WASHINGTON — Michael Kors calls himself the “ultimate patriot.”
In town to receive the World Food Program USA’s McGovern-Dole Leadership Award on Tuesday night for his corporate contributions and personal support around raising awareness to alleviate world hunger, the designer said he was “awestruck and humbled.”
For Kors, the gravitas of the evening was palpable. Held at the headquarters of the Organization of American States, the awards ceremony did not lack in pomp or circumstance. Poised to receive an award for his philanthropic efforts from Vice President Joseph Biden, Kors called it a “bit of a pinch-me moment. I’m very excited.”
He described how walking into the White House, which he has done on past occasions, was a “majestic experience.”
“Everyone says ‘He’s an all-American designer’ and walking into the White House, I burst with pride,” Kors said in an interview.
He admitted he was up against some tough competition when it comes to delivering speeches here and Biden almost proved him right. (Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, is the WFP USA’s board chair and also gave remarks.)
“It’s not my usual milieu and I think Washington’s a tough town to give a speech in, so I’m going to make mine brief,” Kors said.
Biden, who is known to favor Brooks Brothers suits, said he doesn’t have much sartorial prowess.
“Tonight we honor another American, an icon who exhibits the same passion for people in need,” the vice president said of Kors. “He is a philanthropist. He’s a designer. He’s a fashion icon. I don’t know much about fashion design. Like that famous expression from that Supreme Court Justice, who said: ‘I can’t define pornography. I know it when I see it.’
“I can’t define fashion, but I know it when I see it,” Biden said.
Kors did ultimately deliver a brief but heartfelt acceptance speech.
“What I’m really feeling right now is actually a combination of awestruck and [being] truly humbled,” he said. “Awestruck to be here in Washington, D.C., accepting this award from the Vice President of the United States and humbled to be a part of the incredible work that WFP does day in, day out, all over the world to help fight hunger.”
“When we started, I have to tell you, I wondered, how do we talk about hunger? We’re a fashion company. Really ultimately talking to our customers — that’s our strength,” he said. “Our customers come to us for confidence, advice, hope connection and solutions. It…ultimately matters greatly. That’s the way we approach the fight against hunger — with hope and confidence and the incredible strength of WFP.”
Kors is the first fashion designer to receive the WFP’s award, joining the ranks of former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who is a client of Kors’; Bill Gates; Howard Buffett, and Christina Aguilera.
“Until we have zero hunger we’re not done,” Kors said in the interview. “It’s something that is achievable. The World Food Program has the resources and the people on the ground to do it. We just have to keep making noise, let people know it’s not over and that you can make a difference. That’s the biggest thing.”
WFP USA has hosted an annual award ceremony for the past 14 years, recognizing leaders who play a critical role in solving global hunger. The award is named after Senators George McGovern and Bob Dole in recognition of their commitment to advancing U.S. government efforts to address hunger worldwide.
According to the WFP, the program reaches nearly 18 million children in more than 60 countries. And an estimated 9.8 million boys and girls worldwide have benefitted from the McGovern-Dole Food For Education and Child Nutrition Program since 2013.
The Michael Kors company signed a multiyear partnership agreement with the U.N. World Food Programme in 2012 to raise awareness and funding for the WFP. Kors launched the “Watch Hunger Stop” campaign in January 2013 and he was named a U.N. WFP ambassador against hunger in July 2015.
In addition, a portion of proceeds from the campaign and the sale of limited-edition Kors watches have benefited school meals programs in Cambodia, Mozambique, Nicaragua and Uganda and over 13 million meals have been raised through the campaign.
Actress, philanthropist and producer Olivia Wilde, who was on hand to fete Kors, said “I’ve been a fan of the brand for a long time. It’s a brand I love for a few reasons. I find it to be so chic, so sexy, really instilling confidence in the American woman. I take pride in it being an American brand that really celebrates strong, independent women. It also has a lot of romance. His pieces are always beautiful. I love going to the shows. I’m always so inspired. On top of all of that, I love a company with a conscience and Michael Kors has for years been dedicated to philanthropy.”
In an interview before the awards ceremony, Kors riffed about fashion in Washington, politics and Hillary Clinton.
“I’ve been coming here for so many years. I’ve done trunk shows and personal appearances and I think Washington gets a bad rap,” he declared. “I think that we’ve always known a lot of very stylish women here.”
He recalled meeting the late, legendary doyenne of Washington, Evangeline Bruce, and also mentioned Deeda Blair, one of Washington’s leading socialites who now lives in New York.
“Now you have women in the kinds of areas in Washington who I think love fashion and have figured out how to balance out feeling strong and authoritative but at the same time showing fashion helps,” he said.
Kors called First Lady Michelle Obama “proof positive that smart people enjoy fashion.”
“Fashion is a way to express yourself and she’s been a great champion for American fashion and teaching women to have fun with fashion. But still also, how do you get dressed when you have a very busy, busy life,” he added.
The prospects of having Hillary Clinton as the first woman president also holds tremendous appeal.
“Once again she’s out to show people quite frankly you want to look nice but you want to get on with your life,” he said. “That’s how I’ve always designed. My customers are busy and active and they need clothes that work for a busy life. Whether you’re in the public eye or not in the public eye, I design in the same way. She’s obviously got the public eye following her at all times. It’s complicated. People don’t comment about men’s attire the same way they do about women, which is unfair.”
Will she bring her own sense of style to the White House?
“I think she’s got a very specific point of view and knows what she likes,” Kors said “I always say my favorite clients are opinionated women. Don’t give me someone wishy-washy. She knows what works for her.”
Kors, who was in Washington at the peak of a heated and often down-and-dirty presidential race, drew parallels between politics and fashion.
“Listen, I have to liken [politics] to the fashion weeks we have, whether it’s New York, Milan or Paris. There are a lot of shows going on and it can get tough and very competitive and I think obviously it’s a tough game.
“Right now I think it’s gotten tougher than ever before. People are involved in the conversation, which I guess is the same thing as fashion. When people are involved in the conversation, it’s a good thing,” he said.
Asked which is tougher, fashion or politics, he said: “Oh, politics, politics, politics.”