An oral history of Michael Kors, from the WWD Archives:
This story first appeared in the January 30, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
August 9, 1959: Michael Kors, son of Bill and Joan, is born in Merrick, N.Y.
1959-1977: Spends childhood afternoons visiting an uncle who worked in the fashion industry, and went shopping wholesale on weekends with his mother. “For every male designer,” he told WWD in 1985, “the way your mother dresses has an impact forever. My mother is very unmovable in her taste, her likes and dislikes.”
1968: Designs his first collection. “I had a boutique in my basement when I was nine where I handpainted ugly little leather vests to sell to neighbors.”
1977: Graduates from John F. Kennedy High School, Bellmore, N.Y.
1978: Drops out of FIT after one year. “I’m an FIT dropout. I thought I’d learn more working than at school so I left after one semester.”
1978-1981: Works for Lothars, a store on 57th Street across from Bergdorf Goodman. “I had been selling part time, and they suggested I try designing. I made a few things for spring and by fall all the clothes in the store were mine. It was like a giant fantasy laboratory.” His clothes started getting attention of customers and he showed them to Anna Wintour and Dawn Mello, who worked at Bergdorf at the time.
1981: Forms the Michael Kors label in 1981, delivering his first order to Bergdorf Goodman with the help from his aunt Mona and her Mercedes. “We put a pole across the back of the Mercedes and hung my whole order on it, and she got all dressed up because, you know, we were going to Bergdorf’s and she thought she was going to meet Dawn Mello.” Volume for his first fall and spring collections is $450,000.
1989: Kors reaches $10 million dollar volume.
“When I first started, I was lumped into the new and young category. Yes, I’m young, but I don’t do kicky clothes. They’re young and sophisticated, but definitely not zany.”
Nov. 1997: Signs on at Celine.
“The most important thing is that Céline is about real clothes. Women want to put Céline on their backs, and they enjoy wearing it.”
1999: Named creative director for Celine.
June 1999: CFDA names him women’s designer of the year.
“I am American. And I bring with that certain popular touchstones. Maple syrup rocks my world. And cranberry juice.”
1999: Golden Hanger Award, E!
Feb. 1999: LVMH purchases a third of Michael Kors LLC.
“It does enable us to drop the tag, ‘American designer.’ There will be no deal anytime soon for paint at Kmart.”
2000: Onward Kashiyama purchases 10 percent.
Sept. 2000: Opens Madison Avenue Michael Kors flagship.
“I never thought commercial was a dirty word. I absolutely want the clothes to be wearable. I want a woman to be able to find a lipstick in the bags and to be able to walk in the shoes.”
2000: Launches signature fragrance with Parfums Givenchy.
“Fragrance is the most personal thing we will ever sell. It’s my fingerprint.”
Oct. 2001: Celebrates 20th year with a new Water Island home.
“When I started out at 23 or 24, I kept thinking, when is someone going to say, ‘He is one of the cool designers’? Then all of a sudden I was 30 and they are still not saying I am cool. I finally realized that cool means you are disinterested.”
2001: Launches Michael Kors footwear, eyewear and handbag collections.
2002: Opens Kors Michael Kors flagship in SoHo, and Michael Kors flagship in Tokyo.
Feb. 2002 : Launches full Michael Kors men’s wear collection.
Jan. 2003: Sportswear Holdings Limited acquires minority stakes held by LVMH, Onward Kashiyama and John Orchulli.