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Designer of the Year: Michael Kors

Michael Kors proved this year that whether a woman has little excuse to not be well accessorized.

Michael Kors proved this year that whether a woman is strolling to class at an Ivy League school, performing a pas de deux at ballet rehearsal or doing just about anything in between, she has little excuse to not be well accessorized.

His collection presentations for fall 2006 and spring 2007, which were inspired by prepsters and dancers, respectively, featured an assortment of bags, belts, sunglasses, cold-weather goods, legwear and shoes that added polish to the ensembles and showed his intention to gain a foothold in the lucrative accessories category, which is uncommon for American designers. His bridge Kors Michael Kors sandals and wedges and his range of better goods for the Michael Michael Kors line only expanded upon the statement.

In addition, the Michael Kors company opened its first lifestyle store this year that focuses primarily on accessories from all of its lines, with only an edited selection of ready-to-wear. The concept made its debut at NorthPark Center in Dallas last summer, followed by an opening at The Westchester mall in White Plains, N.Y.

John D. Idol, Michael Kors’ chief executive officer, told WWD in August that the plan is to have 100 such stores by 2009, boosting the accessories business, which opened with footwear in 2001 and now accounts for 60 percent of the company’s total volume, to 75 to 80 percent. Industry sources have estimated that Michael Kors has a global wholesale volume of $250 million.

“Before we had our own stores, you never got to see the assortment under one roof,” Kors said. “And now that we have that, it not only allows us to think about the product and how delicious it is, but also how it will look as part of this whole story. It’s an extra checkpoint and I found that it’s really focused us.”

It also has freed up Kors’ ability to play, especially with a mix of items that range from rubber flip-flops to a luxurious crocodile handbag.

“A lot of designers are following the rigid old rules,” Kors said. “They might look at rubber or plastic versus crocodile and think it’s not chic enough. But what keeps things interesting is that rules are constantly changing. The customer has been shopping from a mix of low and high items for a long time and it frees you up as a designer to think in those terms. For example, when you have ideas, whether it’s for a shoe or a handbag or an eyeglass, it might not necessarily fit in with the collection. But when you have all these different lines, it’s like pretending you’re a musician.

“If a concept doesn’t work for one song, you can put it in a different song,” he said. “Or you can look at a great idea and explore how it can be handled in different ways, one being a more pitched-up version with more intense materials, and the other that’s fun and perhaps more throwaway.”

Retailers are setting their sights on the more pitched-up versions. At the close of New York Fashion Week last month, many cited Kors’ collection presentation as one of the strongest for accessories. Ed Burstell, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty, jewelry and accessories at Bergdorf Goodman, praised Kors’ east-west totes, while Ann Watson, vice president and fashion director at Henri Bendel, said she loved his barrel bag designs.

All the positive feedback has not gone unnoticed by Kors, who said that even after 25 years in business, the recognition still means the world to him. “So many people assume that designers that have ready-to-wear collections think of accessories as an afterthought,” Kors said. “But I have always enjoyed working on accessories. I love leathers and I’m always in sunglasses. And, unlike when you are designing clothes where you are limited by the body, with accessories the sky is really the limit. So it’s something we spend a huge amount of time on and a lot of effort. So it’s nice to be noticed for it.”