Bella Hadid grimaces in disbelief under her hair curlers. “I think there’s a lot of things that are more important than Instagram in the world,” she says.
She so proclaims from a makeup chair in a Pier 59 photo studio in Manhattan, in response to an anecdote that Michael Kors has just told. He recalled that for some project or other, he had asked Gigi Hadid what she considered the greatest invention of all time, and she answered, “Instagram.”
In deference to Bella’s incredulity, Kors quickly amends his recollection. “OK, it wasn’t the greatest invention of all time. It was the greatest [tech] gadget or something like that.”
Bella exhales with faux relief. “I almost lost a little faith in my sister,” she says. “I was like, out of all things?”
Such is how a chat with Kors typically swerves, even when the pre-set topic is a current project. He is a nonlinear conversationalist, likely to wend through topics as far-flung as his latest vacation, politics and a favorite “Bewitched” episode.
As booked, this interview was to focus on the spring Michael Michael Kors campaign and the related two-day immersive experience at the Dolby SoHo space in New York on Feb. 5 for an industry event, and on Feb. 6, when it will be open to the public. Hadid is featured in the campaign, photographed by David Sims. When we meet on the morning of another shoot, this one for spring 2019, Kors is his usual loquacious self. As it turns out, Bella’s no slouch in the small-talk department, either.
The first Bella tidbit revealed: She loves a burger. It comes up because Kors mentions that he recently went to dinner at a steakhouse and was surprised to see a group of chic women chowing down, even more so when he realized one was a famous actress. “I said, ‘Girls at a steakhouse?’ And she goes, ‘I hate that people think that steakhouses are just for boys. We’re very happy digging into our big Flintstone steaks.’ And she’s this big,” he says, raising his pinky. Conversely, “the baked potato there is, like, this big.”
“We love a good steak,” says Bella. “And their cheeseburger! Oh! I literally could die. I’m going there tonight.”
Dining out leads to a discussion of New York’s proximity to water, a thought timed perfectly to the sight out the window of a taxi-cab yellow boat moving down the Hudson. “This city is finally waking up to realize that we are [like] Hong Kong,” Kors says. “This is a city on the water. How do you not utilize this? It’s ridiculous. We’re surrounded. The other night we were in Brooklyn at this new restaurant, Misi. It’s great, it’s pasta, it’s right across the street from the river. We’re in the car coming home and I looked at Lance [LePere, his husband] and I said, ‘How stupid is this? If the boat was right there, wouldn’t you just get on the boat and go home like you do in Hong Kong?’”
“This whole pier, everybody uses it,” Hadid chimes in. “It would just make sense to have ferries or water taxis go back and forth every 30 minutes.”
Kors then suggests he and Hadid throw their hats in the ring to head up the city’s transportation planning. Which leads to the nightmare that is the city’s everyday traffic reality. While Hadid notes the impact of the bicycle stations and lanes, Kors offers a less cited cause: Seamless. And Caviar. And all the other delivery conveniences New Yorkers rely on for everything. “The amount of delivery people has made getting around New York impossible. The city wasn’t built for it. Between food being delivered, Net-a-porter boxes, Amazon, every day.”
“Amazon for toilet paper,” Bella interjects.
“Toilet paper,” Kors continues. “My housekeeper will order a thing of Palmolive, one, and it comes in a box. I’m like, ‘The store is downstairs.’”
Speaking of getting around — and to the point of this interview — the idea behind the spring campaign and Dolby activation is a modern reimagining of one of Kors’ favorite inspirations — the Jet Set. The glamorous ladies who traveled the world back when, their movements recorded by paparazzi, have long fascinated the designer, who as a teenager and young adult found their fashion style inspirational and their lifestyle aspirational. But alas, the Seventies are long gone. “What has Jet Set become in today’s world?” the designer mused.
Whatever the definition of a new Jet Set, Hadid makes the cut. “I was on 23 flights in December, so I guess it was a perfect campaign for me to do,” she says. The campaign also features Luna Bijl, Mayowa Nicholas, Sohyun Jung, Don Lee, Timo Baumann, Zhengyang Zhang “Zheng” and Piero Mendez.
Kors engages in a little now-and-then comparison. “People Bella’s age, the whole idea for them is not just the actual physical travel,” he notes. “They’re always on the move, whether it’s physically going to a new place or also [being active]. I mean, Liz Taylor and Sophia Loren were not kickboxing.” Nor were they attached to their phones 24/7. “That connectivity — the younger you get, the more extreme it gets. So we wanted to sort of capture all of that movement that is part of today’s culture.”
That meant imbuing the campaign with an essential casual attitude and a sense of immediacy reflective of life today. “Bella or her sister or Blake Lively or Rihanna or Taylor [Swift], they’re casual. They’re glamorous and casual,” Kors says. “So we had to somehow get all of that into it.”
Kors considers Sims a master at creating pictures with an unselfconscious spontaneity. “David captures the idea of something ‘caught,’” Kors says. “But at the same time it’s very crisp and graphic. ‘Caught’ and ‘sharp’ sometimes don’t go together. David merges those two things. And I love his rapport with models.”
