“If Michael weren’t a designer, he could probably have his own stand-up show,” joked Fern Mallis last night about guest Michael Kors at the latest installment of the “Fashion Icons” series at the 92Y. And we doubt anyone in the audience would disagree (including Anna Wintour herself, who garnered quite a bit of attention when she made her entrance before the show). Kors is a consummate performer, as we all know from his hilarious turns on Project Runway, and last night certainly didn’t disappoint.
You’ve already learned all about Tom Ford, so now it’s time to get enlightened about Kors’ early beginnings as Karl Anderson Jr., his childhood retail endeavors, calamitous runway shows, and post-wedding trip to the pizza parlor. Enjoy!
1. Kors is a Leo, and is in some very good company.
I think if you’re a Leo you’re definitely not shy, you’re definitely opinionated. I’m a summer baby. I’m a beach boy at heart. And then as I got older I realized I had Chanel and Saint Laurent — these are great designers to have in your package. Leos, I think they’re kind and I think they’re empathetic…Leos love orange. I do think there’s also something about the style, that it’s different for different signs. Like everyone says Taurus is earthy — you know what, they kind of are. And Leos, well, Jennifer Lopez, you know, she’s not the shrinking violet.
2. He has gone through a lot of names. He was born Karl Anderson Jr., “the least likely name for a nice Jewish boy,” was known as Chuckie as a toddler, and changed his name to Michael at the age of five.
It’s a little bit of a crazy thing. We all know in fashion there’s only one Karl. I guess I had a premonition. I thought I’d leave it to him. In fashion everyone likes to call each other my their first names — Calvin, Donna…
3. Kors redesigned his mother’s second wedding dress at the age of five.
I sat there, and my mom tried the dress on and it was covered with a million bows, bows everywhere! And my grandmother said, “That’s magnificent!” And I just kind of sat in the corner, and my mother said, “What’s wrong? What do you think?” So I said, “I think it’s really busy.” So my grandmother said, “Oh, don’t listen to him, he’s only five.” Priscilla of Boston, how could you go wrong? And then the tailor came in and my mom said, “trim off a few of the bows”, so they took them off the bodice at first. And then my mom said, “You know, he’s right. Take them all off,” so the bows went off. My mom ended up getting divorced from Bill Kors, but the dress is pretty timeless.
4. Kors is a former child actor — he performed under the name Chuckie Anderson and still has his SAG card.
I was discovered at a birthday party. I was at a friend’s birthday party and there happened to be a television producer there. He said, “I think you’d be great on television.” And next thing you know I was doing commercials for Lucky Charms and Snapple Apple Crisp and all this crazy stuff.
5. When he was 11, Kors opened a shop in his basement called the Iron Butterfly Boutique.
I made fabulous candles, I made whip-stitched leather bags, I made hammered copper bracelets. I had a girl up the street who could crochet, so we made snoods.
6. Kors traces the origins of his dichotomous aesthetic to two pairs of women: Jackie Kennedy and Liz Taylor and his mother and grandmother, a high school principal for whom, “literally her proudest thing was to be able to say ‘I never repeat an outfit’”.
My mom is very understated, very sporty, loves clean lines. She’s really for the most part about solid colors and neutrals. My grandmother was an explosion of print, color, jewelry. She loved all of it. And in a strange way, being a little boy at this time, with the paparazzi shots you had Liz Taylor and you had Jackie Kennedy and I think my aesthetic is a blend of the two. I love glamour and I love indulgence but at the same time I love simplicity.
7. Distraught over the way his clothes were being treated, Kors started a bespoke laundry service at his sleepaway camp.
Camp for an only child who might have been a bit indulged can be shocking. I hated how my clothes came back from the laundry. And I realized that a lot of other people hated how their clothes came back from the laundry so we decided that we would have kind of a Madame Paulette and hand-wash peoples clothes for Madame Paulette-like prices. But we had no iron so we took the wood from the shelves and we sandwiched the clothes and wrapped them up beautifully. People appreciate beautiful service!
8. He ditched his senior prom to party at Studio 54.
Studio 54 had just opened. I wrapped a girlfriend of mine in hot pink gauze, a strapless pareo, a harem pant, flower behind the ear. I was wearing a piece of raw silk jersey wrapped into a diaper pant with a panama hat, a burlap jacket, and I took three luggage straps, wrapped them around my waist and my thigh (which was considerably smaller then) and we got to the door at Studio 54 and I’m sure they were like, ‘These kids are fabulous!’”
9. Interviewing with Donna Karan at Anne Klein, his portfolio theme was “Christopher Street Women”.
I feverishly put together a portfolio, but my theme was a little crazy. It was the 70s — “Christopher Street Women”. Crazy. Everything was leather for a summer collection.
10. He dressed Vera Wang for the Costume Institute ball on December 8th, 1980, a very eventful night indeed.
Vera wore a Michael Kors for Lothar’s charmeuse slip with a leather down vest and a mohair sweater around the waist. I think we were definitely doing creative black tie. In we went and it was the year of the Saint Laurent exhibit. I got to meet him and I almost levitated. This was when it was in December and it started snowing while we were in the Temple of Dendur. Suddenly it got very quiet..and then we found out that it was the night that John Lennon was killed.
11. At one of his first shows in April 1991, the ceiling caved in just as Naomi Campbell was walking the runway.
The music started, and it was very hot that day. Pounding, pounding, pounding music. Naomi Campbell was out there strutting her stuff and all of a sudden I heard this explosion from backstage. It sounded like gunfire and I was just, “What on earth was that?” Naomi got off the runway and she said to me, “The ceiling caved in. The plaster just came down. And hit people.” We hit Suzy Menkes.
12. After his 2011 wedding to Lance LePere, the happy couple had a very glamorous day in the Hamptons.
Jumped in the jeep, went to East Hampton, had pizza at Sam’s, and went to go see The Help.
13. Kors has nurtured many interns that have gone on to do great things, including Derek Lam, Peter Som, and Proenza Schouler’s Lazaro Hernandez.
If you really want to do such great work you need an amazing team.
14. He really loves women.
I love women! I mean, throw me into a trunk show with a pack of women — I know most designers are running for the hills. They’re like ‘Ahhh no please!’, hiding. I’m the opposite. I love seeing the clothes on different people.
15. And there’s a good reason that women love him right back.
You can have it all. You can be glamorous, you can be sexy, you can be comfortable, you can feel good in your own skin. Balance indulgent with pragmatic. You have to feel good, that’s what it’s all about.
Photo courtesy of Joyce Culver/92Y