Michael Kors walks the walk. His particular walk gravitates unfailingly to the sunny side of the street; he is as unrelenting an optimist as there is. Typically, Kors has to know that Capri Holdings, which now owns the brand he founded and at which he remains creative director nearly 40 years later, is paying the “Michael Kors family” employees whose specific jobs don’t allow for the work-at-home option. Still, he acknowledges that this crisis tests his optimism yet maintains that it has, at its core, a resilience strengthened by the array of challenges he’s overcome through the years. “I’ve ridden a lot of roller coasters,” Kors said.
WWD: Michael, how are you feeling right now?
Michael Kors: I always feel that no matter how rotten things can seem, I always try to look for the upbeat side of things. Right now, of course, is testing that optimism. But at the same time, everyone thinks I’m just this happy-go-lucky, funny guy. But 39 years in, I’ve ridden a lot of roller coasters, and I’m resilient and nervous at the same time. I’m scared, but at the same time, I believe in the human spirit and I have this roller coaster of emotions; both Lance [LePere, Kors’ husband] and I feel that way every day. I think we’re all overwhelmed with constant news, constant updates, and still trying to live our lives and run a business all at once.
WWD: In the past week, the concept of running a business has changed tremendously.
M.K.: That’s the greatest understatement that you could make. I am very type A; I couldn’t be more quintessential New York. I like everything planned out. I’m super organized. I normally know my calendar seven months ahead of time. I can tell you where I’ll be on Tuesday four months out. This has suddenly forced me as a human being, as a businessperson, as a creative person, to be — I don’t want to sound like I’m getting all new age-y, but ultimately to know that we have to go with the flow, we have to have contingency plans but at the same time flexibility is everything. I think fashion people, strangely enough, once we get past the idea that we’re used to the fashion calendar and all of that, we actually like change. We embrace something different, something new.
We have normally three collections that we’re working on at one time. And now, I’m sitting and I’m strategizing and I’m like “Oh, I have no idea.” Resort is around the corner. Who is even thinking about getting dressed to go on vacation? That’s a tough one. We had already started the process.
And for us, we work with Italy. I’m used to traveling four times a year working on the collection, and all of the people we work with in Italy and China, these people are all not only coworkers, they’re friends. So we have been experiencing this [virus] for quite a while as far as friends and coworkers in Asia and in Europe, and now it’s here. For me, it has become so unbelievably apparent that we are unbelievably interconnected. When I started in business, I truly never thought internationally. I thought international was Holt Renfrew in Canada. I never thought this world would be this interconnected, none of us did.
WWD: When you talk about resort, do you think the resort season will be canceled?
M.K.: I think that people are either going to diminish it tremendously or cancel it outright. Everyone is going to have to analyze the resort and holiday season, what is the most important for them and their business, where do they do the bulk of their business? And the crazy thing is I have fabric and no clothes. Anything crazy could happen. I have no idea. But the season could end up being for sure diminished. We’ll see if it’s canceled. We’re keeping an open mind and we’ll see how this all transpires. Just the whole idea of how we work. It’s been upheaval, let’s be honest, for the last 20 years. And now this is kind of like really lighting a match.
WWD: When you say it’s been in upheaval, do you mean just the general pace of fashion?
M.K.: Everything about it, yes. When I think about when we used to have a show, the show was to a limited audience, the only way that we knew as designers what another designer was doing was what you showed in the newspaper. Now everyone has known everything for all this time, we’re flooded with all this information — how many fashion weeks in how many countries, how many seasons, all of this. At the same time, all of our rules are gone. Is there such a thing as a spring Easter coat anymore? I don’t think so. All of these things are changing and we’ll see. This is the next big change: How will we approach producing product, showing the product, selling it, and what do the seasons mean?
WWD: “This is the next big change.” Do you mean dealing with the coronavirus shutdown?
M.K.: How are we all going forward? Are we going to continue to travel the way we’ve been traveling? I hope that we don’t lose human contact.
M.K.: It’s devastating to see what’s happening in Italy and what happened in China with people we work with and the whole population, and the interaction of all the creative people. It can’t disappear, but I don’t know. Are we going to have 25 fashion weeks in the world anymore? I’m not sure.
WWD: Were the store closings last week emotional for you?
M.K.: I love to travel, I love being on the street, I love the activity of people, I like touching things. I’m the least tech-y person, I have to admit. Me constantly being on FaceTime this week is like, this is not a normal Michael thing. And so for me to see these stores, which are a personal kind of expression of what I do and the way that I connect physically with our customers, it’s heartbreaking. We’ve lost the contact with people in the theater and movies and bookstores, restaurants, bars, all of it. The human contact, to not be able to communicate in person with our consumers around the world, even if that person isn’t me, you feel cut off. I don’t know how else to put it.
WWD: What’s the symbolism of all this? Do you think it’s time for a reset?
M.K.: The one thing I think when we think about a reset, when everyone complains that the kids today are glued to their devices, I mean I see when teenagers and children get to the beach or they get into nature, nothing has changed. Suddenly human beings are human beings. So if anything, I think now we’re going to have just a rebalance of probably slowing down. And I think people are going to connect more.
WWD: That sounds positive.
M.K.: I think we’re going to have a process in life that is more appreciative of things, appreciative of people, appreciative of beauty. I think this is forcing everyone to slow down. And if that happens out of the most horrible things in my lifetime, that’s the only silver lining I see.
WWD: What do you hear from the people who work at Michael Kors? Do they fear for their jobs? So many people are frightened about how long they’ll be paid.
M.K.: We have an incredibly strong and loyal team, and everyone right now is just scared about tomorrow. It doesn’t matter who you are. The funny thing for me, I feel like sometimes I’m the Last of the Mohicans. Right before all of this broke to this degree, after our show in New York, I was still doing personal appearances at trunk shows.
So since the beginning for me, I’ve known it’s not just the salesperson in the store, they’re like an ambassador. But it’s the stock person who makes sure the product is put out properly, it’s the visual people, we are all in it together. I hope that all of my family, my Michael Kors family, realizes we’re all in this together and we’re going to sort through it and try to figure out how to get to the other side.
WWD: You sound, typically, at least a little hopeful.
M.K.: How else can we handle it? Laughingly, I said to Lance, on a daily basis, we’re forced to be more technology-aware than we’ve ever been, and make it work. And as fashion people who travel and work the way we work, we are normally never home. We have a cat who never sees us and now the cat is, like, he’s in seventh heaven.
WWD: Well, it’s good that someone is. That’s great.
M.K.: I think our cat is the only beneficiary of anything positive right now. But I think everyone has to know, it doesn’t matter if you’re 15 years old or 85, if you are wealthy, if you’re middle class, working class, we’re all impacted. Hopefully, that message is getting out to everyone. And at the end of the day, I do have to believe that the human spirit will prevail.
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