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Michael Kors has built his fashion brand on gilded blocks of luxury and indulgence, tempered with his quick wit and aptitude for sharp, clean silhouettes. So, it isn’t surprising that his eight signature fragrances—including Michael Kors, Island Michael Kors and Very Michael Kors—each evoke a new spin on timeless glamour. His ninth scent, Island Capri, launches this December. Here, Kors divulges his method for creating memorable scents.
WWD Beauty Biz: Do your customers want the bottled version of you? How do you meet that expectation?
Michael Kors: There are many moods that I have as a designer—they change from season to season depending on where my head is and also just the world at large. For fragrance, I don’t think my customers necessarily want the same thing every time, but rather, different moods. Yes, it is a spritz of me in a bottle, but it’s of one of my moods, whether it’s indulgent or sporty or glamorous. There are also two different customers. The customer who wants the fragrance because it’s a piece of Michael Kors and the one who buys the fragrance just out of pure love [of the scent]. The scent has to be representative and evocative of what I’m about, but if you take away all the imagery and the fantasy, it still has to be a juice that makes you say, “Oh my God, I love that.”
WWDBB: With a fashion collection, you’re creating multiple designs. For fragrance, how do you funnel your creative energy into one product?
M.K.: Although inspirations change as far as designing ready-to-wear and accessories, there are still certain things that are going to push my buttons. It’s like cooking. The spice gets turned
up or down. [Each fragrance] somehow has to evoke a different aspect of my DNA. I think about the whole thing as a fragrance wardrobe and about if someone owned all of my fragrances, what would be provocative and new for her that she doesn’t already own. When you have a very clear vision of the mood you want to evoke is when it works best.
WWDBB: What pushes your buttons?
M.K.: Certainly travel, indulgence, glamour that’s not old-fashioned. Or just the idea of something bold. I like clothes that are sharp and clean, so fragrance for me has to be the same way. There’s always something that’s a little Old World. There’s always going to be a nod to the classics and a little bit of iconic imagery—whether it’s Jackie Kennedy or Lauren Hutton or C.Z. Guest. They all had different moods but are all iconic.
WWDBB: How do you start?
M.K.: First, I have to have the concept of the story that we’re telling. I start with the idea behind it and what in my memory would evoke that kind of mood. When we launched Michael Kors, I kept saying I wanted it to be this really indulgent classic. I never start with the juice and go the other way around. And then it’s a process of finding the juice that tells the story and at the same time not getting too bogged down with the story. It has to work on its own independently.
WWDBB: Where do you find inspiration for fragrance?
M.K.: Creating a fragrance is like designing clothes. It’s not that you sit down on Monday morning and start designing and say, “OK, by the end of today I have to design 50 dresses.” You’re really always thinking about it, particularly if you travel a lot. Traveling always clears the slate for me and puts me in the mood to look at or think of something new. The development process is always going on in my head. An idea comes to you and you think, “Let me store it and I’ll decided how
and when and if I’m going to use it.”
WWDBB: You’re such a jet-setter, and yet you found inspiration for your Island scent, in part, in New York.
M.K.: It’s like the old Frank Sinatra song, “It’s very nice to go traveling, but it’s so much nicer to come home.” I live in [Greenwich] Village and the last thing you think of New York having is a luxurious, lush, exotic odor. But one day, I was walking down the street in the West Village and I got hit with this incredible lush, delicious scent. I was in a tiny park where honeysuckle was blooming. Right away, what struck me about it was, here I am in New York and this scent is transporting me to somewhere else. Good fragrance has a transportive quality.
WWDBB: When it comes to creating fragrances, are you a risk taker?
M.K.: Absolutely. Risk is what gets you to something new, particularly in an overcrowded marketplace. Today, fragrance is like handbags. How many can you choose from? I believe in my gut and I believe in my team and their gut and it’s a calculated risk. Fragrance is very visceral. You can sense if it’s right. If it makes you a touch nervous, that’s a good thing. If it makes me totally nervous, well, then we shouldn’t be going there. But if I’m totally comfortable and have no sense of anxiety, then I’m bored.
WWDBB: When faced with the final decision, do you enlist the help of those around you?
M.K.: Absolutely. For the original Michael Kors fragrance, I happened to have a tester of the juice with me when I was at Da Silvano one night and also happened to know about 95 percent of the women there. So I walked over to everyone, said hello and asked if they were wearing a fragrance. For those who weren’t, I said, “I’m spraying you, and before you leave, come over and let me know what you think.” I’m always curious to hear what people think, but at the end of the day, the buck stops here.