 billion business from the ground up. He delivered plenty of colorful memories from his nights out at Studio 54, salad days starting his business and experiences working with supermodels. Forward-thinking as ever, he explained how elemental that is. “In fashion we don’t reflect. We’re always going, ‘Next.’ We never think about where we came from. We’re always thinking about where we’re going.”

Here, are some of the highlights.

What’s changed

“I am much more decisive now. [Looking back] Lance and I always laugh wondering what did we do all day? Oh, we spent two hours talking about a white shirt. Now it’s like, ‘I don’t like that white shirt. Let’s move on.’ Also, thank God, the workload has gotten heavier, or I would be terribly bored. You’ve got to keep yourself engaged and excited by something new.”

Constructive criticism

“If we’re in a watch meeting with a tray of watches, people who work with me know, I will look at something and say, ‘I hate the color. Let’s move this and change that.’ I will tell everyone, ‘Please don’t get offended. This is not that. But we’re here to make the best thing that we can. Let’s do it together.’”

New technology

“I am definitely not a tech wizard, but we have a department now that we use 3D design particularly for accessories design. You’re astounded when this three-dimensional sketch comes to life, rather than having to go through [sampling] a handbag with a longer strap and a shorter strap, one with a stud, or no stud, pink versus purple… AI we still haven’t gone into. I still feel there’s something about touching and feeling. We’ve all ordered something online and found when it arrived that it was not what we wanted. There is that touch that won’t go away.”

Supporting God’s Love We Deliver and providing 30 million meals

“The real truth is we couldn’t have done this around the world without our social media followers who have been so supportive and helpful in being there for us. Whenever anyone says, ‘Social media is destroying the whole world…’ Certainly, there are difficult things about social media. But when you harness it for good, it’s a way to bring joy to millions of people.

Favorite Michael Kors Moments

Dressing Michelle Obama in a black sleeveless dress for her official White House portrait.

“On the plane earlier, Lance and I were looking at the tabloids, yes, we read magazines. There was a photograph in People magazine of Kate Middleton from 2022 wearing a 2014 Collection coat. She’s worn the coat probably 15 times for public appearances. I was thinking, when the glare of the camera is always on you — obviously, as it is with what’s she going through now — that what we designed makes her feel confident. She’s wearing it after all of these years for all of these occasions. When people pick something for a very vulnerable moment, I feel like I’m doing my job right.”

His ‘important role’ at a recent presidential fundraiser for Joe Biden featuring guests Barack Obama and Bill Clinton

“Can’t sing. Can’t dance. So they said, ‘Will you hand Lizzo her flute?’ That was my job. [Laughing] it was very specific. I was like, ‘I don’t play an instrument. I don’t want to mess this up.’ They were like, ‘No, you have to hold the flute this way. The mouthpiece is here.’ I did a great job.”

Receiving the CFDA’s Lifetime Achievement award in 2010

“But I’m too young. I thought Lifetime Achievement would require hydraulics. They’d have to raise me up.”

Relevance of trunk shows 

“I do not understand how designers don’t get turned on by who buys and wears what they design. Otherwise, you are in this vacuum. I didn’t start out working for another designer. I started working for a store. The dressing room is the best place to be.”

American shoppers versus international ones

“It doesn’t matter if it’s St. Louis or Los Angeles, American women are very vocal about what they like and what they don’t like. Women will stop me on the street to show me their foot. And they will say, ‘I love these shoes, but they’re painful.’” When we do events in Europe or Asia, it’s a much different situation [laughs]. No woman in Paris would ask a stranger on the street, ‘What are you wearing? Who’s is it? How much was it?’ That’s just an American thing.”

Manners matter

“After the 2011 tsunami in Japan, when the country was in such a terrible state, we went to Tokyo to do ‘Fashion’s Night Out.’ Standing in my store with Jennifer Hudson and Anna Wintour, waiting to sign handbags, I kept saying how everyone was so polite and they’re waiting in line. In New York, if we were to do this, someone would throw a baby to cut the line. It’s important to see what was going on.”

Being ‘fashion famous

“Fashion famous means you get a good seat in a restaurant. You get a reservation at a restaurant, where they don’t normally take them [as was the case earlier in the day at a barbecue place for lunch.] So that’s good. But if I take my glasses off, it’s backwards. People are like, ‘Who is he?’ When I put the glasses on, people are like, ‘Oh, Michael Kors is here.’ For the most part, people are very respectful. Lance and I were shocked. Someone said they recently saw a paparazzi shot of us [captioned] as ‘The rarely seen Lance Le Pere and Michael Kors.’ I think we were going to buy a carton of milk — it wasn’t anything that exciting.”

Michael Kors

Lance Le Pere, St. Louis Fashion Fund cofounder Susan Sherman, Michael Kors, Stephanie Martin and Derek Blasberg. PHOTO by Suzy Gorman/Courtesy SLFF

Words to work by

“There was a great American designer, Bill Blass, who would always say, and Halston did too, that you’re only as good as who you dress whether it’s the women in real life or the models, who bring it to life.”

The magic of supermodels

“When those girls walked in — Cindy Crawford walked in at 17, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell at 16, you thought, ‘This is a game changer.’ Before that most of the models were kind of like mannequins. There wasn’t anything that different about them. These women brought everything to life — That’s the trick. You want each woman to do their own thing.”

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