For her part, Hadid loves the ease of the campaign. “It’s put-together without being put-together, which is really nice,” she says. She finds her mother, Yolanda Hadid, a good example of the kind of casual glamour Kors sought to portray. “She was super relaxed,” Bella recalls. “Growing up, I remember her packing one pair of jeans and one pair of shoes. It was always just us three with her, and she would scoop us all up and that’s how we would travel.”
Yet Hadid acknowledges that it’s difficult for celebrities today to take so easy-breezy an approach when their every move and outfit change is tracked on social media. “That’s a beautiful way to travel, but now it’s just unrealistic,” she says. “Even the outfit that you wear on the plane, it’s already been seen so you have to change by the time you get off the plane or you [go on to] the next place. That’s how quick it is. Before, the photos were all shot on film, they wouldn’t come out till the next day, in the newspaper. It’s a lot quicker for us now. So it’s actually kind of untouchable, the way that jet-setting used to be.”
Kors wanted Sims to capture movement in his photographs, and that notion is a big part of the activation at Dolby SoHo. Multiple rooms will feature interactive installations with “moments” guests can capture on their own devices or installed camera systems. The latter affords the chance for visitors to insert themselves into a re-created campaign set, which will feature props that encourage movement.
“Technology has become fashion,” Kors says. In planning the activation, he and his team were drawn to Dolby for its state-of-the-art technology — “it’s not just what you see; sound is so important” — and for its flashy space.
As for what to do, who wouldn’t love to be in a shoot with Bella? “So, whether it’s influencers or the public or VIP guests or whoever comes, the setup will allow them to put themselves into a moment that they can jump on a swing and Bella’s in the picture with them behind them.”
As we’re speaking, the set specifics are a work in progress. Swings, a likely “yes.” Trampoline, probably not, for safety and insurance purposes, though the Kors team is looking into mini versions. “It’s so funny we have to be responsible for adults falling off a trampoline,” Hadid says, and then suggests rope-climbing.
Whatever the particulars of the Dolby activation, Kors’ endgame is to create happiness and social-media buzz in equal measure. The global marketing reach of the latter would have been unimaginable only a few years ago, and the accompanying customer connection is key. “They’re telling me what they think: they see what I’m into. That’s the whole interaction back and forth,” Kors says. “Technology is moving so fast that six months from now, there’s going be a space somewhere in the world that’s doing something totally different.”
Yet one thing is certain, if it’s a Kors event, it will be approached from an upbeat perspective. Hadid appreciates that this campaign allows her to be herself and to look on camera as if she enjoys life. Too many jobs don’t afford models that opportunity, a reality she found difficult to negotiate earlier in her career. “Working with Michael, he wants you to be happy, which we are,” she says. “On set here, it’s a very happy set. And wearing his clothes, it makes you feel happy. For me, it was one of the first shoots where I was really able to smile and be myself, and I think that it shows a lot in the photographs.”
Bella isn’t the only Hadid who approves. Her mother stopped by during the spring shoot and was delighted. “She looked at our board and she said, ‘Finally, someone has got her smiling and happy and herself,’” Kors recalls.
On today’s agenda: The shoot for those May-throughJuly deliveries, which Kors approaches as full-on summer for Michael Michael Kors. He pulls one particularly festive look from the rack, calling it “optimistic and summery.” Only here, the optimism references more than dressing your best to be your best. It’s a maillot and sequined T in matching rainbow stripes, honoring the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, coming up in June.
“I wasn’t at the bar. I was too young for that,” Kors says. “The night that marriage became legal in New York, we were literally laying on the sofa at home. It comes across the news and I looked at Lance and I’m like, ‘Oh, now we can get married.’ Because we had said, ‘We’re not going to Massachusetts if it’s not legal where we live.’” The two got off the sofa and took the brief walk to Stonewall, where they ran into neighbors from the beach, one of whom started to cry. “He said, ‘You know, I was there the night of the uprising. That this has happened — never in my wildest dreams…’”
Another seismic cultural change that found its way into our chat — changing perspectives on aging. Like all of fashion, Kors can’t get enough of the Millennial-Gen Z set. Yet he does so while remaining devoted to the full spectrum of his clientele, who, he likes to boast, range from 14 to 80.
Women age differently today than a generation ago, he says, because of lifestyle, fitness and, yes, fashion. He references “The Golden Girls,” which premiered in 1985, its four terrific leading ladies all on the cusp of frump, sartorially speaking. “They were 55,” Kors says. (In fact, only Rue McClanahan was in her 50s when the show started; the other stars were in their early 60s.) “Now, look at Madonna. Look at Jennifer Lopez dancing in those shoes. Look at her with no makeup. That’s 50 today.”
What hasn’t changed is Kors’ intractable belief in the power of fashion to positively impact the way we feel about ourselves. To that end, he’s never understood the point of sour-puss chic — or models. “What’s the misery?” he queries. “Why? You’re young, you’re beautiful and you’re rich. So, ‘I’m unhappy?’” Reminded that the dour visage is often by client mandate rather than a model’s innate personality, particularly on the runway, Kors concurs, calling it “the cool sad.” It drives him nuts.
“I don’t care if the walls are tumbling down. I think fashion has to be a tonic,” Kors says. “I believe that when you put the right thing on, it’s alchemy. It puts a spring in your step. And if the world is a difficult place, which it certainly is, doesn’t confidence help you do battle? That’s what I think.”